For this exercise a sheet of paper, not more than 15 in. x 11 in. (Quarter Imperial) stained with a light umber wash of oil color is recommended. (This can be done by adding a little umber to some linseed oil and wiping it over the paper with a piece of rag.
It isn't necessary to use the expensive, purified linseed oil. The cheaper brands from a Five and Ten or a builders' supplier will do.) Stain at least half a dozen sheets at a time so that they can dry off and be ready for all the exercises.
Mix all the colors with a palette knife, adding a little drier or dilutant to make it malleable. Clean your used brushes after each phase of the exercise.
1. Divide the paper up by drawing with a pencil ten unequal rectangles.
2. Put some white in the center of your palette, making it fluid and malleable. With your brush paint the rectangle in the top left-hand corner. Make each stroke clean and crisp. Don't continue painting once the brush is emptied of paint. Go back and take up more paint rather than push or smear the paint about.
3. When you have filled in the first rectangle with white, add some lemon to the white left on the palette (if you have used it all, put out some more) and thoroughly fuse them together. Paint, just as I have suggested above, the next rectangle to the white. Anyone will do.
4. Clean off the lemon and white and put to one side. Put pure lemon on the palette and paint the next rectangle adjoining the lemon and white.
5. Add some red to the yellow, mix well and apply to the next rectangle. Make sure your brush is clean.
6. Add white to the red and yellow and paint the next rectangle.
7. Clean off; place to one side and put out some lemon and blue. Mix well with your palette knife, adding dilutant if necessary and repeat painting the next rectangle.
8. Add white. Mix well and fill in next rectangle with a
9. Clean off. Put to one side and repeat process with
yellow and umber.
10. Add white to yellow and brown and fill in last
This will be the first step in seeing what the colors can do and how they behave when you apply them. The result will be like an abstract painting of changes of color. You can repeat this exercise as many times as you wish, varying the sizes of the rectangles and the order in which you paint them. You can also vary the amounts of color in mixtures using different proportions of red to yellow, white to red and yellow and so on.
When you have exploited all the possibilities of lemon, repeat the process again by putting out blue first and adding all the other colors and white to it. A quite different result will be obtained. Then do the same with red and then with umber. After you have completed mixing all the colors with each other in turn, you will have a record of what simple mixtures these colors can achieve. To take these mixtures one step farther, try mixing mixtures together. For instance, a red-yellow-white with brown. Or a lemon-blue with red and white and so on. Provided you mix the color mixtures carefully with your palette knife you will get a large range of intermediate tones, subtle greys and tints that you will be able to exploit later.
You can divide your paper into as many rectangles as you like when doing this last exercise and, if you want, divide your paper up into shapes other than rectangles (Fig. 31b).
These exercises will all help you to gain confidence and skill so that by the time you have completed them you will be quite ready to tackle a still life.