Payne’s Gray, Not Plain Grey

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Floral I, Michael Tole, 2015, Michael Tole : Transparencies

I am about to nerd out about paint, so prepare yourself. I refer to the series from which this painting comes as “Transparencies” because they use only one pigment, oil medium, and the white of the ground to achieve the value structure. The lights are achieved by thinning the paint with oil medium, not by adding white or turpentine. Therefore, the surface resembles stained glass, with a twinkling light, and pigment suspended within the paint surface. The subject matter is intentionally straightforward, placing the emphasis on the surface and technique of the painting. In this painting, payne’s gray is the pigment. When used transparently, it striates within the paint surface in a particularly beautiful way.

I’ve experimented with many pigments, and many brands, and for this technique, Daniel Smith’s payne’s gray proved to be unique and indispensable. I don’t know why, but their payne’s gray separates out and fragments within the paint surface–some pigment moving to the surface, some to the base, also creating fractal swirls–rather than diffusing equally. In any other application, this wouldn’t matter, but in this series, it greatly enhances the work. The warmer tones in the painting are created by adding a different kind of oil that gives a slight amber cast. This is intentional and acts as a counterpoint to the cool payne’s gray.

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