A few months ago I moved to Sacramento and one of the first outings I made was to the Crocker Art Museum. Right now there is a fantastic exhibit of Norman Rockwell paintings and I have already seen the exhibit twice in less than a week. Wow!
We think of Norman Rockwell’s paintings portraying the spirit of true Americana, with charm and humor, sadness and strength, capturing moments in our lives and history with such clarity that it stops us in our tracks, making us smile, laugh, feel tenderness and awe.
But I got more than that from seeing Rockwell’s body of work in this exhibit,
To be more specific his use of working with a limited color palette. It reminded me of early renaissance paintings, when the palette was predominantly red (vermillion), yellow (ochre), and blue (azurite) because of the limited access to pigments in that time period.
That particular warm bright red which Rockwell seems to use in a large body of his work is striking.
I thought it was also interesting to see this reference to the dutch masters, through composition and color.
And his being influenced by his contemporary, fellow artist, Maxfield Parrish,
who was known for his amazing way of creating images that literally glowed with warm light.
I found Rockwell usually used between one and three primary colors dominantly in his palette; vermillion red, golden yellow, and cobalt blue or pthalo green. One of the benefits of working with a limited palette in this way is that the areas with strong pure hues draw the viewers eye to the places the artist wants to give emphasis to in an otherwise subdued neutral image.
In this painting Rockwell is using two complimentary colors; vermillion red and pthalo green as the predominant colors, the rest of the palette is muted and fairly neutral.
Red visually comes forward in space, so that color immediately grabs your attention and your eye moves from the heart, (the focus of the action), to her hat, the patterning in the boys sweater, the book in his pocket, the paint can, and back up to her pants again making a complete circle of the canvas. This technique keeps the viewers eye constantly moving around the space, something you ideally want to achieve with your work.
I think sometimes we feel compelled to use every color in the paint box and because of this we may inadvertently reduce the overall impact of our work. I know this lesson from Mr Rockwell will be on my mind when I’m working in the future.