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Sunday, August 15, 2010
  red


I know I'm not alone in finding red a difficult color to work with, at least in the color fields that typify my paintings. I've often spent many hours building a surface that seemed to have the depth and complexity I like in my work, only to see it flatten out when I come back to the studio the next day. I've developed a few strategies to help enhance the texture and contrasts in a red color field, though I do still struggle.

My usual approach to building rich surfaces is to vary a color with lighter and darker shades layered and juxtaposed with the main color I'm developing. However, red is difficult to lighten or darken--adding white leads quickly to pink, a color with a completely different emotional aspect. Adding black or another dark color usually results in mud. Without some degree of contrast though, red does not easily rise above the admittedly brilliant but flat color that comes from the tube.

Another strategy works better--using related colors for layering--oranges and purples, and also bits of contrasting blues and greens. (I often build up the initial layers in a painting I would like to steer towards red with contrasting colors.)For dark contrast I like a bit of sepia or other dark earth color.

I find it helpful to apply the paint rather roughly and allow it to dry somewhat between painting sessions. This creates surface texture and allows for more interesting scumbling and glazing opportunities. When cadmium red medium is my base,I like to scumble over it with a brighter color like cadmium red light or cadmium orange, and glaze with one of the transparent reds available--such as Sennelier Antique Red (a bit like Indian Red, but without the heavy opaque quality) and the quinacridone reds (Daniel Smith has some beautiful ones) or a dark color like asphaltum or sepia.

Powdered pigment, powdered graphite or charcoal brayered into the surface also create texture and contrast. But no matter what approaches I use, in every red painting I've done, working and working the surface seems to be the only way to develop richness and luminosity.

I also find red paintings hard to photograph...the one above, Red Cliff #3, 54"x30" is a bit less orange than it appears here. It is a commissioned painting that I delivered a couple of weeks ago to my gallery in Santa Fe, Darnell Fine Art.
 
Comments:
This is fabulous!! Thanks for your dialog about how you apply your reds......
Cynthia Schelzig
 
Thanks for making this explicit, Rebecca -- I have found exactly the same thing, but had not articulated it to myself.
Nancy
 
Very nicely put!
 
Fantastic one, Rebecca! I love it!
Thanks for the red tips too, I love red oils and haven't really tried it much yet w/the cold wax.
P.S. The white painting I finished in the workshop I ended up deciding NOT to change...so we will call it done. :)
 
Gorgeous painting, Rebecca. Congrats on the commission, too.
 
hey thanks for all the comments! I appreciate hearing from each of you, and Jala, that painting is a beauty.
 
It's interesting to read that you layer purples and orange, etc instead of using straight reds - it makes me wish I could see your work in real life and get a better sense of all those layers. I love that the internet makes the world smaller, but it's limitations can be so frustrating. I suspect I would want to *touch* your work too.
 
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