Friday, February 28, 2014

A quick and dirty colour study

Posted by: Kate

I'm one of those people who believes that if something is really, really hard, I just haven't uncovered the easy way yet.  This is an offshoot of the "Work Smarter Not Harder" philosophy.  I have also observed that when something is really, really hard I'm less likely to do it.  That's just science.

Now I'm not whining about hard work.  I don't mind standing at my easel for twelve hours or whatever (who's counting?).  I'm talking about the studio practices that seem to be way more difficult and time consuming than they ought to be.  I'm talking about colour studies.

From the archives of Way Back When, here are some examples of colour studies:

They range from blocky and basic to somewhat detailed and are usually about the size of my hand or slightly larger.  The colour study is when I work out what colour arrangement I want for the final piece, and which paints I will need on my palette.

My problem with colour studies is that I find that I spend at least half of my time working out the drawing and then chasing the drawing around.  Generally speaking, chasing the drawing around also means muddying up my paint.

Furthermore, after ditching linen, I didn't have anything that I could paint a colour study on.  I didn't want to use dibond panels because that's a waste of time and materials.  I wanted a smooth, inexpensive surface that was ready to use in an instant.

Around this time I noticed some people on Facebook posting pictures of paintings they had done on vellum.  I don't espouse the archival nature of this support, but hey, colour studies are wastebasket fodder as far as I'm concerned.  So here are my vellum colour studies:

The surface is cheap, smooth, and ready to paint on as soon as I snip it from the roll.  And here is how the vellum allows me to make my colour studies a whole lot faster:

When I finish my preparatory drawing, I photograph it and print it out.  Then, I lay the vellum over top and paint with the image underneath as my guide.  I'm not a fast painter, but I can now get a colour study done in an hour.  And if it only takes an hour, I'm a lot more likely to do more than one.

There's another method I use when I need to make something larger or more complex.

At the top is my vellum study.  I was happy with it, but, knowing the finished painting was going to be one of my biggest figurative paintings yet, I knew that I needed to do a larger and more detailed colour study too.  Above is a larger study measuring at about a fifteen inches in its longest dimension.  I did have to draw this out, which took a while and made me yawn at least once.  On a piece of watercolour paper that had been sealed with acrylic gesso, I drew out my composition with the help of a grid.  I then worked out my colours over the course of two sittings.  I'm not advertising this latter approach as a fast method, although it is cheap.  This method is for the occasions when it's necessary to dig a little deeper than the vellum study will allow, but you want to keep materials costs down.

And by the way, we've started an image gallery on The Uncanny's website.  We will be adding new pictures to it as our work is completed.  Also, consider following us on Instagram or Facebook.  There you will find a lot of pictures of works in progress that haven't yet been covered here.


  1. What a good idea!

    What kind of vellum are you using? Specifically, is it more plastic-y or more paper-y?

  2. I love this! This could be a huge help. Thanks so much for sharing! :)

  3. Great post Kate! Thanks for sharing your process. I have recently begun doing color studies now after years of avoiding them because um, maybe I was a tad lazy? However, now I see the wisdom in doing them. My current commission is going much more quickly since all the guess work is done.

  4. I use Grafix Dura-Lar Matte in much the same way. Might try the vellum now!

  5. This is a great idea, Kate! I'll be ordering some vellum as soon as the store opens today. I used to paint plein aire studies for my larger studio paintings, but since age keeps me in the studio now I have used the canvas pads, that are really some kind of paper, but cheap. Problem is painting on it sucks. It's like the worst student grade you can imagine. Sorry, no other way to say it. I would also like to know which type you use, as Megan Johnson asked. Thanks for this great tip.

  6. Quick oil sketches are good idea! Lovely!