Mixing Colorful Grays in Oil Excerpt
Mixing Colorful Grays in Oil
Joaquin Sorolla was reported to have said about his color methods, “the money is in the grays”. What he may have meant is that the largest percentage of any painting consists of the middle values, not the highlights or accents, and those values are by definition grayer than either of the former. When he used the word gray, he didn’t mean some mixture of white and black. He meant sophisticated mixtures of complementary and secondary colors - colorful grays. Sorolla knew those mixes by heart and employed them with speed and skill to create his masterpieces. Sorolla, along with his contemporaries, John Singer Sargent and Anders Zorn, stood at the apex of hundreds of years of learning, training and practice in representational painting in Europe. The skills they employed in their work were passed to them by a previous generation of acknowledged masters of painting, as they themselves had been taught. Looking in any major museum, the same principles of picture making employed by all the great masters of the past can be seen. Much of the painted areas of pre-modern masterpiece paintings are made of colorful grays of middle values. This is how nature presents color to us. Highlights and accents were reserved for those touches where they were skillfully and deliberately employed in tiny amounts to focus attention, build contrast or add a dramatic visual element.
In a famous moment from J. M. W. Turner’s career, Turner waited until the vernissage (the traditional day or two in the gallery before an exhibition opens to the public when framed pictures were touched up or varnished by the artists) to add the key accent to his 1832 marine painting, Helvoetsluys. This moment was immortalized in the film, Mr. Turner. In the scene, other members of the Royal Academy were praising the work as a masterpiece when Turner walked up to it and made a large red paint stroke in the middle of the picture. Gasps ensued. Words to the effect that he “ruined a masterpiece” were uttered. He then left the room. When he returned, rag in hand, he skillfully wiped away the bottom of the stroke to magically reveal not a smear of paint, but a bright red signal buoy floating on the waves. It was the crowning touch in a largely gray sea scene. He really had a flair for drama in both stroke and presentation!
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