Part 1, project 2, exercise 3: Transparent and opaque – opaque colour mixing

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

3 March, 2016. The title of this exercise reminds me of a tough point we are, at the moment, trying to digest: the local legal authorities, which we have now contacted in the hope of a resolution we had hitherto been naive enough to believe to be accomplishable by talking to the hospital people and an out-of-court settlement, appear to, seemingly arbitrarily but no doubt with a goal in mind, select from and distort the crystal clear evidence we presented in the case of our son. It is like a painted story told in bright and transparent colours, which now becomes opaque and difficult to read by mixing in inappropriate paint. So I decided to use the skills learned in this exercise and the previous ones in this project to make an abstract painting telling the above story.

First however, I had to do the experiments mixing opaque colours. In order to try out the mixing technique described in the study guide (Open College of the Arts, 2011, p. 37) I nicked a flower tray from my husband’s collection and used a palette knife and medium sized brush to achieve an even mix of paint (Fig. 1). While this worked relatively well I was not happy about the amount of paint required to make mixing possible in the first place. I therefore compared with my old “palette” and mixing by intuition: the first attempt (Fig. 2 below) using ultramarine I did with the new method, the bluegreen one (Fig. 3 below) with the old method. Since I think that the intuitive method works better for me, I will not, at least for the moment, use the tray.

Figure 1. New mixing tray on the left
Figure 2. Ultramarine opaque mixing using pre-mixed paint
Figure 3. Bluegreen opaque mixing using intuitive method

The only immediately obvious differences to the transparent washes made during the first exercise were, on the one hand, a more even result, since I guess that paint is less readily absorbed by the paper than water, so there was more time to correct the transitions, and on the other hand, a more homogenous surface produced by the thicker layers of paint.

Next I prepared a bluegreen opaque layer and after that had become completely dry painted over that an ochre opaque layer. Here the difference was, as was to be expected, striking: The transparent wash allowed both colours to really stand out (Fig. 4, left), while the large proportion of white paint in the opaque mix subdued the colours (Fig. 4, right). The result has more body, however. It may therefore be possible to paint a form using opaque mixes and then go over the result with glazes of the same colours. This, if done correctly, should allow the creation of quite stunning representational paintings.

Figure 4. Bluegreen-ochre mixes: left: transparent washes, right: opaque layers

In order to see whether it would make a difference to the result, if I did not let the first layer to become dry first, I prepared another sheet using ultramarine and pure yellow. Although the first layer was definitely wet at the time of painting over it, the addition of white to the yellow layer nearly blocked out the ultramarine (Fig. 5). A wet-in-wet technique using this set of media and supports may therefore not be achievable.

Figure 5. Wet-in-wet opaque mixing of ultramarine and pure yellow

In order to see whether leaving out the white from an opaque mixing would cure the above effect, I had another go at vermillion and sap green (Fig. 6):

Figure 6. Vermillion and sap green mixes: left: transparent wash, right: opaque mixing without white

It was immediately obvious that for some reason the vermillion in the opaque mix somehow “lost the battle” against the sap green. Only at the far end of the sheet, where I used vermillion only it started to radiate. As long as there was any green in the mix, no matter how little, it would become olive green. The transparent wash, on the other hand, retained the brilliance of the individual colours except for a central band, where the mix would appear grey. I am not sure whether in this case the opaque and transparent mixes would go well together. It seems as if there were excluded combinations and I will try and find out why.

Finally, returning to my initial thoughs for this exercise, I produced my legal authorities painting using bluegreen and gold ochre. I used, for the first time in my life, acrylic paper, put on some parallel strips of masking tape, painted over that with a transparent wash of bluegreen (as in exercise 1). After this had become dry, I removed the tape (damaging the paper in the process as some of the surface came off with the tape, but made it more interesting that way) and put on some more tapes at a 90° angle. Over this I painted another transparent layer, this time using ochre. This I left to dry, then started experimenting with opaque layers. When these had become dry again, I put on transparent washes to see how the different mixes would behave (Fig. 7):

There were many different interesting effects, but the best in my opinion was the blue ball (Fig. 8). The final glazing with a very dilute wash of ochre produced a beautiful, vivid sheen, which had not been there while it had just been an opaque mix of bluegreen and white. Interestingly, the opposite, the ochre and white opaque ball glazed with bluegreen was not nearly as successful. I will have to remember this effect and do more testing of appropriate colours throughout the course.

Figure 8. Bluegreen and white opaque ball glazed with transparent wash of gold ochre


Open College of the Arts (2011) Painting 1. The Practice of Painting. The Bridgeman Art Library, London, New York, Paris, p. 37.


Part 1, project 2, exercise 1: Transparent and opaque – tonally graded wash

Updated on 19 February 2017 (Harvard referencing).

25 February, 2016. For this exercise I made several longish strips using my discarded heavy watercolour paper paintings, both smooth and rough, and followed the instructions in the study guide.
Since I am working with acrylic paint, I soon found out that in order to produce a  graded wash I would need to work quickly and developed a system allowing satisfactory results. When still wet the finished strips looked better than they did after having become dry, so none of them are perfect, although I noticed that I became better with practice.

With the colours (Amsterdam) and types of paper I used in this exercise the difference between wet-in-wet washes and painting on a dried layer was hardly noticeable. Luckily I had seen the expected effects before on other occasions, e.g. with the pear painted on smooth cardboard for exercise 1b of Project 1. I did notice, however, that some pigments seem to repel each other at the microscopic level, which when painting wet-in-wet will leave small areas of incomplete mixing, somewhat like freckles on a face. The same effect I know from certain watercolour pigments, where a drop of one colour put into a puddle of the other will cause the latter to move towards the edges of the puddle instantly. I have not done the experiment recently, but think I remember it was particularly effective, and annoying, with Schmincke Horadam indigo.

Figure 1. Tonally graded washes, first layer, top: ultramarine, bottom: bluegreen
Figure 2. Tonally graded washes, ultramarine and bluegreen, left: on dried layer, right: wet in wet
Figure 3. Tonally graded washes: left and right: on dried layer, centre: wet in wet
Figure 4. Tonally graded wash, detail

In the above picture (Fig. 4) a difference between wet in wet washes and letting the first layer dry first is visible because the brush strokes on the “solid” side of the first colour became enhanced by the second colour and thus form a most attractive “glazing” effect.

Figure 5. Tonally graded wash: wet in wet, detail

In contrast, the above example (Fig. 5) shows the effect of wet in wet painting: The result is a more or less unstructured mix in different proportions, a glazing effect is missing.

Figure 6. Tonally graded washes. Left: on dried first layer, right: wet in wet

In the last set of the series (Fig. 6 above) I think that I spotted a few other differences between dried and wet in wet layers. Apart from not liking the red-green combination and a strange impression of a “magnetic repulsion” between the two colours the most dilute washes on the most solid first layers at either end of the strip seem to have helped enhance the chroma of the latter, while the central bit seems to have lost its radiance, it appears grey rather than coloured. A glazing effect was not visible in either of the two strips.
In my eyes the most successful of the combinations was the dried bluegreen and gold ochre wash. Will try and read about the physics and chemistry behind the above!