Sunday, January 9, 2011

Learning to Paint with Bottles

I haven't posted here for quite some time and my friend Yumiko gently (OK, not so gently!!!! LOL - hai!!!) reminded me to update my blog. Thank you Yumiko!

In 1994 I painted my very first decorative painting piece and I was hooked. I learned how to paint using bottled acrylics. My first lessons came from local teachers and books. I fell in love with the landscapes. Creating beautiful scenes in a step by step manner was the hook. The unfortunate part of the story is that although I was learning to reproduce these lovely landscapes, I really wasn’t learning how to paint them on my own. The bottles of paint were holding me back.

In my studio, Dad and my husband Blake built me the world’s largest spice rack! LOL, it was a 4’ x 8’ sheet of plywood fitted with shelves that held the entire line of Delta Ceramcoat Acrylics and the entire line of DecoArt American Acrylics. This was mounted on the wall and held over 600 bottles of paint. There came a time that I wanted to design my own pieces and I would sit in my studio alone faced with a blank canvas and a wall of colour staring at me. I really had no idea where to begin or what to do.

So, I did nothing. I continued to paint other people’s designs and followed the instructions to the letter, never deviating in colour because I had no idea how.

Recently I was writing Landscape instructions for Dave’s new DVD series and I realized something: the entire painting “Along the Seine” requires only 13 tubes of paint! I was watching him develop the foreground flower area in the bottom right of the painting and I suddenly wondered “how many bottles of paint would that take?” I hit pause on the computer and enlarged the screen a little…How many tones were in the grass? How many tones were in that bush? Hey! How many tones are in the river and sky??? Then I started to look at the village that I’d already written the instructions for, every building was just a little different. There was so much interest in that painting! I looked back in the notes and counted up the tubes he used, 13!!!! I’m going to guess conservatively, that if someone had designed that piece using bottled acrylics there would be upwards of 40 bottles required.

It made me really think about how far a limited palette can take us in a painting. Even if the painting had used 40 bottles of paint, the slight variations of colour and subtle nuances in the sky and water that come from an uncomplicated mix on your brush could never have been duplicated. Add to that the gamble that the 40 premixed colours would relate to each other and things could get dicey. Take a look at these paintings and see if you’d ever have guessed that they were all painted with the same palette:

I learned how to paint during the peak of the Decorative Painting industry with bottles of premixed colour that were supposed to make life so much easier. But when I think of that imposing wall of paint I freeze again like a deer caught in headlights. The limited palette lets me create my own painting, even when painting another artist’s design because I get to chose and make it my own. I know it sounds harder (ahh! I have to learn to mix????) but it is SO much easier and there really are no mistakes.


  1. I imagine that you are a better artist and have more harmony in your paintings by using a limited palette!

  2. Thanks Bobbie and Hazel!
    Hazel, definitely a better painter because of it. I used to spend so much time trying to figure out the palette I had no time left to paint...I love the harmony a limited palette offers.