Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Playing with mud

Morning Fog, Monhegan
Original oil painting  24x18"
by Susan Roux

When Don Hatfield came to teach his workshop here a few summer's ago, he showed us how he mixes paint on a glass palette. Forget the palette knives. He took his stiff bristled brush, dipped in several colors and turned it in circular fashion in the center of his palette. With that mess which appeared like mud, he showed us how he could move the puddle from warm to cool and back again by simply adding a new color to it. As he continued to demonstrate, the mud puddle grew and grew. You can mix anything in here  he told us. 

Much to our surprise, he demonstrated portraiture using this puddle of mud!

Since then, I have to admit I've learned to embrace the puddle. I even have my students using the puddle. There's something interesting about mud. All those neutralized grays... Subtle in their own right, yet clearly distinctive added to the canvas. It's amazing how many different shades of neutral gray one can make. 

Hatfield (that's what he likes to call himself) told us of his early studies with pastels. He learned to add color to a gray toned paper. It worked beautifully. In time, when he began to paint, he brought this knowledge to the canvas. I've never seen anyone like mud as much as he does. Where many fear creating muddy colors, he becomes the master in control when it happens. And just as with pastels, colors sit beautifully on mud. 

As I painted Morning Fog, Monhegan it's all I thought about. Mud. So much mud. I was painting an entire scene with muddy colors. I found myself lost in the slight variations I could create. I was being seduced by it. I was pulling and pushing shapes. My first strokes for the flowers were a simple diagonal swish of hot pink. It was a flat area of color. As I worked in the flowers, I was making decisions about which one's came forward and which ones would recede. And when they did recede, which flowers would be furthest back.

I watched my canvas evolve as I played with mud on my flowers. I felt in complete control. If I wanted a flower to push further back, I had the ability to do it in a instant. Frankly I'm surprised I finished this painting. I was having so much fun being the master of my flowers, it's a wonder I finally stopped. 

It's easy to paint drama with strong sun/shadow patterns. It's also easy to create drama with dark and light values as seen in my previous painting. What I was after here was to see if I could create some drama without any of those things. No sunshine, no high contrast areas, just mud and a bit of pure color. 

Do you ever try to challenge yourself with something new? If so, what? Do you enjoy getting out of your comfort zone? I do. It can be lots of fun. 

Note to Don: My deepest condolences for the loss of your dear sweet wife, Janey.


  1. Your painting turned out beautifully... soft and light. I guess playing with mud really works!! (David Gallup can create the most beautiful colors out of the mud!!)

  2. Beautiful play with mud, Susan. Such softness. So much to try! But isn't it great to spend time doing it? I just ventured into fog today, too!

  3. Je vais me répéter ma chère Susan... Nous en avons parlé ensemble...
    Je t'aime dans tes fleurs... Tu es une peintre jardinière...
    Les jardiniers utilisent des tuteurs pour soutenir les fleurs du jardin et toi de ton pinceau magique, tu les rends légères et délicates...
    Ces dernières dans ta peinture hypnotisent mon regard et embaument mon écran.
    La brume, derrière elles, leur apporte une grande fraîcheur...
    Le propriétaire de cette adorable petit maison au loin a beaucoup de chance d'avoir une vue aussi privilégiée...
    Gros bisous et continue de nous enchanter.

    Une pensée douce à notre ami Don...

  4. Susan, you INSPIRE me.
    Love and Blessings to you . . .

  5. Great post, Susan, and beautiful painting. I am trying to embrace the grays!

  6. Fantastic painting (oh those soft edges!) Great post.


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