Sunday, March 20, 2011

Words of Wisdom: Frank Morley Fletcher


One permutation of Fletcher's suggested palette organization with the fundamental triad of the key being
  Y-B-VR (Yellow - Blue - Violet-Red).  In this example of a high-chroma arrangement, Y= cadmium yellow,
 B= cerulean, BV= ultramarine blue, VR=alizarin crimson, RO= orange vermilion,
OY= cadmium yellow deep, and G= emerald green.

Knowing how much I enjoy historic color palettes, Underpaintings reader Helen O'Connor contacted me and recommended the 1936 book, Colour-Control:  The Organization and Control of the Artist's Palette by Frank Morley Fletcher.  When O'Connor studied at the Barnestone Studios in Copley, Pennsylvania, this book formed the backbone of the school's teaching on color, and O'Connor thought I might find it interesting.  I am only a few pages into the book, but the Introduction alone was so insightful, that I am very tempted to record it here in its entirety, but I will do my best to limit myself to the most salient of Flethcer's observations.

Looking back on the pilgrimage which every art student must make, one imagines that the journey might have been shortened, if, at certain points, a sign-post had been placed by some former traveller in order to save long, wasteful and useless detours.

... there is one special obstacle which stands to-day in the way of all students who have a love of colour and the desire to use and control it.

The difficulty is in the great increase of the range and power of the pigments which modern chemistry has provided for the artists, while the tradition which might guide a student in their use is obscure or entirely lost.  No adequate technology has yet taken its place, nor has any clear indication been given that might serve in organizing and directing the new powers.  At no time in the history of painting has the way of the art student been so uncertain.

Compared with the technology of other arts, with music for example, the science which should control the artist's palette of to-day is fragmentary and incoherent...

There are those who believe that the modern confusion in the use of paint, and the lack of consistent teaching as to the organization and control of the palette, the lack also of agreement among individual artists, are advantages;  that each artist should make his own experiments, should find his own style.  (Employing an orderly approach to colour) does not restrain, but gives an increase of freedom and a certainty of workmanship in place of the present wasteful and anarchical disorder of the palette.

(The modern palette) has become greatly enriched in its range, (and) to place this instrument with its intricate resources in the hands of an uninstructed student, however talented, is unreasonable.  (It) condemn(s) him to years of wasteful  experiment in order to discover initial facts and principles which should be preliminary to any profitable study.  Such a course would be absurd as to tell a student of music to make his own experiments without help or any instruction in the practical tradition of his instrument, or in musical harmony.¹


¹ Frank Morley Fletcher, Colour-Control:  The Organization and Control of the Artist's Palette, (Faber & Faber, Ltd., London, 1936), pp. 9-10.


SuziSez said...

Great Post. I agree, and one of the first problems that I encountered in doing oil paintings after many years of watercolor painting was the control of the palette. Thank You.

Susie Morrell said...

I have been using this system for two years now and find it does exactly what you stated..."does not restrain but gives freedom". I was introduced to the system by Dot Bunn, a studio oil painter of Bucks County PA landscapes who was also a student of Myron Barnstone. she teaches from her studio see:, she is also the adult education coordinator for the Artists of Yardley Center located on the historic Patterson Farm in Yardley, PA see:

The Mentler Journals said...

Just a little observation about the Fletcher Palette Control book. You mention that music has disciplines was require the student to learn some structure and basics of their craft. I think that it is interesting that the triad system the Fletcher employs is based on a major and minor musical scale. As one who has learned most of this stuff the hard way, I try to figure out the intellectual basis for most approaches. This is a great palette regardless of the use of modern LAB colors. One can use this triad based on a major or minor musical scale with any palette they use. It sort of depends on seven steps or colors but other than that it is pretty universal.

Mark Hawkins said...

Hi, thanks for the write up. I am new to Fletcher's work.
I see he takes care choosing the right paints to begin with. The process is called tuning.

I'm interested to know if anyone has experience 'Tuning' the range of colours?

Thank you

Russo said...

I'm wondering how it works with acrylic........