Out Of The Blue; A Renaissance Palette

In nature, light creates the colour. In the painting, colour creates the light. Hans Hofmann

Welcome to the very beginning of my Chapel adventures, my most elaborate commission to date. Here are the figures...

1 x Chapel

44 x Wooden panels

1 x Artist

The house I will be working in has 16th century origins and the chapel in the east wing was rebuilt in the early 20th century. The chapel is small but tall with thin beams dividing the A frame ceiling into forty four sections. The large old diamond leaded window on the east side of the room was originally situated in a convent, and lets in the morning sun.

This ceiling needs something classical. The client and I have discussed basing the design on a few different things; Greek mythology, Cornish legends, phases of the moon, day and night or the cycle of life. The starting point of reference is with the art of Giorgio Vasari which informs my colour palette to some degree. The Renaissance palette (and the main colours I'll be using) included Naples yellow, Vermillion, Umber, Green Earth, Vandyke Brown and Zinc White.

The first step was to work out how colours looked up on the ceiling, so I prepared two plywood panels as samples. I began by sketching a single figure on each board, spraying it with fixative and applying three layers of clear gesso. Once it was dry, I toned the wood with a scrubbed in layer of Burnt Umber and began to add some of the skin tones. I allowed the toned ground to show through and just used the highlights of the skin to add shape, keeping the level of contrast in the skin without darkening the shadows. I used a palette of seven colours as shown above. Choosing a shade of blue for the background was made easy when I got given a tube of Kings Blue Deep, vivid - perfect for a rich midsummer sky, I thought.

But then I found out about Kings Blue Light. It’s difficult to choose between colours so similar, you almost can’t see the difference. One is just a fraction cooler. Or is it? On a small scale the comparison is tough, but using it to unite forty four panels the Kings Blue Light might just offer a slightly cleaner tone. I spent far too long looking at them both.

Kings Blue evokes the aerial effects of the great Venetian decorators - straight out of the tube on your palette it is like squashing little lumps of summer sky

After watching the sample panels being attached to the ceiling, I realised two things; firstly, I can keep the shadows as they are but I need to brighten the skin tone highlights. Secondly, the Kings Blue Deep looked strong and bright at the apex of the ceiling, but I have decided to go with Kings Blue Light for a fresher finish.

*The sample panels will not be part of the finished design, they are only reference for colour and figure size.

In conclusion, we have decided to create the first section of ten panels with hints of the clients family history. The next step is to build my design based partly on old family photos and local nature references. Keep an eye out for the next journal entry where I will be sharing my design process.

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy this post about paint colours through the ages here.

For more information on Giorgio Vasari, visit here

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