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Tertiary colors are the neutral browns and grays that, when over used in a palette, are often referred to as "mud." Though sometimes banished from an artist's palette, they play a crucial role. Tertiary colors give more vibrant hues a chance to shine and play a starring role in compositions with more subtle ideas or moods behind them. Follow along with Mary Jane Begin in this installment of Artist at Work as she explores tertiary color, its best uses, and the creative possibilities available with this palette. She paints a landscape based on a reference photo, and provides tips along the way about establishing a ground, adding texture physically or digitally, building depth, and making your focal points pop.
Mary Jane uses the following materials in this course:
And here I'll talk about complementary color in a minute. I'm going to make this, all of the color ground should look different than the sky, so I'm going to mix a little bit of actual green into it. In this case, I'll mix a little bit of ocher in with that Antwerp. Again, I'm using colors that I've used before to make sure it all relates. And, I'll blend this together, and layer this right on top of what's here. So I'm creating what's called a mixed green versus a layered.
When you're working with this kind of material, layering means that piece of color is completely dry before you pop another piece on top of it. When you mix a color, you do what I'm doing. It's like stirring the pot. You're mixing the color right on the palette. You might say, well, you know, what's the difference? There's a big difference. You actually test it. And you mix Antwerp blue with yellow ocher and put it on a piece of paper versus layering, putting blue down, letting it dry, and the yellow on top. What happens with the mix is it becomes more homogenous, and it's actually more neutralized color.
It's just the way it is. So you can see, that's my green. And I could probably reduce it and make it a little less green. But water colors also are much more vibrant when they're wet, and when they dry, they dry with less vibrancy, much to the chagrin of water-colorists. You have to learn to deal with that. You have to learn, also, to pay attention to the value of a watercolor painting because it will only get so dark in its darkest areas. So I'll use other media to push the value system of this piece. So, this is my last little area.
I've colored it, I'll do before I do the tree. And what I'll do there is I'll pull in a complement because the tree is, in this case, for me, the most important element. The cloud and the grass in the front is important, but the tree is really, for me, representative of the person. The tree is like the human being in the scene and the ground is one other thing and the cloud is an element of the sky. But I want the tree to be the darkest element and the most vibrant in the whole piece.
So, when I choose where to put a complement. And a complementary color is a color that is opposite on the color wheel of whatever it is. It's next to or on top of. It's a color opposite. Purple, is the opposite of, well, all the other complements. The opposite of orange, it's also the opposite of green. Purple is directly across from yellow, so those are considered complements. They vibrate next to each other, and they neutralize each other when layered transparently on top of each other.
So that's why it's a really good choice to pop a kind of interloper color into this scene even though it's neutral. Even though this whole scene will be neutral the brown mixed with the purple will make the color of this tree pop. So let me just pull out those little bits of grass here. Or what will be grass in a little while. And, as you can see, I'm starting to mimic the value system that's here even though this is still at a really base level. Just a few more bits of color. I always love to introduce the color that's going to create some zing in a piece even in a neutral painting.
There's something exciting about it, because it it, it can wake up an entire piece. And I will not just use that violet that I'll be using, mixed with the brown for the tree, in one spot. When you bring in a voice like that, if you just use it in one spot, it tends to jump out too much and not have a relationship with anything else. So I'll use it in smaller quantities in a few other places. Okay, so that's my grass, and I can do more of this, pulling out of the light, but for now this is enough. And as you can see again, there's still the base ground color mixed in with the white of the page and some of the green that's being put on top, in this area of color.
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