Inspired by Casey’s success with the Carder Method and frustrated with my own slow progress at oil painting, I bought the Carder Method video and Color Checker tool. Below are step by step photos of my using the method to paint this still life, a brief review of the Carder Method and photos of my studio set up for working with it.
The Carder Method is designed to eliminate many of the problems that can make painting difficult. By creating an carefully lit, controlled environment, a painter can focus on learning to clearly see color and value differences while eliminating problems caused by variables such as changing light.
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Using a limited palette and a slow drying medium, you pre-mix colors for one object at a time, on a value scale of about 10 steps (if going from near black to near white), from the darkest dark to the lightest light in each object. Then using the little Color Checker, you match the colors you see in your subject, small section by section, to the colors you’ve mixed, adjusting the paint for color temperature as you go. On the video Mark Carder also teaches foolproof drawing techniques using a proportional divider tool, but I felt confident enough in my drawing to work freehand, while still picking up some good tips watching that section.
I’ve learned from reading Munsell’s book on color theory how the human visual system is designed to compensate for changing colors in nature so that we always recognize a tree as green, even when a sunset has made it appear brown, or fog has made it a pale gray, or dusk has turned it black against a violet sky.
That same visual system favors our seeing colors as the same when they’re separated from each other. A red shirt and a red skirt will look like they match when across the room from each other. It’s only when they’re held next to each other and in the same light that we can the differences.
The Color Checker puts the color you’re mixing visually next to the color of the object you’re painting and helps override that internal system. I’d been doing the same thing using a piece of cardstock but the color checker works even better.
I think the Carder Method creates an ideal framework for learning to paint with oils. It’s opened my eyes to just how “off” my ability to really see color and value differences was before and put me on the right path to learning to see more clearly. There’s much more information on the Carder website and lively discussion on its Forum.
Of course, this method is the absolute opposite of painting plein air where nothing is under control, but I think I’ll be able to apply what I’m learning in the studio using this method in that wild and wooly environment too.
Here’s a step by step of the painting process and some photos of my studio set up for the Carder Method.
There’s a space in the back on top to drop down a background cloth: a slot made by placing the top not quite all the way to the back.
On the right of the photo above, you can see a bit of the black-out shades from Ikea covering the windows. There is a black cloth velcroed to the ceiling on the upper left to block the light coming from the overhead light (48″ wide color-balanced 4-tube fluorescent lighting, all 5000K). I’d painted the wall behind my easel a neutral mid-value gray (Benjamin Moore Whale Gray#2134-40 Aura Matte Finish, eco-friendly, no smell, one coat coverage) to get rid of glare when painting. It also to help with photographing what’s on my easel.