Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Me and Edmund Dulac

Illustration from "Beauty and the Beast" by Edmund Dulac

I have long been an admirer of French illustrator, Edmund Dulac (1882 –1953). Dulac is one of the premier children’s book illustrators of the Golden Age. Some time ago I theorized his palette (Analyzing the color choices of Edmund Dulac) based on colors he used in his paintings. However, when I tried to reproduce his works I had only partial success. There was something he was doing with color that continued to elude me.

Today, while studying trios of analogous colors and their complements, I think I finally figured it out. Dulac appears to be using analogous colors in duos or triplets (and their complements) in his paintings. Generally, he only used one or two full intensity colors (commonly blue-violet or dark cadmium red) to highlight otherwise neutralized paintings. The full intensity colors stood out like beacons, enlivening the subtle colors in the rest of his neutralized color scheme.

My watercolor palette showing direct complements

When I made this discovery I was using a limited palette of six watercolors: Magenta (Stephen Quiller), Ultramarine Violet (Stephen Quiller), Ultramarine Blue (M. Graham), Permanent Green Light (Daniel Smith), Azo Yellow (Daniel Smith), and Cadmium Orange (Stephen Quiller). These six colors represent three analogous colors and their matched complements.

[For those who may be interested — my complete color palette (seen above) has twelve colors, those listed above as well as: Pyrol Orange (Daniel Smith), Cadmium Red Light (Stephen Quiller), Quinacridone Rose (M. Graham), Phthalo Blue (Daniel Smith), Phthalo Turquoise (Daniel Smith), and Viridian (M. Graham.) This is the twelve-color palette recommended by Stephen Quiller and I can’t say enough about it. It’s the most effective watercolor palette I’ve ever used, especially for the direct neutralization of complementary colors.] 

Here are two examples by Dulac's work demonstrating common color choices. The colors in both are analogous and the paintings are pretty neutralized (although the originals may have been brighter, I suspect these reproductions aren't too far off), with only the blue (in the first) or red (in the second) highlighted.

Dulac illustration from "The Snow Queen."

Dulac illustration from "Fairies I Have Met."
It’s taken me several months to work this out but I feel quite pleased by the discovery. Armed with this knowledge I think I can reproduce Dulac’s paintings much more effectively. And I'd like to learn from him. He was a master of the art and although long dead, still has plenty to teach me.

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