Colour Mixing Series: Using Natural Iron Oxide Paints to Mute Bright Colours

When trying to decide on the next acrylic painting how-to post to write, I made a ginormous list of all of the things I could write about and realised that colour mixing made up about 80% of it. Colour mixing is the one thing I obsess about more than anything else. I know it’s something I spend a lot more time and energy on than most artists – I can tell by the crazy looks they give me – so it’s also the thing I have the most to prattle on about.

Something I spend a lot of time experimenting with is muting bright colours. There are a lot of different ways to desaturate a colour. What I’ve learnt is that you really need to familiarise yourself with all of the different techniques for desaturation so you can decide which method is best in each particular case.

The first technique we’re going to look at is using natural iron oxide paints to de-saturate bright colours. I say “natural” but in reality iron oxide paints can be synthetic as well. All of my iron oxide paints are natural except for Raw Sienna.

The chart below shows you the effect the five most common iron oxide paints have on bright colours.

Colour Mixing Series Using Natural Iron Oxide Paints to Mute Bright Colours

The Chart Explained

The five iron oxide colours are represented by the first column. The five bright colours I’m using are represented by the first row. I’ve then mixed each iron oxide colour with each bright colour, so the second row is each bright colour mixed with Raw umber, the third row is each bright colour mixed with Burnt Umber, and so on. You may have noticed some of the colour swatches have smaller squares in the top right corner – they’re tints of the same colour to make it easier to see the hue.

Some Notes and Observations

  • It looks like the Raw Sienna and Yellow Ochre are virtually the same colour – and they pretty much are – but something that you can’t see in this photo is the glossiness of the paints. The Raw Sienna is glossy whilst the Yellow Ochre is matte. In fact, all of the iron oxide paints, except Raw Sienna, are matte and all of the the bright coloured paints along the top are glossy. Also Yellow Ochre is a bit more opaque.
  • As you can see, it matters a great deal which iron oxide colour you choose to use. Not all iron oxide paints will desaturate all bright colours equally or in the same way. The iron oxide paints that will desaturate your colour the most are those whose colour bias is closest to the complimentary colour of the colour you’re trying to subdue (more on colour bias below).
  • Often, using an iron oxide paint to desaturate a colour will result in a significant hue-shift. For example, in comparison with the straight Hansa Yellow Medium the Sienna and Yellow Ochre mixes look very orange.
  • Unless the values agree, desaturating with iron oxide paints will also shift the value (lightness or darkness). I had to add a bit of white to many of the Umber mixtures as they were so dark it was difficult to see the hue.
  • Keep tinting strength in mind, especially when working with the weakest and strongest tinters. As a general rule, you’ll never need much red-based paint to shift yellow so go easy with the burnt iron oxides. Conversely, the yellow-based iron oxide paints don’t have much tinting strength compared to reds and Phthaloes.
  • Most of these colours I’d de-saturate even more. Depending on what I was trying to achieve I might add more of the same iron oxide colour or I might add a second, or I’d combine this desaturation technique with another one.

The Colour Bias of Iron Oxide Paints

  • Raw Umber – A dark greenish brown. Because of its green bias, Raw Umber will have an excellent desaturating effect on magentas (green’s compliment). Also, the cool undertone of Raw Umber makes it the best choice for muting yellow without pushing it towards orange the way the red and orange biased iron oxide pigments do.
  • Burnt Umber – Heated Raw Umber which transforms it from a dark greenish brown to a dark brown with a hint of red tones. Burnt Umber seems to work equally well for desaturating all of these bright pigments.
  • Raw Sienna – A yellow-brown colour with an orange bias. The orange bias of Raw Sienna makes it a good choice for muting blues but it will give blues a green tinge. Even when mixed with its complimentary, it has quite a subtle desaturation effect and I think its biggest influence is on the warmth of the colour – it will make cool colours warmer.
  • Burnt Sienna – After roasting in a furnace Sienna becomes a reddish-brown pigment. As mentioned with Raw Sienna, anything with an orange or red bias will be a good choice for muting blue.
  • Yellow Ochre – Has the same colour mixing properties as Raw Sienna with the benefit of a matte finish and slightly more opacity. Yellow Ochre seems to be a better choice for muting blues than Raw Sienna if you want less of a green tinge to your blue.

If you’d like to read even more about natural earth colours, Golden has a huge range I’ve never heard of before and have a very interesting list of these pigments with a brief description of each. I recommend you check it out (and let me know if you do so I can label you as the giant art nerd you are!)

Things I’m Afraid to Tell You

Things I m Afraid to Tell You

I came across this blog post on Creature Comforts a long time ago and have been meaning to write my own ever since. It turns out that “Things I’m Afraid to Tell You” was a huge blog movement in 2012. Huffington Post wrote an article about it. It was a backlash against the blog world’s tendency to portray the lives of bloggers in a perfect, sanitised, and censored light. If anything, I worry about the opposite – that I say too much and share too much of my negativity. Even so, I appreciate the idea so here it goes.

  1. I don’t have a tribe and probably never will. I don’t identify with the online all-female mixed-media shabby-chic clique. I’m too cynical for all the new-age spiritualism and just generally feel like misbehaving and being contrarian when in this environment. I realise that a hefty proportion of readers of this blog are of this persuasion and I hope me saying I don’t feel an affinity to this group doesn’t leave you feeling judged. It’s just not for me. It’s cool if it’s for you.

  2. I spent most of my twenties never ever initiating get-togethers with friends because this requires a belief that people actually want to spend time with you and enjoy your company. The idea of doing anything for my birthday still terrifies me. To me, birthdays are annual popularity evaluations.

  3. I’m ashamed of how unproductive I am. I’m so appalled that it’s February already and I’ve achieved nothing. I have absolutely no excuse for this.

This is supposed to be when I say how freeing and real I feel now, but I’ve spent so long trying to think of scary things to tell you all I just generally feel a bit down. I hope somebody got something out of this. In hindsight this is probably only a cathartic exercise when you’re doing it as a blog challenge with hundreds of other bloggers. Doing it wrong…

Introducing Our Piece of Earth: Piper’s Moon

After 3.5 years of living nomadically and a year of house-sitting/staying with the in-laws in 2013, we finally have a place to nest and call home. It’s my very great pleasure to introduce “Piper’s Moon”.

Check out that wisteria. There’s a grapevine entangled in the verandah railing a bit further down too.

Pipers Moon 1

In winter when all the deciduous trees have lost their leaves, this view opens up and we can see all the way over to the next mountain ridge and watch the fog drift through the valley.

Pipers Moon 2

This is the view of the back of the house. The kitchen is in that centre pokey-out-bit right behind the ginormous tree fern, with a breakfast nook overlooking the garden. It was very important to me to have at least part of the house on the same level as the garden. My least favourite thing about Hills homes is that the great majority of them are on stilts, so the houses generally float above the garden and the most common view is the canopy of the trees. This can be quite beautiful of course but I don’t like the feeling of separation between house and garden. I want to be able to sit inside and watch the rain patter on the garden. I want to be able to walk straight out into the garden not along a verandah and down the stairs. I want to be able to create the view out our window.

Pipers Moon 3

And this view is from underneath our copper beech (it’s HUGE!) of the opposite side of the house to the photo above, which is the back of the house, but this isn’t the front of the house. I’m not sure what to call it.

Pipers Moon 5

We have two open fireplaces. TWO! One of them is in the room I think I’ll be claiming as my studio! There are actually two rooms with studio potential. It’s easy to narrow down good studio candidates as you want a southerly aspect (if you’re in the southern hemisphere). This is because direct sunlight wreaks havoc with painting. Piper’s moon only has two suitable rooms with a southerly aspect. The one with the fireplace is upstairs – you can see its chimney on the left in the photo above. The other room is downstairs – it’s the bottom picture window in the photo above. I’ll probably just give them both a whirl and see which one suits.

Pipers Moon 6

Obviously, I’m hopelessly in love with her name. I’ll admit, it made me want her a little bit more.

Pipers Moon 4

There’s too much to say on this topic. Should I tell you about the little girl who yearned for this day? Who looked forward to this most of all about adulthood? Should I tell you about the many twists and turns our plans took over the years sat in our motorhome, dreaming about where we’d end up. About the architectural plans we drew up and the virtual models on the computer? Or perhaps what the last year was like and my despair in December when I realised the market wouldn’t pick back up again until spring 2014; only to have Piper’s Moon listed 4 days before Christmas! Even once we’d decided she was the one it was a rough ride as our building inspection turned up a major structural defect and the first quote we received to fix the problem was absolutely astronomical.

There is too much I could write on this subject. I feel an overwhelming need to wax lyrical about the Dandenong Ranges; the little piece of heaven which we now own a little piece of but I’m keenly aware I’ve already done this.

For the sake of thoroughness, the Dandenong Ranges (or The Hills, as the locals call them) consist of steep, densely forested hills dissected by deeply cut streams and lush gullies full of fern trees. The Hills are an oasis of temperate rainforest, dominated by the giant Mountain Ash, many over 100m tall. Due to the elevation, fog is common in winter months and it has been known to snow. We miss the clear delineations between seasons of Europe but at least we have a chance of snow up in The Hills and our property is full of mature deciduous trees! Two things uncommon to most of Australia.

I can’t express how excited I am about gardening. And buying original art and hanging them from our picture rails. And having a real studio!

What’s On My Studio Table

Nellie Windmill Work in Progress Art copy

I’m sure it’s hard to tell from this sneaky pic, but all those squiggly lines are clouds. I’ve been wanting to paint clouds again since “Benighted & Befogged”. I absolutely cannot wait to mix the colours for this one. They’re going to be quite similar to my last batch of paintings with the purples and greys but instead of green I’ll be concocting a scrumptious mustard yellow.

Again, it’s probably hard to tell without seeing the full sketch clearly but the object in the centre is a maypole. Maypoles are cool.

The Artwork of Arthur Rackham

Arthur Rackham’s art speaks to my inner child who yearns for a world just a little bit stranger, a litter bit wilder, a little bit magical. I only discovered his work last week and developed an intense art-crush immediately. As it turns out, Rackham was one of the leading artists of the “Golden Age of Illustration”, which I had heard of.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham_1

I’m most fond of his illustrations for “Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens”. I had no idea Peter Pan had adventures outside of Neverland; it seems a bit greedy really. Owning a copy of this book with Rackham illustrations has just been added to my wish list. If I ever have a child they will be so spoilt with all of the beautiful books I’ll read them.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham_8

Kensington Gardens' magical inhabitants come out after Lock-out Time

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham_2

Now there arose a mighty storm

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham_3

Put his case before old Solomon Caw

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham_5

...they stand quite still pretending to be flowers

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham_6

The fairies are exquisite dancers

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham_7

If the bad ones among the fairies happen to be out

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens by Arthur Rackham_9

They all tickled him on the shoulder

Other Works

Arthur Rackham Santa Claus

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

Arthur Rackham Fairy

Alice in Wonderland by Arthur Rackham 15 At this the whole pack rose up into the air and came flying down upon her

At this the whole pack rose up into the air and came flying down upon her

Arthur Rackham Rip Van Winkle

His children were as ragged and wild as if they belonged to nobody

Arthur Rackham hanging stars

Hanging Stars

Arthur Rackham pandora

Pandora: A sudden swarm of winged creatures brushed past her

Arthur_Rackham_falling_leaf

There is almost nothing that has such a keen sense of fun as a fallen leaf

Arthur Rackham’s Technique

Rackham invented his own unique technique which resembled photographic reproduction; he would first sketch an outline of his drawing, then lightly block in shapes and details. Afterwards he would add lines in pen and India ink, removing the pencil traces after it had dried. With colour pictures, he would then apply multiple washes of colour until translucent tints were created… (source)

Although digital art really isn’t my thing, concept artist Sean Andrew Murray has created a Photoshop tutorial which takes you through his entire process of creating an Arthur Rackham inspired illustration.

If your hankering for all things Rackham is insatiable, there’s an epic 8-part series on him and his work over at Poul Webb’s blog. Have at it.