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Ali Cockrean Demonstrations

Visit her at www.alicockrean.co.uk. See more or book demonstrations at Art Profile.

Landscape 2011 Back to History Page Colour mixing 2012

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Colour Mixing, 2 November 2012
Ali started her talk by explaining her background and how she tried various materials before finally concentrating on acrylics five or six years ago.

She uses mainly Chroma Atelier paints for her professional work because of their extended open time but for demonstration she uses Winsor & Newton Galeria or Daler Rowney System 3.

She uses the paint straight from the tube or pot, not bothering with mediums. Since she uses a knife, except for initial under painting, she finds that enough texture can be produced using paint alone, especially when using Chroma which dries from the base up to the surface.
Two examples of earlier work

Ali then went on to demonstrate colour mixing by painting a colour wheel.

She started with the three primaries - cadmium yellow medium, ultramarine and cadmium red - placing substantial quantities of each on a tear-off paper palette. She advised not to spread the acrylic paint out to mix it as with oils since the thin layer produced will dry too quickly. Always use the point of the knife almost vertical with a stirring action.

From the three primaries, Ali then produced the three secondaries - yellow and red to make orange, blue and yellow to make green and blue and red to make purple.
She said to always adds the stronger colour to the weaker, and then went on to produce six tertiary colours, i.e. orange-red, red purple, etc.

Ali doesn't use process blacks. She finds them too stark, giving the appearance of a hole in the picture. She makes black from ultramarine and one of her favourite colours, burnt umber. She mixed the two pigments 50/50 to produce a neutral black. Adding more blue or umber gave different hues. She added white to various proportions of the mixes so that we could see them more easily. This gave, effectively, a series of greys.

Ali then went on to demonstrate how she makes various other colours. Cream is made from cadmium yellow, white and a touch of burnt umber. Several hues of green were made by adding cream or grey to the secondary green previously prepared.
Two other colours which Ali finds very useful are phthalo turquoise and magenta, W&N (deep turquoise and purple in System 3).

Magenta added to ultramarine gives a very fine purple; magenta into red gives a cherry red and adding burnt umber to this gives a deep red.

Turquoise added to yellow gives a vivid green.
Turquoise added to ultramarine gives a useful blue for sea. Adding turquoise to parts of a sky gives more realism.

Ali then spoke about skin tones. By adding red and yellow to white she obtained a peach colour and then she added blue to give an acceptable skin tone. A darker tone can be made by adding burnt umber.
For the last quarter of the demonstration, Ali started a small (10 x 10in?) canvas board. She under painted a blue sky and brown/green foreground with diluted paint using a brush. She then worked into the under painting with other colours using a knife, and also demonstrated the use of a colour shaper, normally used for blending pastels
Ali rounded off her talk with some words of advice.

If priming canvas or canvas board, do not use household emulsion as it does not have lasting properties. Always use acrylic gesso primer.
Always varnish finished work; dried acrylic attracts dust
Keep mixed colours in some form of stay-wet palette
Mix all the colours you are likely to use before you start painting.
Question time.


All-in-all, a very informative and entertaining evening.
Write-up by John Stacey. Photos by Brian Richardson
Landscape 2011 Back to History Page Colour mixing 2012

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Acrylic landscape, 25 March 2011
Ali had a 20" x 24" Daler Rowney canvas board on her easel. On the table were a selection of painting knives, some rubber colour shapers, a couple of biggish brushes (which she was never to use!), a 10" diameter roll of cheap paper towel and a very neat pile of what looked like 3" or 4" bits of J-cloth.

She had also dug out knife-fulls of half a dozen Atelier Interactive Acrylics and put them round the edge of her palette: a large white dinner plate. This slower-drying acrylic showed its value during the demo: the room was warm but the paint was still usable two hours later. She said that student quality System 3 or Galleria give results just as good, especially for amateurs: they are cheaper than the Atelier, but she didn't recommend really cheap ones.

She buys many of her materials from www.artdiscount.co.uk - 500ml tubs about £8.
As an infant, she loved drawing - even from the age of 13 getting commissions to copy things. Colour was secondary: just pen and wash initially.

Ali did well in A-level art at school but decided that formal art college wouldn't teach her anything (!), so she started a career in Marketing and Business, continuing to draw and paint on the side.

She says it is important to keep working outside your comfort zone and to realise that you will have many failures. "Art can affect your mood but it also exposes your emotions, sometimes with surprising results"
She enrolled for a couple of short courses, one of them at the Slade to study portraiture. Very traditional. Very regimented. Rules had to be followed. She came away loving the feel and colour of paints but wanting more freedom of expression.

When she first started more abstract work, a lot of it was a complete mess. After a few months things started getting better and she decided she wanted to give more time to painting.

Her business experience gave her the confidence to put on a one-day exhibition ("You're my friend. You must come. Bring some of your friends, too"). She sold £1500 of work that day but the feedback she got was even more valuable. "Whom you know is more important that what you know" led her to exhibit in New York as well as London.


She's swung from realistic drawing to very abstract and is now almost half way back towards realism.


* "Don't buy process black:
use a 50:50 mix of french ultra and burnt umber"
Ali first mixes all the colours she thinks she will need. "Use only the tip of a knife, don't ruin your brushes". Adding minute amounts of a dominant colour to a lighter one she produced patches of:
a pale blue (Prussian blue and a touch of burnt umber mixed into white)
a cream (either yellow and umber or ochre mixed into white)
a mid brown (burnt umber into white)
a modified yellow (umber into yellow)
a dark purple (red-black into white)*
a mediterranean sea (phalo turquoise into white).

Then we solved the mystery of the bits of J-cloth (actually a tougher cheaper cloth, "Swifty" from Costco, but old T-shirt or any lint-free cloth will do just as well). Roll one of these bits round the index finger, fold over at the top and hold it with the thumb.
Moisten the end of the cloth (on the finger, dip it in water and squeeze out). Then use it to pick up a small amount of paint from the palette and apply it with a light round-and-round motion. Don't take the finger off the canvas.

Starting with the sky colour, Ali covered the whole sky, extending slightly into what was to become the tops of the mountains. Then, using the same bit of cloth, she picked up some of the mid-brown and worked this, wet-into-wet, to start the clouds. "Begin in the middle and work out". Then she added some of the cream.

"Your brain is your enemy here but you can beat it by working so fast that it can't keep up!"
She started the mountains with burnt umber, getting more precision and modifying the tone by rehydrating the bit of cloth. Then these were merged into the middle distance by introducing the ochre from the sky.

The darker blue water needed some of the reflected blue sky colour (was there enough?) before she started into the dark purple foreground.

After the coffee break came a half-hour of continual looking and adjusting, accompanied by a stream of comments:
Varying tone is vital. Soften distant edges and add lights and darks to define closer edges and establish distance
The less you put in a painting the harder you have to think
Ideas come as you work: act on them
Don't be scared about taking risks - errors can be corrected (you already have the right colours on the palette)
A touch of paint spread with the flat of a palette knife gives interesting textures
A pointed (not wedge-shaped) colour shaper makes precision marks but with an interesting broken-ness
Some bits of a picture need much more work than others
Small pictures still need decent frames (say 3" on a 9" picture).
People "know" which way up to hang a really abstract painting - but different people will make different decisions!
Messing about with paint is an excellent way of motivating children, even otherwise disruptive ones.
You needn't waste acrylic because you can return clean paint to the tub. Mixed paint keeps for months in a small airtight Tupperware (or cheaper) container.
Keep drawing - as frequently as possible

Except, of course, when she is doing portraits or life drawing, Ali rarely uses a visual reference. But she still finds it inspirational to paint outdoors (getting puzzled looks from bystanders who cannot see how her painting relates to the surrounding scenery).

Lack of time, not completion of the work, let alone the wishes of the audience, ended this intriguing evening.
The painting still needed a few more hours of "looking and adjusting" but Ali said she would try to remember to let me have a photo of the finished work : "It may be several weeks".

Landscape 2011 Back to History Page Colour mixing 2012

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