Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Zorn Palette

I just got in from trying something I have been wanting to do for a while but never made the effort.
The Zorn Palette.
For those of you who may not know, the painter Anders Zorn apparently used a palette that consisted of Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black, and Red, I chose a Cad Red. I am sure for some of his paintings he had many colors involved but I assume a lot of his landscape work was with this palette. If there is anyone out there who knows how to tell a painting with only these colors, let me know. I have looked and I am not able to discern by looking. That statement alone is an indication of how good he was.
When you see a painter's work who is truly a master painter there is an appreciation for their abilities as a painter. But when you actually try to do some of these things, your admiration is magnified a thousand times over. By struggling with the palette of his, my admiration was magnified. A lot. It seems the more I paint, the more I appreciate what these master painters did and are doing. When I say master painters I am not sure how you acquire the designation. I am not talking about the artist who attaches it to their name to pad a resume or make a long impressive bio and can't paint their way out of a wet paper sack. I am talking about the guys who were and are truly masters. You know em' when you see em'.
Before I painted I was a big fan of Sargent. Then I started plein air painting and it took on a whole new level of genius. I can remember standing at the Frist Center here in Nashville in front of a Sargent that had been painted of a figure in the landscape that had been painted outdoors. The technical precision of every value and color and brushstroke may have been lost on me before I became a plein air painter. On this day, it wasn't. The mental capacity necessary to do what I had just seen, to me, made the moon landing look like a trip to the grocery store.
As far as the Zorn Palette, if there is anyone out there who has tips, secrets, or a little history on it, share. It has a very moody, fall-ish/winter look to it that I am sure I will use again. I just don't know how to produce anything that resembles the greens that I am used to here in Middle Tennessee.


Gary Brookins said...

If I remember correctly from a college art class (decades ago) I think that Dutch painter Frans Hals used that palette for the bulk of his work, only occasionally using a blue when absolutely necessary. But he mixed lots of grays to go with yellow ochre and red. Of course, most of the clothing his portrait subjects wore were just shades of gray, so basically, his "color" was in the skin tones.

Kevin Menck said...

A blue would have been nice. Getting greens of any kind seemed to be the most frustrating for me. I am so used to painting greens everyday all day.

Vi said...

I love the Zorn Palette!!! I've been using it for awhile now, and for almost a year I used it exclusively.

The little bits of advice I can give about deciding what colors were used, is to see a painting in person if possible, and to cover up areas around a color you're trying to verify. Sometimes that bright blue ends up being nothing more than a light gray when taken out of its home, and that yellow orange that can't possibly be made by yellow ocher is really yellow ocher, white and red all arranged without mixing to get that effect.

After awhile of doing Zorn, I'd do landscapes with a high key, modern cool yellow. Zinc Yellow by Grumbacher was my favorite. I'd add it to black to get really nice greens for landscapes. And if it was a nice day I'd use cerulean blue as well.

Anyway, I love to see what you did with the palette! The values are wonderful, and I'm looking through the rest of your stuff now. Really good work!

Kevin Menck said...

I knew there would be someone with a little Zorn experience. Thanks for the tips Vi! I think I will still use the three (yellow ochre,black,red) for awhile to see if I get a bit better with it and then maybe add another color, the blue or a nice lemon yellow.
I think too, it is those arrangements of color that you mentioned that I am going to have to practice with to make this work a little better for me.Thanks again.

C. Ousley said...

Good one! You inspired me to do one today. I used a napathol red with the ocher and black. When I put the red roof on it really made a difference with the "greens".
I will scan and post it when it dries.

C. Ousley said...

I posted it. Check it out. Kept reaching for the blue but resisted.

Marc R. Hanson said...

I've been one who's used what I thought was the "Zorn palette" in the past. I've read that he used Vermillion as his red, true vermillion.

But I ran across this article from an American Artist Mag article from June 2006 that clears this up. Two Swede's are referenced, Birgitta Sandström is the museum director of the Zorn Collections, which includes the artist's residence, estate, and museum in Mora, Sweden, and someone named Laine of Stockholm's 'National Museum'. Here's a quote from the article about his palette-
"Many artists mention the concept of the "Zorn palette," especially in regard to portraiture. This warm palette, which is often said to include simply a yellow, black, red, and a white—but no blue—may be a very useful tool, but it is a mistake to attribute it to Anders Zorn. A few portraits and other paintings by Zorn seem to show a definite warmth and a lack of tube blues and greens—and Sandström confirms that the painter was proud of saying he mixed all of the hues on a canvas from just a handful of colors—but many Zorn paintings utilize blues. In fact, in Sweden Zorn is celebrated for his depictions of water, which required blue paint. Sandström had difficulty even comprehending the assumption that Zorn worked with the specialized palette associated with him. She reports that 17 tubes of cobalt alone are represented among the 243 tubes of paint left by Zorn in his studio in Mora. Laine, of Stockholm's Nationalmuseum, concurs that the notion of a Zorn palette is a bit of a misnomer. Still, portraits such as Miss Constance Morris show that he was adept at using grays to suggest blues. Many of Zorn's portraits—and his nudes—exhibit a compelling warmth, providing inspiration for today's painters regardless of what the Swedish artist may have actually squeezed onto his palette."

That being true if it is, what we 'thought' he used is a great limited palette. I've used it a fair amount especially during those time of year when the color here is at best, limited. Late fall and early spring to be specific.

Kevin Menck said...

Wow! Thanks for the info Marc. Ya' know, when I look at some of his work, there are places where you know there were some blues. I think I may go back and try again with an added blue. Apparently his choice was a cobalt. When you dabble with it, what colors do you put out?

Marc R. Hanson said...

I used cad red light, ivory black and a 'light' yellow ochre like you did. Amazing just how blue black can be coaxed into looking.

By the way, your Door cty pieces are unbelievably good. I have been out of town teaching with limited time to be online and comment. But I looked at them and thought they just rocked!!!

Kevin Menck said...

Thanks for the compliment. Door County made it easy for me.

taaron parsons said...

hey kevin,
i haven't done any research on the zorn palette (or whatever the appropriate name is), but i seem to recall learning that vermillion was the red of choice. I haven't tackled a landscape with the zorn palette yet, but i did a portrait from life awhile back, and it was surprisingly natural feeling and a lot of fun to work from such a palette. i was too cheap to buy the vermillion, and i wasn't sure what ochre to use, so i just used what i had and it seemed to get the job done - titanium white, yellow ochre, cad red medium, ivory black. anyway, good work here. hopefully i'll see you soon when i get out and paint sometime! :)

Greg said...

I think Winslow Homer used a Zorn Palette with the addition of Prussian Blue.