Introduction to Oil Painting #4: Primary Triad


Prepare a primary palette. Choose red, yellow and blue. Hmm, you wonder. Which tube colors make the best palette? Truth is there is no “best” palette. But there is one that’s  “best for your painting”.

Primaries are noted because one can mix many other colors from this simple limited triad. But, there are many reds, yellows and blues available to us in tubes so, which ones are the right ones? It all depends on your “key” color. The key is the color your work is about. A painting about a red apple will have red as it’s key. Is the apple red-orange, red-violet, magenta ? Your choice will determine the color which you will then be mixing with blue and yellow. Experience will tell you how your red choice will play with blue and yellow choices. These colors will be in relationship with each other, pick colors which “play well” with each other.

I’m not sure which colors “play well” so I practice mixing a few different blues and reds. Sometimes you have to see it to believe it. In descending order: Alizarin Crimson, Cad Red Lt, Cad Yel Lt, Cerulean Blue, Ultramarine Blue.


I mix my 3 choices together to create a neutral, then add a touch of white to make sure the temperature is not too warm or too cool.

In descending order:

1) Alizarin, Cad Yel Lt, Ultramarine

2) Cad Red Lt, Cad Yel Lt, Cerulean

3) Cad Red Lt, Cad Yel Lt, Ultramarinecpp8

I like Cad Red, Ca Yel and Ultra. I eliminate the other colors and begin to premix value ranges for each of the tube hues.cpp9

I take the neutral that I mixed from the three and divide it into three blobs.

In descending order:

1) Neutral with extra red added. (plus white for tint and tone)

2) Neutral with extra yellow added.

3) Neutral with extra blue added.


Now for the technical exercise. This shows me how my choices will work together. I’ll have this example to refer to in the future to compare to other examples of other primary combinations.  cpp13




And now for a “little quickie” painting. I pick something with an obvious cad red key.


I use big brushes to start even a little painting.These are the brushes I’ll use on this 5×7 inch canvas board.


I pull those cool, med, and warm neutrals off the palette and rouge in the back and fore grounds. I mix Gamblin Galkyd lite or Neo Megilp into this first layer to thin/extend the paint and speed the drying time. Galkyd lite dries quicker.cpp20

Place lights and darks to get a feel for the value range.


Final touches include adding details and softening and hardening edges to emphasize light and space.


Look for a still life which has a strong primary triad feel. Key to the dominant color. Here I choose yellow. Cad yellow light is a good choice for this yellow. I’ll use the same primary palette for this painting.




Now, let’s see what the secondary colors look like from the primaries we picked.


Not bad…but not that great, especially for violet and green.

For further work make a painting with a key that is a secondary color. You may need to choose different primaries to create better secondaries: Ultramarine and Alizarin make a less dull violet. Cerulean and Cad Yel Lt make a brighter green.

Other Reds: Cadmium Red Medium, Alizarin, Quinacridone Red, Pyrrole Red, Red Oxide, Indian Red

Other Yellows: Hansa Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Yellow Ochre, Indian Yellow

Other Blues: Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, Cobalt, Cerulean, Prussian Blue

If you want to experiment with more primary triads for another primary triad painting. Here are a few suggestions for Primary triads which “play well”: Most of these combinations have similar saturation, tinting strength and opacity/transparency. Check out the mixed secondaries also.

  • Cad Red, Indian Yellow or Cad Yellow Med, Ultramarine
  • Indian Red, Yellow Ochre, Cerulean Blue (opaque earth triad)
  • Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Paynes Gray (old masters triad)
  • Venetian Red, Caput Mortum, Naples Yellow
  • Pyrrole Red, Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Blue (red shade)
  • Permanent Rose, Transparent Yellow, Cobalt Blue
  • Quinacridone Magenta, Azo Yellow, Phthalo Blue (green shade)

Outing: 2nd Annual Plein Air Convention, Monterey, CA.

Hey, any excuse to visit the coast goes although this convention far exceeded any imagined scenario. Having never been before, and having learned a great deal, I’d recommend it. For anyone and everyone!

But, if you are serious about improving your Plein Air game or  like to travel,  take in fabulous scenery, get free samples, watch artists make first rate paintings,  schmooze with international “rock star” plein air painters, drink starbucks all day, party, play, paint, make new friends, meet gallerists, etc., consider attending the 3rd Annual Plein Air Convention. Not sure where it will be yet.

We pushed for Tucson of course… I secretly have my fingers crossed for Kauai… or Cuba…c’mon Costa Rica.


The great drop-off. We’re not in Tucson anymore.


Monterey Marina.


El Gulpo…kind of reminds me of you-know-who.

mon4 mon5 mon6

I am in “Flower Shock” here. The scale of blossoms and plant are enormous!mon7

Locals say it’s the “best bloom”.mon9

Now, I’m scared…mon10

Hey look, plein air painters!mon11 mon12

Diligent drawer and compainero Gay Scheibl.


At the Monterey Convention Center. There were over 650 of us.


Pastel Demo.


Gil Dellinger painting with acrylics.


Ken Auster on the jumbo-tron. That is a big painting!


Presto, Voila, Done. 90 minute monster canvas. Entertained yet?


Lot’s of goodies for sale at discounts. This here is the Paint-Saver palette kit which enables the painter to store paint in the freezer between jobs. Look at those beautiful rainbow and earth hues. Hmm.mon21

The “Strada” titanium plein air easel…for those who want it all.

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Oooo, the lusciously gaudy palette which produced the above Point Lobos painting.


This is an acrylic painting on paper-really!


Can’t go to the coast without sampling local fare. Careful not to overdue it! (yes, I overdid it)


My “picture notes”. Much easier to remember than regular written ones…


And now it’s our turn!  They unleash us on the beach. We race out to paint. They broke us in gently-no cliff hanging, churning, roiling, drop-offs here. Just a little disappointing.


A little closer to Carmel and Pebble beach is Asilomar-a coastal preserve and resort. Rent one of the cabins there-it’s very nice (but windy)!


Next morning, our final day to paint, we tackle the marina.


Geesh.  How long is this going to take?


Now, let’s go sailing!


Yes, we really are here.



…and here.

Got to paint hard to play hard right? or maybe it’s the other way around.


Adios California. Until next time.

To receive online info every month subscribe to: Plein Air Today or read Plein Air Magazine and perhaps Fine Art Connoisseur-published/edited by the event planners Eric Rhoads (publisher) and Stephen Doherty (editor).

Intermediate Pastel Shorts: Water part II


We set out to capture the essence of flowing, bubbling water. No simple task.

For guidance we look to Japanese woodblock print masters of water:

ww9 and photographs, because they see faster:


We observed water shapes and relationships. You can trace marks or interpret them-be aware of the diversity of marks: their quickness, slowness, compactness and openness.





Take water notes:


Blind contour edges as they change shape, move and dissipate. Coordinate the eye and hand, like warming up for a run or stretching to loosen and relax.

Remind yourself that, no matter how complex, all you need is right in front of you.

The longer you look, the more you’ll see, the longer you draw, the more you’ll remember.  w1

” Warm highlights, cool shadows”. ” Reflected light is warm and cool”. “Daylight is cool, incandescent is warm”.  So say the masters.

Rules are relative…draw what you see!




Sara w4

Regina  w8  w11




Thanks to All for making this a great series of rocks, skies and water. Plan for more this fall. Your suggestions are always appreciated.

Excursion Reconnaissance: Ruby, Desert Gem

Ruby landscapes-1

Ruby sits southeast of Arivaca under Montana peak- 5,370 ft. Ruby was mined for gold and silver at its onset in the early 1900’s but later turned to mostly lead and zinc.


Many unique structures still stand offering  architectural interest for drawers/painters and shelter from the sun.

Ruby landscapes-1-8

This finger lake, one of three, is ever-changing. Despite it’s location deep in the desert, water is a major feature at Ruby-bring your swimsuit!  Great Blue Heron, migratory and waterbirds populate the area. Catfish and bluegill lakewise.

  Ruby landscapes-1-7


Every mining town is imbued with history; natural and man-made, Ruby is no exception.

Ruby landscapes-1-3

Sunset; colors warm and the desert comes to life. Stay to witness the evening bat exodus from the deep shaft. Better yet, camp overnight to catch the sunrise.

Check in with Ruby’s caretaker upon arrival.  Day use fee $12, overnight camping $16.

“Ruby Mines Restoration Project” is a non-profit foundation, set up to preserve the town’s historical record and habitat of the area, to donate or volunteer email

Many thanks to Pat Frederick for guidance and photographs.

Excursion: Cienega Creek

It was pretty perfect, although we felt the heat later as we slowly recovered from the day’s exposure.  Still, we had our Art to remind us of a really inspirational site. 

Courage, plein air-istas.


Morning by the stream: 10:00-12:00


ccr1Edy: Colored Pencil

ccr17Valerie: Oils

ccr3Karen: Colored Pencil


Sara: Pastel

ccr4Leslie: Colored pencil


Betty: Pencil and Watercolor


Lunch in the shade of the road bridge.ccr5

and a look at the morning’s work:


Karen, Amy, Margaret, Sara, Edy, Betty, Valerie, Rori


Right above us a train passes every half hour.



Afternoon: 2:00-4:00 p.m.





At the end of the day:


Thanks for coming! To return you’ll need to obtain a day permit. You can get one online, by phone or go to the office at:

Pima County Natural Resources,

Parks and Recreation,

3500 West River Road,

Tucson, AZ 85741

tel. 520-877-6000

Ask for a permit for: Cienega Creek Natural Preserve

Bon Voyages.

Intermediate Pastel Shorts: Water part1


We are imagining a day out by a peaceful lake or slow stream. The water is calm, there are rocks, branches, leaf detritus and reflections.  This may be a studio still-life but many similar components would also occur in a natural setting.


Make a line drawing, then look for a range of values to work in. Vine charcoal is quick and easy to change as you develop a line and value shape map. Consider this a preparatory sketch or make it the under-drawing for a pastel work. If you are working over the gray-scale with color don’t forget to fix first.


Now for color: Keep it simple at first with one key color, then develop form with tints, tones and shades. The key color is what you get a “hit” of right off the bat and can be different for each person depending on mood, light, intent etc. Once you have the key, then develop a harmony with the key in mind.


In the examples above see different harmonies: Red-orange key, red key with green complement and yellow-orange key with blue-violet complement.


Introduction to Oil Painting #3: Analogous Color


Choose objects with a range of analogous hues.

We are working with an analogous palette: Colors next to each other on the wheel. Set up the palette in a straightforward way. On the left;  red-orange, orange and yellow-orange (same sequence as the color wheel). On the far right see complements. In this exercise complements are used to dull and darken analogous hues. No black.


Complementary tube colors shown above are:

  • Cadmium Red Light-Cerulean Blue
  • Cadmium Orange-Ultramarine Blue
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium-Ultramarine Violet

Mixing these tube colors will yield a neutralized tone which will appear independent from the 2 hues used to create it. In your painting you can play saturated color off of neutrals for greater effect.


Don’t forget the importance of value:

  • tint (white plus pure tube hue)
  • mid neutral tone (hue plus complement with a touch of white added). *In this example the mid values are not total neutrals and need to be cooled down a little more with the complement.
  • shade (hue plus complement)

Eyeball it until you see the neutral. This is not as simple as it sounds!

Keep a record of the palette-make a grid:  Fine tune it as you go-the more you look for color, the more color you’ll see.



As far as wet on wet or “alla prima” technique goes: Best to do most of your thinking when composing the picture and mixing paint. As we say in the biz, “don’t think with the paintbrush”. You can mix anything on the palette before putting in on the canvas.


  • Be thoughtful and deliberate in your strokes. As in drawing, follow the form with the stroke.
  • Analyze the light, then place colored values on the canvas where they fit best.
  • Use appropriately sized brushes: Big for large areas, small for fine detail.
  • Slow down.
  • Try not to “blend” until all areas are accounted for. IMG_0785

For homework try a different analogous harmony.

Additional complementary tube colors are:

  • Alizarin Crimson-Viridian Green
  • Cadmium Red Medium-Phthalo Turquoise
  • Cadmium Red-Orange/Pyrrole Orange-Phthalo Blue
  • Cobalt Blue-Napthol Orange
  • Sap Green-Dioxazine Violet
  • Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber-Ultramarine Blue
  • Burnt Umber-Phthalo Blue
  • Permanant Green Light-Quinacridone Violet