For the past few weeks, the students in my figure painting class have been painting with just black and white. The idea, obviously, is to focus on values without the distraction of color.
Next week, I'm going to introduce color, but I want to ease into it because painting in black and white is hard enough as it is, and to have to blow up the problem to include the infinite complexities of color can be overwhelming.
So we are just adding one color, Transparent Oxide Red (or Transparent Iron Oxide, or Transparent Earth Red or some other name. Every brand has a different name for this color but it's basically a transparent red brown). So we have the Black, White, and T.O.R.
It is surprising just how much "color" you can tease out from this very limited palette. All the sketches I'm posting today are done in this palette, and as you can see, it's possible to get a pretty nice skin tone with just black, white and brown.
Obviously the palette has its limitations. but I think it's a hell of a good way to transition from black and white to color, especially for indoor figure painting. Why, if you juxtapose the different mixes just so, you can even get notes to look blue or green! Learning to manipulate perceived color by juxtaposition of subtly different colors–all from an extremely limited palette– goes a long way toward understanding how color works. After all, this forces you to really understand that color is relative, and that color is contextual. Without this understanding, a full palette will only confuse us.
All these sketches were quickies on paper, done in 30 minutes to an hour each. We won't be painting portraits in my class ( a whole another can of worms!) but I think they illustrate pretty well what we can do with this very limited palette.