In the "Greenhouse" segment of my new video, Watercolor in the Wild, I mentioned that I ignored the green colors and painted the scene with browns, ochres, and blues instead.
Why would anyone want to do that? Why not paint what you see? Let me explain that decision a bit more.
What I was after was the most basic color scheme possible, just one step away from a monochromatic rendering.
I wanted to focus on the most basic dimension of color, warm vs. cool.
|Thomas Girtin, Interior of Lindisfarne Priory, 1797|
|Thomas Girtin, Guisborough Priory, Yorkshire 1801|
But wait—Is it possible that he used a wide range of bright colors, and that the greens have faded? Well, yes, there might have been some color loss, especially in the reds.
|Thomas Girtin, Ouse Bridge, York|
But if his palette was anything like Turner's, according to Winsor and Newton, there really weren't that many reliable greens available at the time. There were some green earth pigments, but none of the greens that we're most familiar today.
Copper arsenates, Emerald green, Viridian, and Phthalo green all came into use after Girtin's death.
More than that, artists of the day were quite deliberate about restraint of color in landscape. Here Girtin gives just the barest hint of green. The painting's reserve gives it a quiet dignity, a storybook quality.
You can find this chromatic reticence in the work of Claude Lorrain and Richard Parkes Bonington and so many others. In our own time, artists such as Andrew Wyeth, Erik Tiemens, Alan Lee, Brian Froud, and J.B. Monge have worked in very restricted palettes with wonderful emotional effects.
The way to get those effects is to either 1) Bring fewer paints in your sketch kit or 2) Ignore the colors you see and paint the colors in your head.
ResourcesTo watch the greenhouse segment and the rest of my new video, pick up your copy of "Watercolor in the Wild":
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Previously on GurneyJourney:
The Green Problem
Read more about Girtin and Turner's colors in "Palettes of the Masters: JMW Turner, via the Tate"
Winsor and Newton's essay about Turner's palette
Catalog to 2002 Girtin Exhibition: Thomas Girtin and the Art of Watercolor