Long Neck, Zorn Palette

“Long Neck – Zorn Palette” 8×10 inches, oil on canvas panel

I’ve mentioned the Zorn Palette before. It’s a limited painting palette that consists of four colors: White, Black, Vermillion (Orangey-red) and Yellow Ochre. It’s incredible how many colors can be achieved with just these four paints! The background on this painting “looks” blue, but it’s just black and white mixed together. (Black is often a bit cool, which will create the illusion of a muted blue.) The purple in the shadow side of her face is a mixture of white, black, and vermillion. Mixing colors was so fun for this painting!

Here’s another recent example of the Zorn palette in action. (Scroll down the page to see the second painting.)

Again I used a stock photo for reference. Thanks go to shewarmachine.

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Meh…lissa – oil on panel

Mehlissa, oil on Gessobord, 8×8 inches

Many thanks to Mehlissa who made her stock photo available for artists to use as reference.

I found this photo a few years ago, and finally got around to using it! I enjoyed trying to analyze the shadows and cool muted tones in her skin and attempting to capture them with paint. In a way this painting was a major breakthrough for me, as I’ve been trying to push my understanding of color and brushwork.

I painted on Gessobord, by Ampersand, a wonderful type of artists’ panel that is primed with an acrylic-based “gesso” that has the texture of eggshell. It’s an absolutely sublime surface to paint on, for either oils or acrylics! With this painting, I used oils.

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Oil paint & Sap Green/Alizarin Crimson palette

A couple of things to write about today.

“Mercy” miniature painting, 4×4 inches, oil on Gessobord

First, I’ve been toying with the thought of using a limited palette of White, Sap Green, and Alizarin Crimson (Permanent). One of my favorite artists, John Larriva, has been playing with variations of this palette for a while, and that inspired me!

Mercy converted to B&W. Interesting! Click on image to see larger version.

Just because I felt like it, I also converted this image to B&W to see how it would look. It’s said that you can tell if the values of your painting are correct if it still looks okay in B&W. I think my painting passed the test (I hope?).

Anyway, about the limited palette: I used Liquitex Everwhite, Dick Blick’s Alizarin Crimson Permanent, and Williamsburg Sap Green. (More about the Everwhite later in this post! 🙂 )

I found the whole experience of limiting myself to just these colors, Sap Green, Alizarin Crimson Perm., and White, to be really challenging! I wasn’t sure I could do it at first. I desperately yearned for a yellow. But after a while, I got used to it and realized that it was starting to come together. It’s a bit like the Zorn Palette (see an example of that here) in that you have to think of warm and cool tones, and not so much about getting the right blue, yellow, or red. Mixing the green and the crimson together will make a pretty good dark (almost black) and it’s amazing how the flesh tones finally start to “click” after a while when you’re mixing. I’ll have to try this again sometime soon.

Okay, the other thing: Liquitex Everwhite! It’s no longer being made! An artist friend was showing me his collection of yard sale oil paints and it was the mother lode for a paint geek like me! Brand new, still in box, never used, Liquitex oil paint! I asked him if I could buy the large 150 mL tube of white, and he was willing. The tube was untouched, unused, and with a copyright date of 1980. And it was still as fresh and as buttery as it was all those decades ago! So I used it for today’s painting.

Squee! Over 34 years old! And still fresh and buttery!

This is a testimony to anyone who wonders—will my paint last? Yes, oil paint lasts for a long, long time. Occasionally you’ll have a paint mishap, where the tube gets a little hole in it  or something, but assuming that the tube is sealed and undamaged, there’s no reason to worry about your paint drying out before its time. So stock up now if you can, and scour those garage sales!

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Blue Dreads – oil on panel

Yep, another study from a stock photo I found on DeviantArt! This time it’s a fellow named This-is-RArt. I loved his blue dreadlocks.

Blue Dreads, 5×7″ oil on panel

I’m studying warm and cool tones, and how they relate to the portrait especially. After attending a workshop taught by Adam Clague, I have felt like something has “clicked” and I’m seeing things differently! It’s strange, because it’s not like I didn’t “see” before—I’ve been drawing and painting for a long time.

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“Exotic Simplicity.”

I don’t know where that title comes from. I need a name for a painting, and this will do.

Exotic Simplicity, oil on panel, 8×8 inches

I must credit Cathleen Tarawhiti, whose photograph I used as reference. She makes some of her photos available for “stock,” as a reference for artists, and I’ve got quite a few of her photos stored on my iPad.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with some artist friends and wanted something to paint, so I pulled up a photo on my iPad and started this little study. I did most of it in one night.

The original photo is of a figure, but thanks to my iPad’s capabilities, I was able to zoooooom in and just look at her face. Maybe someday I’ll do a painting based on the full figure.

Until recently I printed out photos to use as reference, but was encouraged by some friends to work from a computer monitor. That wasn’t convenient, so instead I use an iPad. It’s working out great! And I needed an excuse to indulge in an iPad.

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After a long absence . . .

There’s really no excuse for such a long absence from this blog. Other than I’ve been busy and that a lot of positive changes have happened!

I’ve been studying more, and was able to attend a workshop taught by a wonderful young artist, Adam Clague. I’ve also taken some private lessons with him. His instruction has helped me immeasurably and I’m so grateful to him!

And, I’ve been able to paint a lot more, and work from life a lot more. These are vitally important to an artist’s development.

And lastly, I got myself a new studio! It’s a mess, but was very much needed. One of my friends said that renting this studio has given me more confidence and “seriousness” about my art. I think she’s right.

Well, that’s enough of the updates. Here are a few paintings that I’ve done in the last few months:

“Green Ribbon in Her Hair” oil on panel, 8×8″.

I whine about this painting, but I’m glad it’s done. I was trying to apply many of the things I’ve learned under Adam Clague’s tutelage. I realize that there’s much more to learn. I had fun with this painting, using some Charvin brand paint (with a limited palette). I love all the variety of colors available from Charvin.


“Zorn Palette, Jason Aaron Baca” 5×7″ oil on gessobord.

Thank you to Jason Aaron Baca on DeviantArt for the use of the stock photo as reference. Photographer Portia Shao: positivevista.com/ Model: Jason Aaron Baca http://jasonaaronbaca.deviantart.com/

I really enjoyed painting this little study. It was painted entirely with the “Zorn Palette,” a limited palette consisting of only: Vermillion Red (orange-red), Yellow Ochre, Black, and White.

The palette is inspired by Anders Zorn, who is getting a lot of attention from artists lately. (He recently had a big show in San Francisco.) In some of his paintings he focused so much on form and value, as well as temperature (“warm” vs. “cool” colors) that he could get by with just these four colors! The black paint is “cool” (almost blueish) and can substitute for a blue when needed.

You’ll see in the painting above the greenish tints in his 5-o’clock shadow, as well as the background color? All done with these four colors. I mixed the black and yellow together to get the green, and black and white gave me a “cool” grey (which can almost pass for a muted blue) which I used in the background.

The Zorn Palette is awesome. It helps the artist focus on values and shapes and brushwork, without agonizing too much over a myriad of color mixing choices. Sometimes, you don’t need any other colors other than the Zorn four (white, black, red, and yellow!).


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