3 Painting Pointers That I'll Always Remember

4 May 2014

Notice how Gury scratches through the paint in his oil painting Autumn Glow, reinforcing the shape and outline of the tree limbs.
Notice how Gury scratches through the paint in his oil painting
Autumn Glow
, reinforcing the shape and outline of the tree limbs.
I'm not one to ask or judge someone by their resume or history because we all walk our own paths and get meaningful life experiences in different ways. But when I saw that Al Gury, whose work I enjoy looking at, was the chair of the painting department at the first fine arts institution in the country—the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA)—I knew I wanted to know more about this artist and his approach.

Since then I've been a big ol' bookworm, reading two of Gury's books and trying to implement what I've learned when I get into the studio. I wanted "pay it forward" and share a few key painting tips from him that have helped me.

I read Color for Painters first because I. Love. Color. Gury covers a lot of ground in this book, and I came away knowing a lot more about the history of color and the different ways artists have codified color throughout the centuries.

First, I was really pumped to read about the tinting strength of paints. Up until now, it has mostly been a trial and error kind of situation for me to see how a pigment will tint white or another mixture. But Gury offers up a few tips—like the fact that most colors in a "classic" palette are balanced in terms of tinting ability; that a color like Indian red has a high tinting strength but a color like Naples yellow has a low tinting strength—and gives readers an exercise on color identity that helped me internalize the tinting strengths of different colors.

Gury is quite aware of the tinting strengths of his pigments, as the lack of heavy handed color in the oil painting Quiet Room 1 shows.
Gury is quite aware of the tinting strengths of
his pigments, as the lack of heavy handed
color in Quiet Room 1 shows.
I also got involved in figuring out the difference between subtractive and additive color. Subtractive color is the basis for the color wheel most of us use. Additive color is also interesting because it is based on working back from black by adding colored light, like you do with stage lighting, and the additive primaries are red, green, and blue, which I didn't know before.

Gury is also a committed alla prima painter, hence the title of his other book, Alla Prima. The biggest eye-opener I had was about layering while painting. Sometimes when I'm painting I'll lose my original big shapes because I'm introducing successive layers of paint. Gury pointed out that bringing these original shapes to the surface again in an oil painting by repainting their outline is not only helpful for a painter trying to juggle a lot, but it can also add to the visual interest of the work. So now I feel free to reintroduce those shapes in a bold, unapologetic way.

A lot of publications from various publishers, artists, and authors come across my desk every week. Al Gury's stood out because they covered topics I am deeply interested in and came from a source I trusted. I can definitely say the same for all the resources in Brian Keeler's Kit of the Month. That combination of insightful and reliable is a rare one but I hope it turns out that these guides are as useful to you as the are to me. Enjoy!


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