Sunday, September 11, 2011

Neutral Refinements

Yesterday we saw how the yellow of the yolk fades quickly. I think it's still fading, becoming whiter! Later this evening I'll paint up another white chip for a three day comparison. I think I've read that fading does occur over a few days--wish I could find that reference.

Gretchen asked if I compensate for the inevitable whitening of egg yolk yellow. At this time, I haven't tried. I think this will only become clear when I can accurately mix a Munsell neutral and then see if it holds. Granted, in white the yellow is obvious. As the value decreases, will the yellow be as prominent? How about when I begin introducing color? I think only by experience will I be able to answer these questions. (Note: The Munsell kit call for using acrylics for these exercises. I decided to use egg tempera to challenge myself and become more familiar with my medium. Also note: the rational painting recommendation below for burnt umber is based on oils.)

Although it doesn't present properly, the Munsell chip is actually a darker value than my first painted chip. You see, the Munsell chip is N9/, a value of 9. Munsell values theoretically go to 10. Titanium white can present as high as 9.75 and I am certainly seeing a lot brighter white than that N9/ chip. I forgot all about this and somehow associated pure titanium white with N9/. What this means is that I must tone down the pure white for the true value of 9.
Early this morning I finally arrived at a hue close to neutral! The Munsell Student manual suggests using either cadmium red or yellow to warm up a hue or cerulean or phthalo blue to cool it down. Well, I just couldn't seem to pull my hues to neutral until I remembered another source mentioning to use burnt umber. That works pretty well!

On my lower set of chips above, the chip on the left is the bluish hue I was trying to neutralize. That's the Munsell chip in the middle. On the right is my mix with burnt umber, the bottom part of that chip with slightly more umber than the top. See how it's pulling in closer in hue? The value still needs work, though.

I found this method on rational where Graydon Parrish recommends mixing the proper value using black and white and doing the same with burnt umber and white. Then with both mixes at the same value, mix them to achieve an exact neutral. The thought is that one must deal with only one property (hue, value, chroma) at a time.

So you can see that I have some work ahead of me. And yet, I've already learned a lot and starting to pick up an eye for real neutrals. I'll be working on my neutrals while forging ahead on the remaining exercises in Chapter 1.


  1. Even in this photograph, where the camera's white balance and lens coating and the computer screen's color calibration all are contributing factors to how color is seen and/or perceived, I can still see marked differences between these neutral color chips. True neutral just might be on of the most difficult hues to mix yet!
    I think at some point though, once one has a basic understanding of mixes and what the pigments can (or can't do), no matter what colors you have chosen to paint with, as long as they harmonize and your values/lights/darks are in place correctly, the eye will take over and compensate for everything else; just like the Impressionists depended on the eye to mentally fill in their loose brushwork. Of course this still doesn't address the fading issue... sometimes trying to grasp all these variables makes my head hurt :-) !
    ~ gretchen

  2. Ya, it's not clear where all this will lead to but I am become more familiar with my medium. After painting a third white chip last night, it struck me that I really don't know when the fading stops! I'll continue working with my neutrals now that I think that burnt umber will get me there but I'm also moving into new exercises.

    Spending time focusing intently on trying to reach a specific color seems to tune me up to seeing color in general more clearly, with more detail.