Creating colour harmony with a limited palette – LA PETITE JAZZ

La petite Jazz ©2020Suzanne Bélair, Oil on canvas, 16 X 20 in

It is the first time in over a year that I post about oil painting or a “real” painting anyways.  Since the hectic time of 2019, including two moves, major renovating of our new home and getting my new studio installed, I couldn’t find the motivation to get into a larger project than my daily drawing series.

Luckily for me, I was asked to paint my friend’s beloved Westie as a surprise birthday gift from his husband.

Her name was Jazz. She was part of my friend’s life for a long time until she died 3 years ago. 

I never met Jazz in person, but I heard a lot about her. According to her owners, she was endearing, adorable, intelligent and loving just as West Highland white terriers usually are. Always on the lookout for a good time, she was happy and curious and used to entertain herself as well as everyone around. She loved the woods behind their house. I knew this commission was special and full of emotional significance for them.

The customer provided several pictures and we both agreed on a particular one that depicted Jazz standing up on a park bench, looking curiously about and full of excitement. I could feel her spirit when I saw the photo and knew immediately I wanted to paint her. I modified it somewhat to serve the subject and canvas size.

First thing after deciding on a composition was to work out a limited palette of three basic colours. I like to limit the palette to three colors which creates a visually harmonious painting.

Here is how I work out my palette for this type of painting. I love this system because you can visualize the result better and solve colour issues early on.

Here is what it looks like:

Start with an equilateral triangle on the left and draw a mirror image on the right. On the 3 corners of the left triangle, you have three pure pigments, in between two pigments, I do a mix of about 50-50, resulting in 4 mixes that can be adjusted how you wish later on according to %. In the right triangle, Titanium white is added to each of the pure pigments and mixes.  Sometimes, I extend to the outside with various amounts of white or different % of pigments. It is incredible how many colours you can mix from 3 pigments. Plus there is always one of the mixes that gives a nice chromatic grey. Greys look more alive when they come from mixing colors rather than using only black and white.

The pigments I used are all Windsor and Newton Artist grade oil colours. They are:

Cerulean blue

Red transparent oxide (a definite favourite)

Cadmium yellow medium

Titanium white

I took Ivory black out but wasn’t sure if I needed it at all. In the end, I used it very sparingly.

The mix of CB and RTO makes for a wonderful dark brown I was able to use in the shadows.

Contrary to how I usually work, I decided to mix a batch of colours in advance to save time. Before starting, I primed the canvas with a light coat of white gesso mixed with cerulean blue acrylic paint. Once dried, I started the drawing and the oils.

It felt good to get back into oil painting after so long. The smell and buttery feel of the paint are great and oils always remain my favourite medium. Now I want to tackle all my unfinished projects!

Stay safe and enjoy your creative moment!

Thank you for reading!



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Enviroart par Suzanne Bélair



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