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Paint strings

Michael writes,

Dear David,

My ques­tion is in ref­er­ence to “Paint Strings”. I’ve never heard this term before. Is this an oil paint­ing tech­nique? (I’m just learn­ing to paint and I’m using slow dry­ing acrylics if that makes a dif­fer­ence.) Can you one day do a blog post­ing about mak­ing paint strings.

Thanks, Michael. “Paint string” is an oil paint­ing term because other kinds of paint dry too fast for it to be prac­ti­cal. What it means is to pre-mix a series of col­ors in a gra­da­tion from one color to another. Usu­ally, the string goes from high value to low value at a sin­gle hue. Typ­i­cally, chroma is high­est in the mid­dle of the range, because that mim­ics the pro­gres­sion of chroma across objects in the real world, and because that’s eas­i­est to mix.

You can use paint strings in a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent ways. At one extreme is to just mix one or two strings that you think you’re likely to use. For exam­ple, you could have a string of neu­tral grays that you use to decrease chroma in mix­tures (the best way to decrease chroma with min­i­mal effect on other aspects of chroma is to mix in a neu­tral gray of the same value). You could also mix a string of “aver­age” flesh color in prepa­ra­tion for work­ing on a fig­ure. Per­son­ally, this is usu­ally how I work with paint strings.

At another extreme is a “set palette.” This means that you care­fully plan out the col­ors you will be using and mix them all out before you begin paint­ing. That way, you don’t worry about mix­ing as you work because the col­ors are right in front of you. Frank Reilly, for exam­ple, was a 20th cen­tury artist who taught a set palette method. Artists who work with set palettes often tube a bunch of their most com­monly used mix­tures so that they don’t have to spend so much time at the begin­ning of each paint­ing session.

You can pre-mix color with water media, but you need to do some­thing to pre­serve them over the course of your paint­ing ses­sion. I have not tried the new slow-dry acrylic paints and have no real sense of how they behave. With oil paint, it just works that way naturally.

Posted in art materials, art technique, color.

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  1. Sharon says

    Thank you so very much for your expla­na­tion of strings. I have been look­ing every­where for infor­ma­tion on them. I would love to see some exam­ples. Thank you

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