Blog

In the Studio . . . Colour

The Munsell Book of Colour &

The Brown Coffee Pot

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Part 2

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Am I welcoming you back? If so “Hi, how great” . Same if this is your first visit “Hello and welcome”.

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In early December 2019 I began sharing my first steps with the Munsell Book of Colour. You can see it in Previous Blogs.

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And now I’m continuing my Munsell theme and how I’m fitting it into the academic painting methods that I learnt and value highly.

Just a note about these methods. I am putting together a newsletter/ blog that covers the early steps of a painting leading up to this point. Its rather nuts and blots but interesting for those who have gone through it (“Oh no I didn’t understand it like that!”) and perhaps an eyeopener for those who have not encountered these disciplines. At the end of the day – each artist interprets and uses techniques for them self. For me, honing a way of painting that has evolved over much time and through the hands of many great artists is something I can trust and follow and am happy to revere those from whom I have learnt. For others, these unerring principles may seem less useful, they are difficult and take commitment even when they are too difficult.

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Part 2 Munsell Book of Colour – Use

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I shall be explaining how I use the Munsell Book of Colour with my mainstay and anchor – the Angel Palette as it was when I studied there and how it works for me now.

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And I shall be repeating things just to make sure.

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First, to begin this work on my painting, I need the Large Local Colours in place and dried – and the photograph below shows the painting at this stage.  Not as certain as I would like but it shows you the state of early evolution.

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If the dried paint looks dull and has lightened – known as ‘sinking in’ – it is first necessary to apply a very little oil to the surface of the whole painting to re-saturate the colours and give them their full richness and correct values. There are some notes in Glossary recommending how to ‘oil in’.

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Once oiled in, I look at the painting starting with the shadows and intensify them if needed, at present I aim to keep the paint in the shadows thin – almost transparent as this adds depth to the even flat colour. 

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For the lights

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For a large area of light, meaning everything that isn’t that specific part ‘in shadow‘ (ie. the cup in shadow or the cup not in shadow – the lights of the cup) I mix up enough paint to use for :

3 levels of value 

  • the darkest, next to and near the shadow 
  • the middle one
  • the lightest one

The highlights are not taken into account when mixing the lightest one.

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For these three colours I use the Munsell Chips.

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How ?

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I find the page I need in the book.  The right one can be surprising – less chromatic, maybe bluer, redder, more yellow and so on, even positively neutral and not what I think I see.  I take the little chips of colour that look like they will match, from their removable pockets and hold them in a particular place on the object I am painting. Remember I am selecting three values for one light area – three different chips. 

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As I get each one right, I make a small loop of low tack masking tape and stick it to the object.   Finding the right ones takes time and its best to keep to one particular page in the Munsell Book to make sure the chosen colours gradually shift as if the object is becoming lighter or darker.  For 3 values there are 3 choices – 3 chips.

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I’ll make some notes about which paints I use. These are semi-useful. To begin with they list what I use, but as I paint I rarely take time out to add or amend them. However they are useful if I need to find out where I began – knowing from experience that I shall certainly take the same routes from them as needed – its a kind of double check.

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Once the three are chosen, it is interesting to see how saturated, how high in chroma, they are – or are not. By looking at them removed from the subject matter these qualities are more evident. The reason for this consideration is:

High chroma colours tend to come forward, lower chroma colours recede. I look for this and work with it.

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For the Brown Coffee Pot 2/2 is used for the shadows. For three lights 2/4, 3/4 and 4/6. All come from the 7.5 YR page (YR standing for Yellow Red)

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In setting up the colours on the palette, I add whatever necessary extra pigments are needed to supplement the range I always use. And yes, I do use white tear off palettes. They work for me.

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On this palette you can see the area that I had mixed and used for the 3 lights. Those along the top are my staple colours. Those running down the left hand side are additions.

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It takes time mixing the colours, always trying to get the paint the same as the chip.  Also trying to make it the most full of colour, the highest chroma possible for that particular colour.  It sounds odd but try it.

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To make a colour lighter don’t just go for white.

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“Keep the chroma up”

“Keep your chroma under control”

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Turning the Form

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I will then paint from the shadow to the light using three brushes.  Using the colours I have mixed to turn the form – to give it the appearance of being three dimensional.  It could well be necessary to modify the colour as progressing but this is done on the palette by moving away from the mixed heap in a little satellite track . Keep the main pile of colour clearly as initially mixed – it is an anchor to return to.

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Whatever happens and tempts, don’t rely on blending colours together on the canvas that is not what makes something work – there can be a little bit of this but for the sake of good practice when mixing on the palette think of . . .

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getting the values and the chroma !!

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There can be several passes made doing this and sometimes fewer, just the first one. Of course fewer means a quicker result. But only if it ‘gets there’ – if it just works without you asking yourself if it does.

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I most certainly found this time I was not making constant small changes to the three colours in the way I had become accustomed to.   In fact, it was a much more decisive, purposeful and satisfying session.  And worked better. 

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But, I had to do a sketch of the flowers – I couldn’t get them to work in the composition.

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And I had to use one of the Neutral Pages in the Munsell Book which are quite beautiful

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Now please – this is important

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Leave one ‘pass’ to dry before re-working.  Give the painting space and yourself a fresh eye on it.

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I know now there are many problems. In the composition, can you see how I had to add an extra piece of canvas paper to the right hand side? Right through the Coffee Pot? I guess I shall have to either chop it off again or leave it as unsaleable.

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Brown Coffee Pot

40 x 30cm Oil on canvas paper (mounted)

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This first attempt to use Munsell has been a real lesson. Even with its problems I love this small painting with that crazy huge begonia and the coffee pot I have known since I was small!

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The white flowers looked lovely in the set up but I wonder about the compositional dynamic, whether they are vibrant enough? Do they carry the arch of the composition like a bridge from the pot’s spout to the single begonia flower’s semi circular shape ? The carafe doesn’t really lean as it seems to here.

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For my next painting I am making drawings, small colour studies, squaring up graphite drawings to see how they work larger. I even may have photo copies made at different ratios to see how it feels before committing to a painting.

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The coffee pot is not a finished subject. There will be another, the winter version will have to rely on faux poppies – which are looking better.

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Even with all these doubts, let me return to the beginning. I am so grateful for the training I have been fortunate enough to receive from a number of artists.  I hold the guardianship of it with great pride and responsibility to try and pass some of it on, melded with my working experiences.  With the photos I hope all is clear?  Please do get in touch with any questions! Or thoughts.

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And finally, here is my most recent drawing – its tiny, monochrome. Just wait until you see the wonderful colours in the apples ! Now let me just find the right Munsell page . . .

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A Box of Apples

30 x 41 cm – graphite on paper

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Please Do Comment Here – Leave a Reply

I’d love to hear from you and for you to ‘met’ the different people who read this with their thoughts and ideas, all of which are fascinating in one way or another. Only your first name will appear online.

As I have asked this a bit late I am pasting some emails here which have been sent to me because they are part of the Blog – as will your thoughts be, if you have time?

Marilyn

Many thanks – but my clicking takes me to “page not found”

Happy New Year!

It all works now – v interesting (and daunting!)

David (2 emails as he alerted me to some technical probs)

Dear Marilyn

This looks wonderful.

My granddaughter Tessa who you met would really love to get this information as she is hoping to study art at university.

Would you mind sending  it to her please?

Thank you so much and happy new year!

Pat

Dear Marilyn,


A very happy new year to you.  Your blog is fascinating and I love when artists engage with and communicate their processes.  The brown coffee pot painting is gorgeous.  I have been musing over the last week that I don’t see brown.  I was applying this thought to my perceptions walking  through Tower Hamlets Cemetry.  I found that I could reduce what might lazily be perceived as brown to shimmering colours.  I then wanted to revisit Seurat to better understand how he applied Chevreuil’s colour theory and the optical mixing of colour.
You are fortunate indeed to have found your practice.  My painting days seem distant but it is possible that I may go towards painting again.  My recent films have become increasingly minimal – often a single long shot where there is shifting light and other dynamic elements within the frame recorded from a fixed camera position. 

I rarely see paintings that move me.  One of the best exhibitions last year was the Don McCullin at Tate Britain.  I admire the density of blacks that he achieves in his prints.  I met him briefly 5 years ago. 

best of luck with your paintings and I hope that the year treats you kindly.

much love

William

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Hello Marilyn,

Goodness, what a tremendous lot of work goes into a beautifully painted still life. Your blog explains the approach so carefully and clearly. Well done you. I think you ought to be part of an art school so you can pass on all the techniques you have mastered so well. Thank you for letting us see it.

Love,

Gillian

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7 Comments

  • Cindy Nelson

    Marilyn,
    It is quite amazing how Munsell works. I am still intrigued in Paul’s approach, thus being in and continuing with Threads. Lovely blog explaining it all. I am not a still life artist and enjoy landscapes and fiddling with abstracts. So I don’t use the munsell book except to help with mixing the color I see in nature. (tougher I know)
    Composition wise with your brown coffee pot still life. May I offer a few suggestions since you asked for comments.
    1. The two diagonal in the background distracts me. I would get rid of them. I understand why you put them in, but I don’t know if it is needed. Try doing something like Paul is showing us….Not dark colors, but on the other spectrum, lighter??? Hummm something to think about in my sky painting……
    2. The glass carafe doesn’t do anything to the composition….. I would leave it out. I like that the cool coffee pot be the tallest image in the picture….. I guess less is more in my thinking…..

    Love your sketch of the apples. Cant wait for that one…
    Continue on
    Cindy

    • MarilynBailey

      Dear Cindy Thank you for commenting so thoughtfully. I agree with you about the background of Brown Coffee Pot. I also think you have something with loosing the carafe. I’ve left the composition in place in my studio so I can see what occurs. I did have in mind to change it by putting it into a shadow box but that isn’t really what I want to do. The objects themselves could act as a silhouette / horizon against the brilliance of the light background behind them – using the principles of landscape painting as I learnt from a friend Maureen Hyde. These principles are the opposite of the dark infinity I use when there is a dark background, but the same manipulation of receding colour, clarity and edges.

      I’ve been trying to finish a portrait for the past few weeks, really hammering away at it and doing little else. I adore doing portraits, they make a great contrast to still life paintings. I’m putting three in for a competition – its always a risk as more often than not I’m not successful but I just keep trying!

      Just one more ‘push’ and I will have run out of time . . .

      I’ll look forward to looking at your work and hearing from you again. Many thanks and happy painting

  • Tim

    An interesting blog. The colours look really god to me, vibrant and consistent. Looks like Munsell could be very useful, and I look forward to seeing more paintings in due course.

  • Régine

    Very interesting Marilyn. Thanks for talking through your colour process – I’d not heard of that book before. It reminds me of a painters’ version of the Pantone chip book which I used a lot in my graphic design career. Very useful.

    • MarilynBailey

      Hi Regine, the Munsell Book is produced by Pantone and x-rite so it is very similar. It’s pretty hefty but like any studio addition, it will earn its place over time ! I’m glad you found the blog interesting and of use. Best wishes

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