Don’t Make Mud Pies
One of my favorite activities as a child required only two ingredients, water and dirt. This made life simple and such fun! I used to love to mix dirt and water together and pretend I was cooking. Stirring with a stick until the mixture became velvety smooth was the goal. The creation would have the consistency of thick cream and would easily pour from one container to another. Letting the mixture harden over night and then dumping the hardened forms onto the ground to view the creation was just as delightful as making the original mixture. I am now completely over the joy of making mud pies. However when I paint I find that many times I continue to create mud in my paintings even though I try diligently to avoid this. So what does making mud mean to an artist? It is a term used in the art world when colors look very ugly and somewhat like dishwater. These hues seem to detract from the painting and can absolutely ruin a piece of artwork. Overworking the colors on your palette, paper, or canvas will cause you to create these unattractive colors and make you wonder if you are even competent to paint. Stirring or mixing your paint too much destroys the beautiful color that you have tried to create. Every painting can be overworked, but for me this mud process happens most often in watercolor. It can also occur when the wrong color choices are made. I once read that making mud can be compared with vanilla and chocolate ice cream. If both are sitting side by side they are easy to see and identify. However once they are mixed together, their identifying traits are erased. It is possible and quite easy to dab with your brush and blot with a tissue until the color on your watercolor paper is destroyed. It’s also just as easy to touch your brush longer than needed to your paper when applying paint, and instead of the paint remaining on your paper, it sucks it up like a sponge. You look down and your paint is gone. The result of this is an ugly, dull, dry area. It is certainly not a desirable outcome! So how is mud making prevented? First of all be cautious in choosing the colors you wish to use. This alone can help prevent this from happening. Try limiting yourself to a mixture to 3 colors. If you are using more than 3 to arrive at a desired hue you may be setting yourself up for failure. Be careful when mixing your compliments together. Using two colors that are compliments (they are located across from each other on the color wheel) will create a grayish muddy color as well. This can be very beneficial if used correctly but can ruin a painting if you end up with an unintentional dulled down area. Another way to prevent mud is to be careful when stirring the paint on the palette. It’s ok to stir some, but let most mix on the paper or canvas. Over mixing can lead to disaster if you aren’t careful. Many times it works well just to wet your paper and drop in the colors you want to mix. Let them move together and mix on their own. You can help them travel by moving and turning the paper until they become the color you want. Using your color wheel will also help to prevent mud formation. If you use this wonderful organization of colors, there is no need to guess about the color choice. It is there for you. Keep it available at all times while you’re painting, and learn how to use it. It can be a marvelous tool for every artist. Even though artists usually don’t strive to make mud, there are times when it’s not all bad. If you plan your painting correctly, muddy colors can be very useful and beneficial to a painting. Perhaps in a piece of art, you plan to have a dulled down area. Then within this same work you may have several small surprises of clean saturated color free from any form of mud. When this occurs, your painting comes to life and can be very successful as well as beautiful! Even though the desire and love of making mud pies has been replaced with the excitement of creating colors with less mud, it is one of those unforgettable memories of childhood. My hope is that those muddy paintings become a memory as well. Even though I know what to do and what not to do, following through with this knowledge doesn’t always work the way I want it to. Will I ever get the hang of it? I hope so. Reading about it helps, but actually putting the words into practice is what makes a successful artist. I’m sure mud will still appear in my painting menu. In fact it just happened to me the other day even after trying diligently to prevent it. Just don’t let it get you down. Just try the process again! Splash some beautiful color on your palette, mix only slightly if any, and create a painting that can sing its own beautiful melody!