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Mix and Match... or Choose your Choice

I can paint impasto (thick) over a thin grisailles (grey toned canvas) or verdaccio imprimatura (green toned canvas) indirect painting that was made with glazing (thin layers of transparent paint) over the opaque underpainting; I can glaze over an alla prima (all at once, direct, wet into wet) painting, but not thinly; I can change the key (low or high intensity) of a painting; I can change the value contrast in a painting from a lot to a little or vice versa; I can probably even change the temperature from warm to cool or cool to warm; I may even be able to change the edginess from hard to soft and soft to hard; I can change a painting from transparent colors to opaque; but changing an opaque alla prima painting back into transparent colors... this is a challenge.


There are two schools of thought about starting a painting, opaque and transparent (no one ever told me this, before). The opaque school starts in with the large shapes and darks, thinly, but with opaque paint. The transparent school starts in with those darks and large shapes, also thinly, but with transparent paint, saving the opaque passages for last in the highlights.


Since, up to now, no one has mentioned this transparency in the beginning bit, I have been happily painting away for 25 years, Willy nilly, adding whichever paint in whichever fashion it occurred to me. Yes, it annoyed me that some paints, like sap green, didn’t cover squat (low tinting strength, transparent). I learned that some pigments are transparent and others are opaque, of course. I learned that we want to use transparent pigments in glazing one color over another, but that was pretty much the extent of it.


There is this slow progression of learning curve on one’s own. First it’s here’s some paint, have fun, and then it’s here’s some color theory, have fun. There are some rules, too: fat over lean and thick over thin, paint your darks in first, thinly, connect the darks, 3-5 large shapes, and 4-7 values. There is, also, compressing the light spectrum, muting colors into greys, controlling value, edges, linear perspective, draftsmanship, and then there is temperature, light and shadow, as well as warm lights/cool shadows, etc. Maybe if I had gone to art school, I would have known all this stuff years ago (I seriously doubt it, though). Keeping all those balls in the air, simultaneously, along with composition, design, and execution is no small order.


So I have some paintings started in the Willy nilly fashion of opaque pigment paints (you know, white for example... like, duh, snow) mixed randomly with transparent pigments (color being the salient consideration here). Only now, I want to finish these paintings, but I want to start in transparently. There are some potholes along this journey that come up more unsuspectingly than a speed bump, like flexible pigments over brittle, that folks seldom talk about. Little things, like oil over acrylic but never acrylic over oil, sort of quagmires, although the seriously dangerous ones are probably more ubiquitous in the community hive mind... osmosis, if you will, or just exposure over time to certain truths. I mean how long can I paint; before, I realize that if I don’t clean the paint out of the paintbrush when I’m finished, the paint dries in the brush... or paint roller, like that same day, in the case of those wall painting periods in my life.



So, therein lies my dilemma... I can scrub on some transparent paint... but that violates the thick over thin, not to mention adding oil or medium to fatten things up. I can try to paint thickly in transparent colors but they are mostly dark pigments and will darken my snow, dammit! I guess it’s holding my nose and mixing white in opaquely and painting Willy nilly! Buggar!


Normality is a paved road: it’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” - Vincent Van Gogh




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