Use an Analogous Color Scheme for Black and White Subjects

An oil painting of a Holstein cow done in an analogous color scheme

Holstein Grazing. 11x14, oil on linen mounted on panel. 2017.

Animals with black and white coloration are the hardest of all to paint.

My usual problem with them is having to work from a photograph taken in open sunlight. The over exposed lights and under-exposed darks never provide nearly enough information to use as a reference.

In this case, I avoided that problem by using a photograph of a cow grazing in the shade.

But that introduced a whole new set of problems: thie biggest of which being the blue-green hue in the whites that came from light reflecting off the grass and diffusing through the tree shade. It didn't go well with an unpainted background. Even worse, it had some difficult cool-to-warm temperature shifts.

I scraped off my first attempt and looked for another approach.

Looking at some work by painters like Anton Mauve and James Crawhall made me realize that the simplest fix was to change the color strategy. That consisted of two things:

  1. Replacing the original, complicated colors with a simple, analogous color scheme. This made the whole painting much easier. It helped me find a simple approach to things like the background and the value range.
  2. Shifting from a cold color scheme to a warm color scheme. This made the picture look more natural to my eye - I guess it's easy to associate cows with a more earthy palette.


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