Here's another secret that the Old Masters knew & it is hiding in plain sight. You can check this out in a stroll through at any good museum.
Almost every good painting has some representation of the following five colors:
It doesn't matter if you paint like the Old Masters (or like your own unique contemporary self) - this is one of the fundamentals of painting and it works.
Max Beckman knew this in 1921 and I am sure this Old Master principal was learned from his original classical training in art.
If one of these colors is missing, the eye will hunger for it - and the painting will, somehow, seem incomplete until it is included.
The red is a tiny touch at the waist and the drapery is blue. The background is yellow.
How's this for subtle color? The head of the cane is blue. The cane is made from a deep reddish wood. The frock coat is a warm yellowish grey. The shirt and gloves are white and the tie is black.
It doesn't have to be obvious. For example, red doesn't have to look like a fire engine. It can be represented simply be the color of cherry wood. It can be a reddish neutral.
The color doesn't have to cover a large area - it can be "just a touch." But it has to be there.
The secondary colors (the combination of two primary colors, i.e., orange can stand for either red or yellow depending on the shade or how and where it is used).
I learned to paint by copying the Old Masters. Copying a Vermeer was the first time I noticed this "secret." I looked around - and sure enough, all the greats did it.
Painting a sky is such a good way to put blue into a painting.
The "red" in this painting is just a little on top of the book.
Black objects paint well - shadows don't count as "black."
Once you see this, you can't stop seeing it.
Sometimes it is very obvious.
The black in this one is the detail around the neck of the child's clothing.
I'll bet that people didn't really dress this way with these colors. The artist manipulated it because it serves the painting so well.
Despite the pale skin, it is the "white" band in the hair that counts.
Even The Mona Lisa follows this rule.
This one is obvious.
This one is even more obvious.
Greenish blue counts as "blue" in this one. The hair is red.
I am so sorry that these pictures are so small and hard to see - but the artist was very clever to put the pages of the book in yellow and the roof of a distant building in red.
I'd say that the wood of the table is red. The book pages, yellow and the stone door frame is blue. See the tiny touch of white at his throat?
You'll see a lot of strong primary colors (plus black and white) in the religious paintings of the Italian Renaissance..
It's a bit of a formula once you begin to notice this "secret."
The spot in the necklace is red. Blue appears in the dress.
Next time you wonder what color to paint something - ask yourself, "what's missing?"
Tiny little spots of color can - and often do - make the painting.
All the colors are on her palette in this painting.
Sometimes it is really subtle: Yellow and Red on the palette. Blue in the painting. Black and white are obvious.
Even a study in gray has red, yellow, blue neutral grays.
This Corot is one of my favorites. And yes, red, yellow, blue, black and white are represented here.
It was painted with a very limited earth palette: My guess is that Corot used Burnt Umber, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Ivory Black and Titanium White.
Burnt Umber represents red.
Yellow is Raw Sienna and/or Raw Umber used as a glaze.
Blue is represented by Ivory Black plus White
White is made by mixing Raw Umber and White
I'll chat about limited earth palette paintings in another post sometime soon. I think that they are uniquely beautiful.