I Stand Corrected

People make mistakes. I certainly do, especially when it comes to art. As I’m learning about drawing and painting, I try to share information that I know is correct. Lately, though, I seem to have made a couple of mistakes, so I want to correct them here and now.

First, I recently went on record as saying that you can’t make mistakes when doing quick studies. Oh, how wrong I was with that bold statement. I have learned from personal experience that I can definitely make mistakes when doing a quick study.

Here’s a quick study that proves the point. I made a very big mistake here, and its name is Phthalo Blue!

Ghost Forest 8 x 10 Oil Quick Study

This quick study was part of a lesson from my 100-Day “Mood and Atmosphere” project. The intent was to understand color temperature. This, obviously, is a quick study based on “cool color temperature.”

From the start, I suspected I would have problems with the painting. I wasn’t in much of a mood for painting, so I suppose that was the first mistake. I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by responsibilities — phone calls to make, changes to health plans coming up, deaing with finances and taxes — so maybe I should have just stayed away from the easel. I was hoping, though, that painting might help me quiet my mind and bring me a feeling of peace.

Nope. That didn’t happen.

I was apprehensive about this project from the start, even though I was only doing a “quick study”. The reference photo was complicated — lots of snow covered branches, a wooded background, plenty of lights and shadows. “It’s only a quick study,” I reminded myself. Results didn’t really matter, right?

I used a canvas panel that I’d previously toned with black gesso. That would provide a very cool tone for my winter scene. I used a white charcoal pencil to sketch out a few basic shapes, then studied the reference photo a bit. The background seemed a bit black-brown, so I mixed paint and got to work laying in the dark colors.

That’s when I went for the Phthalo Blue. It’s a color I never use, but it was part of my Mont Marte set, and I’m using a lot of those tubes for my quick studies. Phthalo Blue is as cool as they get, so I chose it thinking it would be perfect for those dark, shadowed areas in the painting.

And maybe it would have been if I were a more experienced artist and had a better idea of how to approach painting the scene.  Things seemed to be going along reasonably well… until I tried adding in the pure white snow.

Ha! Yeah. Right. I had the bluest blue snow you’ve ever seen! Indeed, mistakes can be made when doing quick studies, and I was aghast at what I’d done. I tried a lot of things. Adding more white only resulted in more blue snow. Wiping blue off just made a mess.

I fussed and I fiddled, and the scene I was creating bore absolutely no resemblance to the lovely reference photo in Mood and Atmosphere by Carolyn Lewis. Oh, well! I tried. If you have the book, you can look up the photo and laugh along with me at how different my painting is.

But, the changes I made worked. I didn’t end up with the same snowy scene Carolyn Lewis painted, but I did create an almost ghostly winter forest. I think I succeeded with the cool temperature part of the assignment. I made a slight attempt to put in a few shadows, and that brings me to another mistake I’ve made.

When I was learning about mixing grays and making cool grays and warm grays, I spoke of using these variation in shadows. I incorrectly wrote that warm-colored objects should have warm-colored shadows and that cool-colored objects should have cool-colored shadows.

I was wrong on that, apparently, and I now stand corrected. I stand confused, too, but that happens a lot. Here is information I found from “Wet Canvas”:

“If the light on the object is warm, you will have cool shadows. If the light on the subject is cool, you will have warm shadows.”

Carolyn Lewis explains:

“With very few exceptions, if the shadows are cooler than the lighter areas of the painting, the light source is warm; if the shadows are warmer than the lighter areas, the light source is cool.”

This information is provided primarily for benefit of plein air painters — of which I am not. For me, it is confusing. As I work from reference photos and not directly from nature, I’ve never really thought much about light temperature. I’ve looked at the dominant colors of the scene and have judged it to be warm or cool depending upon what those colors are.

Obviously it’s time for me to do a lot more reading and studying here. In fact, I’ve already begun browsing around and I’m finding a lot of helpful information. I’ll be sharing that in tomorrow’s post. I  hope that I’ll come away from it slightly less confused, and I hope I’ll be forgiven for inadvertently leading others down a wrongly-shadowed path!

Bear with me, please. I’m still learning!


  1. I have been looking at light on snow for weeks on end and I see lots of blue and rarely see pure white. So I didn’t see this study as a bad one. On early clear mornings the light is a rosy peach hue and the shadows of the trees are cool bluish gray

    Liked by 6 people

  2. I’m not a visual artist, but it doesn’t look so terribly “wrong” to me. It might not have been the intended result, but I like the overall feel.

    If I could paint that picture, I’d be pretty impressed by myself. As it is, the kids hide their art supplies from daddy, so…

    Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s something I never heard before. If the light is cool the shadows are warm and if the light is warm the shadows are cool. Natural light is cooler than indoor light, that I can see because indoor lights look warm when you see an indoor light from outside a house. I’m not sure if the theory is right. Your colors in the quick sketch look fine to me. A warm shadow on snow? That wouldn’t work.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Your “Ghost Forest” is nice. My guess is that we wouldn’t have noticed if you didn’t detail your process. My painting experience starts and ends with house painting. I was rather mediocre at paint by numbers; as such I’m not too good with the art side.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. First off, mistakes are mistakes only if you don’t learn from them. If you get an undesired result but discover something from it, it’s a “learning experience”.
    Second off (?), you can get a lovely cool gray from phthalo blue if you mix it with a little mars black. That’s one of my faves.
    Apart from all this, I really like this little quick study. It stands on its own regardless of what you were copying.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Thanks. It was a fun quick study, even though I had a lot of “tweaking” to do to salvage something from it. I do like cerulean blue and use it. I just was really heavy-handed with the phthalo blue! LOL I won’t be doing that again!


    1. Thanks. Yep, I learned to avoid “phthalos” when I first started painting and tried phthalo green. I don’t usually have phthalos of any kind of my palette. I’m trying to use up tubes from an inexpensive I bought when I first switched to water-soluble oils, and in a way, I guess it’s good practice to play around with colors I don’t normally use.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Just look at some of Monet’s blue snow! Of course he painted directly from nature and not from photographs (there were no colour photos of course in his day) so I would say ‘Go out and study nature and forget all the do’s and don’t’s you read in How-to books’. My old teacher always said, very simply, paint what you see, leave the brain out of it. Yes, believe your own eyes. Good luck.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks. I know I should do “plein air” painting. I just get too overwhelmed when I try. I do like to sketch while I’m hiking, so maybe I should get into the habit of taking colored pencils along instead of using graphite. I like that idea! I’ve always heard about “painting what we see” and leaving our brain out. Now, I’m taking an oil painting class at Craftsy, and the instructor is saying almost exactly the opposite, telling us “don’t trust your eyes, engage your brain.” It’s crazy! I’ve never heard that approach before. He’s talking about lights, colors, and shadows, so I guess there’s a bit of truth in what he’s saying, yet it still seems to go against the grain of everything else I’ve read and heard.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well, I guess it all depends on what you want. ‘Don’t trust your eyes etc’ comes from the intellect, from the imagination, not from nature. If you want to be true to nature – however you ‘see’ it (and this might be Impressionism, Expressionism, Realism or any other nature-based ‘ism) you must believe your eyes but if you want to create art of the imagination exclusively, such as say Surrealism then fine, go ahead and paint what your brain ‘sees’. But I would say, seeing your work, you are very much a nature-based artist. If you have a look sometimes at my work https://www.artfinder.com/manage/richard-meyer/#/ you’ll see it’s all nature-based even though one’s personal objectives will influence that, and I see nothing wrong with that.

        This is why van Gogh and Cezanne – diametrically opposed in philosophy – would never agree; but both in their own way are correct ! Why? Because both worshipped nature even though they ‘saw’ it quite differently: because their different personalities guided them and their responses.

        I hope this makes some sense and is a wee bit helpful.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh, yes, I enjoyed reading this. I am definitely the “nature-based” sort of artist. I agree with the “paint what you see, not what you think you see” school. That’s why I was so surprised to find an art instructor saying the exact opposite. True there is a place for “understanding” regarding the “science” of light and shadow, but art shouldn’t be a technical exercise IMHO. I’m more inclined to go with “paint what you feel” and then apply the “what you see” principle.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Haha! Phthalo blue and phthalo green always make me cringe, even though I have both of them in my primary palette. They are just SOOO concentrated, strong, and staining! It’s so easy to destroy a painting with them unless used with extreme caution!

    I completely empathize with you. Been there, done that.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL… good to know I’m not the only one. I won’t be keeping phthalos on my palette. I will be using up what I had in my Mont Marte set. That was the first set of water-soluble oils I bought, so I’m trying to use those up. It’s fun — in a weird way — to work with different colors. I might find something I actually like!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Judith. Phthalo blue is indeed a difficult color. I have more recently started to use Phthalo green, very similar mixing attributes. It is one of the many modern organic colors that are so very hard to control. They overpower any mix very quickly. So, only a tiny bit goes into mixing. But I am liking it.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I just wanted to add, when someone pointed out to me the attributes of modern organic colors vs inorganic, it was a game changer. Inorganic colors are ones like ultramarine, all the cadmiums, etc. more traditional. Their mixing attributes differences and understanding that ….. priceless.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read a bit about different pigments. A lot of it is still way over my head, and that’s why I do have problems mixing colors. I’ll keep reading and hopefully keep learning, and now I will definitely keep in mind “organic” vs “inorganic.” Quite interesting to know!


      1. I believe all modern organic colors are both high intensity AND transparent. Its the transparent attribute that is the bugger. To control them, I lean on my opaque colors for mixing like the cadmiums. They also retain their intensity adding white, which could be good or bad. So using colors to bring them ‘down to earth’ is something to consider. I use also a smidge of oxide red in nearly everything to add harmony. On the Dickblick website, when choosing a color to buy in, say, Old Holland oils, it has the pigment info buried in the color swatch. Thats a good way to discover if organic. Good luck!

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