Artworx Gallery | Contemporary Art & Gifts | Goolwa SA

Artworx Gallery - currently celebrating its 10th anniversary - is a regular award winner and the finest contemporary art gallery on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula.

Painting With Mud

I saw a post on Facebook recently showing artists how to avoid their colours turning into mud on the palette. The argument was that it was important to keep colours bright and fresh. I thought about that and realised that a lot of my paintings and palettes are certainly muddy - particularly those of the rainy-day kind. Of course, it depends on what you are painting and what you intend your finished painting to look like.

If you are after a bright floral painting, then mud is not going to get you home. There are times when you need clean colours that are not tainted by other colours. Having said that, it should not be the universal aim that all paintings should have bright and fresh colours and sometimes, we can just be too careful.

Not long ago I was watching a famous oil painter at work. He only had half a dozen basic colours on his palette and he didn't mind in the least that some colours were being tainted by others. In fact, the landscape he produced was magnificent and unified. Having bits of the same colour on the ground and in the sky can be very effective. It just depends on what kind of painter you are and what kind of painting you are hoping for.

Some of the world's best watercolourists love the mud or dirty colour left on the palette from previous paintings, whereas other artists wouldn't dream of using it!

Greys can easily be misnamed as mud, and are often the heart and soul of a painting. Colour will sing when it is supported by greys and darks and paintings can lose complete focus if everything is bright and colourful. Many beautiful paintings have been produced both abstract and traditional just using greys and perhaps a few highlight colours. Greys can be mixed by using complementary colours and white or by mixing colours with black and white - both are good.

I know for instance that the palette for my rain paintings can look like a pigs wallow, but my highlight colours have to be kept clean and used with a clean brush. My beach palette is quite different and some of those main colours of sky and sea need to be clean and fresh. To suggest however, that every painting needs clean colours with no 'mud' is just wrong. 

A painting full of colour can cause visual agitation and serenity in a painting with so little of it. It is a worthwhile exercise to look at the works of many artists both abstract and traditional and see how colour and greys work  together. 

Sometimes, mud is good!

Mike Barr

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Goolwa, South Australia

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