Sunday, June 6, 2021

Hans Hofmann: teaching one abstract painting technique

Students are, as I have said before, the best thing that ever happened to my art making process. 

Case in point: I teach one lovely woman who works in a hospital by day, and is exploring color and expression through oil paint on her off days. 

We began with a simple-ish painting of a blooming dogwood in rain, but she quickly expressed a preference for the proto-Abstract Expressionist Hans Hofmann (1880 - 1966) paintings I shared with her. By the next week, she'd bought a book on the subject.

Miz—Pax Vobiscum, 1964
Oil on canvas
77 3/8 x 83 5/8 in. (196.5 x 212.4 cm)
Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, TX. Museum purchase (1987.3.P.P.)
Photography courtesy of Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

“I told a friend about Hofmann,” she said, “and he said, 'Hold on!' He showed me a painting of colored squares he'd done. But … it was just colored squares on a canvas,” she laughed.

Already she understands that Hans Hofmann's paintings are not just squares of color on a canvas. It's wonderful when a student comes equipped with such sensibility!

We decided to reproduce one of his paintings by following his process. The end goal would be to create on canvas what Hans Hofmann called "push pull," and Josef Albers called "non dominance."

Elaine de Kooning (the better de Kooning painter, in my opinion, and an invaluable annotator of art history as she participated in it) laid out Hofmann's approach in this fascinating article in Art News.

First, a complicated subject is required. I chose chairs around a kitchen table.


study by Julia Gandrud

Hans Hofmann used a messy studio, and the predictability and familiarity of chairs and dresser legs, to help create a space we recognize in spite of the overlapping lines. 

He then blocked out what he wanted to sit back, creating a central subject. 


study by Julia Gandrud

From there, he began to wrestle with light, immediacy, and push pull by creating large rectangular areas in pure color. 

study by Julia Gandrud

As de Kooning notes, “By this time (after three hours’ work), the artist was holding fifteen brushes in his left hand, and his four original colors had each multiplied into as many distinct tones.

Try it out yourself!

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Color Wheels following 3 different rules

 Creating a color wheel may not be glamorous, but it's a great way to help beginner - and even some advanced - painters step up their color understanding. 

The benefits include: 

  • understanding the spectrum transitions
  • learning to mix tertiary colors
  • developing a preference for certain pigments
  • later use for color scheme selection

In this post, I will only address the approaches for the creation of color wheels. Color schemes will come up in another post.


Dark to white

Here is a 12 color wheel with an acrylic base. Each inner circle approaches white, while the exterior circle is mixed with black.


The pigments are: 

Quinacridone Crimson

Cadmium red hue

Cadmium red hue & cadmium yellow hue (more red)

Cadmium red hue & cadmium yellow hue (more yellow)

Cadmium yellow hue

Cadmium green & cadmium yellow hue

Cadmium green

Thalo blue

Titanium white & cobalt blue

Ultramarine blue

Ultramarine blue & quinacridone crimson

Permanent violet dark

Tints

In the following oil based color wheel I have chosen different pigments. I always use three different blues - you simply can't capture all the sky and wave colors without them.

This time, the center goes toward gray, mixing in both mars black and titanium white with each interior circle.

The pigments are: 

Alizarine Crimson
Cadmium red hue
Cadmium red hue & cadmium orange hue 
Cadmium orange hue 
Cadmium yellow hue
Cadmium yellow hue & thalo green
Thalo green
Thalo blue
Cobalt blue
Ultramarine blue
Cobalt blue & cadmium red hue
Dioxazine purple

Neutrals

In the final color wheel, also oil based, the concept was to focus on the neutrals. I did this by mixing a touch of the opposite color on the wheel (what I sometimes brutishly but not strictly accurately be called its complimentary color). The result can lead to some beautifully subtle colors.

The pigments are: 

Magenta (quinacridone & titanium white)

Cadmium red hue

Cadmium red hue & cadmium orange hue 
Cadmium orange hue 

Cadmium yellow hue

Cadmium yellow hue & thalo green

Thalo green

Thalo blue

Cobalt blue

Ultramarine blue

Cobalt blue & cadmium red hue

Dioxazine purple

In that last color wheel, notice the transition from the warm purple to cadmium yellow - I have often seen this color in the shadows of concrete structures.