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True Confessions

October 11, 2011

I have a confession to make to all my artist friends.

When I started painting, almost five years ago, along with several other colors, I bought a tube of alizarin crimson.  Tried it on a couple of things.  Didn’t like it.  Put it away.  In almost five years of painting, in my memory, I’ve never used alizarin crimson in a painting.  I know.  How could such a thing happen, right?  Heresy, right?

Well, I found I could make a full range of greens incorporating burnt umber and/or burnt sienna, and if I really wanted to use a red, I’ve used what DaVinci calls “Red” (remember, I’m using gouache).  And, over the course of those years, I’ve even gotten a lot of nice comments on my greens.  But… I’ve never been completely satisfied.  I saw paintings by others, far more experienced, with some really, really nice greens.  And I’ve always been envious.  No matter what combinations I used, there were still some greens I couldn’t get.  Until last week.

Untitled, 8x10, Gouache

I had shied away from alizarin crimson all those years because… well, I just didn’t like the color.  There.  Said it.

This painting is from a reference photo taken at the Wills Creek Vineyards in Attalla, Alabama.  For some reason, when I was about to start this painting, I put a little alizarin crimson on the palette.  I did put out a dab of burnt umber, of course, and yellow ochre, because they are staples in my landscape palette.  But I decided, what the heck, it’s just paint and board and time, right?  Five years ago, I was in a big hurry.  I wanted to learn to paint, and by golly, I wanted to to paint well right now!  So I established a landscape palette and for the next four years or so I focused on composition, values, brushwork, edges, all that stuff.  For some reason, I’m no longer in such a hurry.  Maybe because I can paint now.  Not as well as I’d like, but then who does?  The point is that now I feel like I can take the time to do more experimenting with colors in my palette.

Old Stone Bridge, 8x10, Gouache

So, over the last four or five days, with the first painting above, and this one, I used alizarin crimson in my greens.  Not a lot.  It doesn’t take a lot.  But enough to show me a new range of greens that I’ve never gotten before.

This stone bridge crosses Mansker’s Creek in Goodlettsville, TN, just north of Nashville.  It was apparently part of a stagecoach road that connected Nashville to Louisville.  Built sometime between 1837-49, the bridge now leads to private property.

I’ve painted this bridge before, from a different angle.  Never was completely happy with that painting, so I pulled one of the reference photos out and used it to experiment with some new greens.  With alizarin crimson.  You may not be able to see the difference.  But I can.  And after all, isn’t that what’s important?

Now I guess I’ll have to try using cerulean blue again.

I probably should try more of this stuff before the Mayan calendar runs out.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 11, 2011 1:06 pm

    Beautiful paintings Ralph, well done. Alizat=rine Crimson eh? I will try that one . All the best Ralph.

    • October 11, 2011 1:42 pm

      Thanks, Vic! Check my response to Virgil Carter about the lightfastness of alizarin.

  2. October 11, 2011 1:08 pm

    Ralph, check the manufacturer of your alizarin for lightfastness. In watercolors it’s fugutive.

    Sling paint!

    • October 11, 2011 1:48 pm

      Thanks for the warning, Virgil. The tube shows a lightfastness rating of II (Very Good), as opposed to a rating of I (Excellent). I do use it extremely sparingly, with just the slightest touch of it in the green mixtures.

  3. October 12, 2011 3:08 pm

    A rating of II should be safe to use, without fear of fading. Rose Madder Genuine and Aurolein are other fugitive watercolors from most manufacturers. Some watercolor paint manufacturers now make a “Permenant Alizarin Crimson”, using different pigments from the original formula. Amazing how many painters still use fugitive paints–and the manufacturers say they keep making them because painters continue to use them!

    Sling paint!

  4. October 30, 2011 1:23 am

    Love the tree at Wills Creek, Ralph!!!

    • October 30, 2011 10:40 am

      Thanks, Gina! It just sort of caught my attention out there in the middle of the field.

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