It's only hue, man.
Been saving that one for a while. Yesterday one of the artists in the studio, who also teaches, came in and said "One of my students said that you mentioned adding gray into the shadows to make a better painting... can you explain what you meant by that?". Well, that's not exactly what I said. Probably what I said was something along these lines; Using pure colors, or primary and secondary colors in the field will get you a painting that looks like a bowl of jelly beans. Pretty but not terribly true to nature. The truth is, there are very few pure colors out there. Sure maybe in the bougainvilleas in bloom but not so much anywhere else. What there is in nature is a million subtle variations of value (light to dark), hue (the identifiable color, like an apple is red) and chroma or intensity (as in lemon yellow versus manilla envelope yellow).
But for now, let's focus on hue. First to get a better understanding of the subtleties of hues, I want you to take the hue test. The idea is to arrange a series of gradation scales of split-compliment colors, all colors being exactly the same value. You'll see what I mean. It's free, there's no time constraint. My first go was a total failure but by the third time I did pretty good. Now how does this whole thing tie into the question about the grays?
In painting outside, the second thing we must learn is value, that is to make sure there is a clear separation of the lights and darks that make form feel dimensional. But the next thing to learn is that hue can replace value. Meaning that color (hue and chroma) and not value does the work. Check this out...
It's the same clip up top with all the color taken out. They are all one value. You would never guess that from looking at the color version, the colors separate like crazy. I could do an entire painting using only the range of hues in one value and it would still read. Probably would only fit in a retro 70's home but that's besides the point. Put into a form you can relate to, here's a painting I chose at random. To show how color can replace value, I've taken all the color out so you can see that a lot is done with hue and chroma. Also I threw a pure white and pure black note in to show the true gray scale range.
That's why I mix every color I see out there from a set of primary colors and "grays", to get the subtle variations in hue. But gray is a misnomer, because these colors I use aren't true neutral gray. It's a pile, for example, of a greenish value that I can quickly add more yellow and blue to up the saturation or change the hue to move it from sage green to sage palm green. I call them mixdowns or short cut colors. In my next post I'll show what I mean exactly by that. Now I didn't invent this, I learned it from Scott Christensen who learned it from someone else. It took me years to understand what he was saying. Now I get it.
So, my fellow Americans, ask not what value can do for you, ask what you can do with hue. I'm still working on that.....