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Artist Community
Written by Bob Thackeray

Whenever I start painting I always put out a good supply of Burnt Umber and Phthalo Blue on my palette. I then mix the 2 together to get a dark color (not a black color). Often I will mix 2 darks, 1 towards the blue side and the other towards the brown side. To see what color you have made add a little white to a small amount of the darks and you will see an "optical gray", 1 to the blue and 1 to the brown side. A little yellow to the dark and you will see another combination of these optical grays.

As I start to paint I work with these darks and block in the dark masses that I see making sure to keep them thin but dark. As the painting process continues I find the darks that I have made very useful to tone down or dull any color that I am trying to make. Painting this way keeps the painting on the dark side. You must resist the temptation to brighten the painting until the final stages then the fun begins of "turning on the lights" as you add the highlights and detail that make the painting explode.
In the picture of Blarney Castle I used the mixed dark to under paint the shadow side of the castle as well as the trees and bushes in the shadows. The light side of the castle as well as the lighter foreground was under painted a dark mixed to the brown side and lightened slightly with a touch of white. The dark side of the castle was then scumbled over with a dark mixed to the blue side and lightened with a little white. The same technique was used for the light side with more white added.

The greens were all darkened with the mixed dark and/or brown to tone them down. The final step was to highlight the castle with a light brown and the bushes, tree and grass with pure cadmium yellow to give the effect of the morning light hitting their edges. The sky was painted with French Ultramarine at the top and Phthalo Blue and white at the bottom and the two blended together as they meet. When mixing the dark, the Phthalo Blue is much stronger than the Burnt Umber so I usually start with a mix of 1 part blue to 3 parts brown and then adjust from there.
In the second painting "Ross Castle" the same technique was used for the castle, trees, grass and rocks. The background hills were painted with the dark mixed to the brown side and lightened with a lot of white to create a soft gray. 2 tones of this color are painted into the hills to give the illusion of distant shadows created by the undulations in the landscape.

I prefer to use this combination of blue and brown for a dark that can be adjusted with other colors to create optical grays that are alive colors compared to using black which only creates dull and dead colors.

Bob Thackeray is a member of the Ajax, Oshawa and Pine Ridge Art Associations. He has work displayed in private collections in Canada, the U.S. and Ireland.