Thursday, December 19, 2019

Rainy Days and Primary Triads

9/25/19 vintage Prismacolors, Stillman & Birn Epsilon

The dark, cold and mostly wet days of indoor sketching season are upon us. I’ve been amusing myself by exploring primary triads. Visually, the color combo of red, yellow and blue doesn’t necessarily appeal to me; it evokes kindergarten, McDonald’s and Brillo pads (though I do love Mondrian and the new Bauhaus-themed pencil by Blackwing). I know, however, that painters are endlessly fascinated with experimenting with various primary triads, and I do understand that appeal. Some combos make intriguingly rich browns or grays, while others make mud. I haven’t met an orange I didn’t like, but some purples sparkle, while others are blah. Greens are surprisingly tricky; this must be why many painters carry a “convenience” green along with their primaries so that they don’t have to spend too much time mixing the right ratio of yellow to blue.
12/10/19 Uni Mitsubishi watercolor pencils (activated), S&B Beta

Unfortunately, I haven’t been very systematic in how I choose my triads; I simply grab and go. It’s a long winter, though, so I might try to be a bit more analytical in my selections going forward – compare all-cool and all-warm triads, for example, or mixes of cools and warms. Since dry colored pencil pigments mix optically, the blended effects are very different from activated water-soluble pencils, which blend more like watercolors. The dry effect is more like glazed transparent watercolors rather than mixed pigments. It’s easier to get mud when water is added, so I often leave the triad shadows dry. I really like the optical mixtures that result. All but one of these sketches (above) were done with dry colored pencils only.
12/11/19 Uni Mitsubishi watercolor pencils (dry only), S&B Epsilon

In addition to being a triad exercise, the still life from back in September (top of post) taught me a different lesson. I noticed that the shadow of the tomato was a bit reddish while the shadow of the pear was more greenish; their shadow hues were influenced by some reflected color.

12/12/19 Van Gogh colored pencils, S&B Epsilon

12/12/19 vintage Prismacolors, S&B Epsilon


  1. I like looking at your dry pencils in the shadows and having my eyes mix the colors!!j That works so nicely.

    1. I'm glad you like that effect, too... it's really interesting to me to see the separate lines of color blend together into a new hue.


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