Friday, 12 September 2014

Elderberries : Limited Palette

We are back to the formal programme of subjects at AVA, which means no weekly hiding in subjects within our comfort zones. It was, however, a gentle beginning for us all as the only criteria was the use of a limited palette. This was described simply as two tubes, pans or sticks of  'paint'.

What was interesting about this subject was the need to begin with a subject that could be well described using only the two pigments, and then to explore the palette to try top find two pigments that could give you the greatest range of possibilities.

The first consideration was resolved, thanks to a neighbours  beautiful Sambuca Nigra bush on the border of our two gardens. The leaves and berries are not dissimilar to each other in colour and they lent themselves to a bit of artistic licence.

Having settled on the source material, I then had a good look at the possible pigments. I needed a rich burgandy for the berries and something which when mixed with the red gave me some lovely darks as well. In the end, after a bit of trial and error I selected Quinachridone Magenta and Pthalo Green.

I chose a sheet of 450g paper as I knew there would be plenty of water with the initial wash, and I have been having problems with buckling recently.The paper is  Cornwall Matt by Hahnemuhle which is becomming one of my favourite papers at the moment.

I sprayed the paper with plenty of water, using the spray can give nice textures when the paint is dropped in, as you can see with the green in the top LH corner.
I dropped in paint selectively but at random into the water and tried to create a few darks in the middle. When the wash was dry, I was a bit disappointed that there was not too much pure magenta left, but the paper is too expensive to waste, so I had to carry on. Whilst it was still wet, I used a straw to blow a few random twiggy shapes out of the base of the painting. I find this helps to keep the work a bit loose.

When the wash was dry, I simply painted in the berries and twigs and identified the leaves by using their negative shapes. As I could only use two tubes of paint, I could not get back the highlights in the berries which was a bit of a problem. In hindsight, I should have put tiny drops of masking fluid on the paper before doing the wash and this would have given me some hightlights. I tried to leave paler patches where possible and deliberately painted berries in the white paper patches to give really fresh colour and bright white highlights.I also added a little white acrylic gouache to some of the berries on returning home!

Because I did no drawing, I did not get quite right the way the stems grow from the main branches, so it cannot be described as a botanical painting, but I am quite pleased with the result. It does show what a lovely range of lights through to very darks that you can get with just two tubes of paint!


  1. Really beautiful and stunning colours

  2. Thanks Polly. Its great fun to be a bit experimental with colours. Glad you like it.

  3. Great, especially with only two colours

  4. Thanks Peter. Hope you are soon back at AVA.