An extremely limited palette of colors can aid in working quickly outdoors, according to a Chicago-area architect and instructor. How?
Lead Image: “Elgin Academy,” by Keelan Kaiser
PleinAir Today will regularly shine the spotlight on urban sketching, as this trend has much in common with the plein air movement. This week we talk with Keelan Kaiser, an architect who has led workshops associated with the Chicago chapter of Urban Sketchers, a group dedicated to drawing and painting quickly from life. Kaiser introduced a color palette to attendees that is often called the Dead Palette or Velázquez Palette, consisting of ultramarine blue, an earth red such as burnt sienna, and an earth yellow like yellow ochre.
“It’s great because it’s a small palette, so there are fewer variables,” says Kaiser. “Watercolor is challenging enough for beginners. This palette still has quite a range in terms of how many colors you can get out of those three pigments. And it’s conducive to architectural sketching in which the materials can be marble, granite, or wood. You can expand it by including raw and burnt umber and raw sienna — there is some variation available for the next group of colors.”
Kaiser uses the palette when he travels, filling his journal with sketches of striking buildings and urban scenes. He says he appreciates how a bit of yellow ochre can knock down the brilliance of white paper when it’s used as a wash to create a good base. The artist has explored pigments from various companies and finds that French ultramarine blue from Winsor & Newton is his preference. “Theirs gives you a depth of color within those fields of color, letting you get grayer and duller limestone, and depth in the shadows of clay tiles on roofs,” he says. “It allows that rich, penetrating, darker-shade shadow, which helps give the scene a three-dimensional look.”
When Kaiser is working with an urban sketch group, he is surrounding himself, for the most part, with working artists rather than architects, which expands his horizons a bit. “It’s a nice alternative to all the computer work that architecture requires now,” he says. “It’s a little more human and very refreshing. I’ve been involved with the urban sketching group for three years now.”
Kaiser’s workshops attract beginners, intermediate artists, and advanced sketchers who enrich his experience. His background in turn stretches the participants. “Most of them are used to painting landscapes, people, crowds, vehicles. They more or less take buildings for granted as the background behind the subject matter.”