Scott Gellatly


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Color + The Artist’s Palette

As artists, we are always working within the confines of our materials.

For 600 years, oil colors have been the preeminent medium of visual expression. And within this time, the world has become increasingly more colorful. We see this, not only in painting, but in the cars we drive and the clothes we wear. As painters living and working today, we have more color choices to us now compared to painters who came before us – a fact that is equally intimidating as it is inspiring. How can we express a unique color voice to make color our own?

This blog explores the evolution of painters’ most important tool: COLOR. What aspects of colors do painters consider when selecting a palette to express their artistic vision?

Artistic Intention
My own intentions as a landscape painter working in the Pacific Northwest revolves around creating paintings which are informed by the area's terrain, vegetation, water and sky. However, what I've always been drawn to, visually, is to capture sensations of light and atmosphere - those fleeting conditions in between downpours and sun, evening and twilight. In more recent work, my characteristic softness of edge and ethereal transitions have given way to a greater bravado of brushwork and more visible "hand" in the mark-making.

Northwest Waters, 2011

 Wetland in Spring, 2015

Evolving Color
One of the fascinating perspectives of looking at the history and development of oil painting over the centuries, is to look at it through the lens of how pigment technology evolved from classical era, through the Industrial Revolution and through the 20th century. As artists, we are always working within the confines of our materials.

As artists have incorporated new pigments into their work, their access to color-mixing within Color Space has increased as well. This has drastically expanded color possibilities in painting. Both in pigment chemistry and in our use of color, we are no longer limited to the colorants and effects from nature – we can push beyond this to explore color mixtures of higher chroma for more expressive possibilities. 

Classical Palette
Earth colors make up the heart of painters’ palettes during the Classical Era of pigment history. This group of pigments, which has its origins in cave painting and antiquity, was central to the oil painter’s palette from the Renaissance through the Classical Era of oil painting. This limited range of muted earth colors exists close to the “neutral core” of Color Space. Limited to this range of the color spectrum, painters depicted form by drawing large contrasts between the darkest darks and the lightest lights, creating the chiaroscuro (literally, “light/dark”) effect so characteristic of classical paintings.

Impressionist Palette
The advancements of the Industrial Revolution of the mid-nineteenth century widened the spectrum of both color and possibilities for artists. A new range of pigments were made by fusing inorganic materials, such as cadmium, cobalt, and chromium, together at very high heat. Not only did these colors brighten the urban centers of the Iron Age, but they widened painters’ access to color compared to the palettes of the Classical Era. For the first time in history, painters of this period had the pigments available to capture all of the colors of the natural world, expressed in the Impressionists’ interest in pure color. The denser, tubed oil colors made from brighter and opaque pigments lent themselves to the direct painting techniques so characteristic of the Impressionists.

20th Century Palette
The end of the 1800’s gave birth to the field of organic chemistry with applications in the pharmaceutical, dye, and printing industries. Modern organic pigments are characterized by their greater transparency and their capacity to produce intense tints and mixtures.
The biggest difference in the characteristics between mineral inorganic and modern organic colors–and arguably of most interest to painters–is how these two groups of pigments behave differently in color mixing. Below are two different reds, the mineral Cadmium Red Medium and modern Napthol Red, each mixed with Titanium Zinc White.

As shown above, the mineral Cadmium Red Medium “greys down” and loses its intensity as it is mixed with white, compared to the modern Napthol Red, which retains its intensity in its tint. Once again, pigment technology expanded painters’ access to Color Space and made it possible for artists of the 20th Century to create paintings of high chroma.

Personalized Color Palette
Through my work at Gamblin I’ve gotten to know the unique characteristics of artists’ pigments. Over the years, I’ve used this insight to build a color palette that perfectly supports my color-mixing intentions – to create paintings with a naturalistic color scheme, but to have the capacity for bursts of more intense color. 

 Nickel Titanate Yellow, Indian Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Alizarin Permanent, Ultramarine Blue, Manganese Blue Hue.

My personalized color palette (shown here) is built off the concept of a split primary palette (warm and cool for each primary color). Instead of including a warm red, however, I use Cadmium Orange. This palette not only balances warm and cool pigments, but mineral and modern, opaque and transparent characteristics as well.

There a number of ways that we develop a personal, unique voice and painters – technique, chosen subject matter, and mark-making to name a few. Developing our own unique color voice with a palette that balances theory and our own aesthetics is a valuable way to make painting our own.

 Buena Vista, 2015

Thursday, August 25, 2016

2016 Pacific Northwest Plein Air

The Pacific Northwest Plein Air Event runs this weekend, September 26 - 28! 

Gorge Voyage, 9pm, oil on panel, 12" x 18"

This is the 12th annual Plein Air Event in the Columbia River Gorge and I’ve been fortunate to participate every year since its inception in 2005. Adding more excitement to this year’s event, the exhibition of paintings will be hosted for the first time at the Maryhill Museum of Art.

The opening reception is  Friday, August 26, from 5 - 7pm. 
       The public is invited to view the paintings artists created in plein air, meet the artists and enjoy wine and hors d'oeuvres. Artwork will be available for purchase.

Exhibition continues Saturday & Sunday (Aug 27 & 28) at Maryhill Museum of Art; hours are10 a.m. to 5 p.m. exhibit is free with paid museum admission. Paintings will also be for sale.

Plein Air on live TV! 
I was featured this week on KATU morning news, along with friends Aimee Erickson and Thomas Kitts, while we were painting the sunrise in Stevenson, WA. It was a wonderful way to give the public an insight on plein air painting and help promote the event. You can view my interview here. 

Hope to see you out at Maryhill! 

More information on the event is at

Friday, March 11, 2016

Aussie Icons

Just returned from spending two weeks in beautiful Australia - on a tour giving lecture demonstrations for Gamblin. I did, however, manage to get a little painting done between demo's.

After the 13-hour flight from the states, I arrived in Sydney in the morning, settled into my hotel, then enjoyed a long walk down to the famous Sydney Harbor. After strolling through the Royal Botanical Gardens, painting gear in tow, I thought, why not paint the most iconic structure in Australia?

Sydney Harbor, oil on panel, 6" x 8"

OK...check that off the it out of my system. Now I can get on with the rest of my trip. 

It would be a few days until I'd be able to paint again, but after a marathon, 3-hour Gamblin demo, I set up at a nearby park and painted another Australian icon - the gum tree.  

I was hooked...the wild movement of the branches, the white bark, the variety of greens...this would make a nice series from Australia. Best part, you can't shake a stick without hitting one...nothing like accessible subject matter. So, here they are...shown in the order they were painted: 

Aussie Gums #1 - 6, oil on panel, each 6" x 8" . 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Painting: from a verb to a noun

On a Saturday afternoon in late October, I drove five large oil paintings through a torrential Portland downpour to Brian Marki Fine Art gallery on the other side of town. As I've done in years past, I varnish the large paintings at the gallery, away from the sawdust that has overtaken my studio from the framing process.

This was a very satisfying errand for me...handing off what amounts to a year's worth of artistic output for the gallery to install and light properly - which they do an amazing job of.

The exhibition wouldn't officially open until the following Friday, and I would wait to see the show until then. I wanted to see the work fresh, along with everyone else.

These few days between delivering a show and seeing it is a special time. It the time between painting being a verb and before it becomes a noun. Like most painters, I revel in the process of painting - whether it is putting color onto a surface, varnishing, framing, or driving the work across town - it is all part of the process. Friends, family and collectors come to admire the work, which I'm grateful for. To me, the paintings are simply remnants of a process that has become an essential part of my life.

So, with that said, here are some installation pics of Native Shores and Distant Sands, on view at Brian Marki Fine Art through November 2015.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Why Varnish?

As painters, you might know that other painters do it. As collectors, you might know that some of your artists do it.  So…what is varnishing and why is it important?

Picture varnishes serve two important functions – first, a varnish layer protects oil paintings from environmental dirt and dust.  The second reason is based on aesthetics – artists varnish because they like the way varnishes increase the sense of depth in oil paintings, or to achieve a uniform surface quality on their finished works. This article briefly discusses both of these concerns, for the artist and the collector.

Protecting Our Paintings
It is generally recommend that finished paintings are varnished, unless the artist truly dislikes the look.  Unvarnished paintings are vulnerable to aging in ways that varnished paintings are not. As an artist myself, I know that once a painting leaves my studio, I give up control over how and where the painting is hung and how it is cared for. Very few, if any, private collectors keep their homes at the uncontaminated levels and controlled climates that museums do.  

There are two important criteria that a quality picture varnish must have – first, the varnish must be water-clear to not change or alter the color scheme of the painting below. Second, the varnish must be easily removable in the future.  The top-most layer of any painting will ultimately take on a layer of dust and dirt.  Varnishes provide a non-porous layer which will prevent the dust and dirt from being imbedded in the more porous paint layers below (see diagram below).

If and when the painting needs to be cleaned, the varnish layer can be easily taken off of the painting, along with the dust and dirt that has accumulated on top. In this way, a varnish should be thought of as a discrete, “sacrificial” layer to the rest of the painting below.

Enhancing the Painted Image
It is not uncommon for paint layers to dry to different surface qualities. Some pigments used in oil colors require more oil and dry with more gloss, other pigments require less oil and dry matte. Varnishing is an excellent way of unifying the surface quality of paint layers.  But what type of surface is right for the painting? High gloss? Dead matte?  Something in between?  Finding the appropriate surface quality is a very personal choice.  Gloss surfaces beautifully saturate dry paint layers and increase the sense of depth in paintings. Matte surfaces give paint layers a very direct appearance, but can lighten the darkest values of a painting.  Historically, representational painters preferred a gloss surface because of the increased sense of depth. Abstract painters adopted matte surfaces to enhance the physicality of paint layers. This, of course, is an over-generalization. What’s most important is that painters find the right surface quality for their work.

The other aspect of this is how the environment affects the viewing of the work once the painting is installed. Paintings that have a gloss surface can be difficult to see if they are not lit properly.  This can take away from the painted image to the point of being distracting. Fortunately, the surface quality of the final varnish layer can be easily modified to accommodate both the painter’s aesthetics and the painting’s environment.

Contemporary Varnishes 
Traditional dammar varnish and other natural resins make a durable top layer but they do yellow and darken over time becoming increasingly difficult for conservators to remove when they clean paintings. In the mid-20th century, acrylic resin varnishes were adopted because of their stability of color. However, these varnishes changed the look of paintings, so many conservators went back to the use of dammar, along with its tendency to yellow with age. 

In the early 1990’s, Robert Gamblin collaborated with Rene de la Rie at the National Gallery in Washington, DC, to bring a contemporary varnish to the studio painter. The research that came out of the National Gallery identified one of the most stable resins to be used as a picture varnish. This resin not only beautifully saturates dry paint layers, but is also formulated into a varnish with a very mild solvent. Equally as important, this varnish can be removed with a mild solvent. Gamvar Picture Varnish has now been available to painters for two decades.   

To Varnish, or Not to Varnish
Similar to finding the appropriate frame for a painting, applying a varnish is an excellent way of putting a finishing touch on a work of original art. Not only does a final varnish coat unify and saturate color, but it plays an invaluable role in protecting your deeply-valued painting, whether you are the creator or collector. 

In short, Varnish!

Scott Gellatly
Product Manager, Gamblin Artists Colors

Additional references:

Sneak Peek for my November 2015 exhibition at Brian Marki Fine Art, Portland

This year's exhibition, Native Shores and Distant Sands, at Brian Marki Fine Art includes a collection of plein air paintings created throughout the year, as well as five larger studio paintings. What's unique about this show is that I've included a number of paintings done during, and in response to, my travels down to the Palm Springs area, where Brian now has his second gallery.

Exploring the contrasting landscapes of the Pacific Northwest and the American Southwest has always resonated with me, artistically. This was the subject of my exhibition, also at Brian Marki Fine Art, in 2009. Fortunately, my frequent work-related travels down to Southern California, Arizona and New Mexico allows for some time to paint the area's exposed terrain, unique light and color palette.

Show runs November 2 - 30th. Opening reception on Friday, November 6th, 5 - 8pm.

Top image: Wetland in Spring, oil on panel, 9" x 15"
Bottom image: Aconto, oil on panel, 12" x 12"

Friday, October 2, 2015

Studio Visit

Welcome to my studio.

Years ago, I visited the home of a prominent Portland painter whose home (and studio) was under massive construction at the time. He shared with me that he produced an entire solo gallery exhibition at his kitchen table. The inspiring take-away here was that painters need to paint, whenever and wherever necessary. We need to find any means necessary to make painting fit into our lives.

Having said that, I am fortunate to have a dedicated space in which to produce my work. This blog serves as a peak behind the curtain into my space and process, for fellow artists and collectors alike.

Enjoy the visit!

(And, no, it isn't as clean as it looks in the pictures.)

The space is a detached, two-car garage that was remodeled over the course of three years. I promised myself that this conversion would be self-funded, so it was done a bit at a time. As my studio work is informed by my plein air paintings, its helpful to have a number of plein air works visible at once. The small pieces shown here, all painted in 2015, are from both the Northwest, as well as from the Palm Springs area.

Foundation to ceiling north-facing windows provide consistent natural light into the studio.  That's the idea at least...the cruel irony is that I usually use the studio at night...after the kids are asleep. Oh well.

Building up color and texture on a recent studio painting.

My palette.

At work. I usually have multiple paintings going on at once. I find this helps the work relate to each other in color and feel.

The work shown here will be in my November exhibition, Native Shores and Distant Sands, at Brian Marki Fine Art in Portland, OR. Show opens November 6th.

Thank you to Carrie Judah for the wonderful photography.