Applied Munsell

Frank Covino – Controlled Painting

Frank Covino Controlled Painting

Sometime ago I came across a reference to a book by Frank Covino called Controlled Painting. It was published by North Light Books back in 1982 and while it is showing its age here and there it is still an absolute gem for anyone interested in applying Munsell theory to realistic painting. At the time I was looking for a copy it was reasonably expensive (no doubt reflecting how valued it is) and was a bit beyond me – then I discovered I could create a “Want” on ABE books specifying a maximum price so I would get an email when a copy came up that matched. (You need to be signed on and then take a look on your members page – it’s right there on the sidebar menu.) It took a while but I have it. I’ve since discovered that a copied version is also available direct from Frank Covino.

Frank has been using and teaching a method of painting with a controlled palette based on Munsell values since the late 60’s – just goes to show that this Munsell thing isn’t some recent novelty!

I have to say I enjoyed reading this book just to gain an insight into the ideas and opinions of someone who has been painting for so long. And Frank is bold with his opinions – on everything from teaching methods to the use of photography as an artists tool. His explanations of the Golden Proportions and composition are as good as any I have read, and even though I know this stuff, I benefited from the refresher.

Another point of interest is that he doesn’t appear to require the user to have a Munsell book on hand. He explains how it works and then has the user work it out from grey values. It’s easy enough to follow and if you’re not trying to match paints to absolute accuracy for some outside purpose – just your own paintings – I don’t see anything wrong with the method. In fact it helped me lighten up a bit on my own use of the charts – realising that I don’t have to be perfect no one is going to manufacture 50 zillion cans of spray paint from my rendering of any given colour. What a relief.

Frank also gives pretty good guidance through making up a set of colour charts (which are used instead of the Munsell book) and a palette – either glass or acrylic with the grey values underneath – just as some of us have been making for ourselves. A little better than mine too – on his version the strips of values aren’t just a patch off to the side they are as big as the palette.

His notes on which colours to use to get close to particular hues and values are useful too – even though they’re a bit swayed to Liquidtex which aren’t readily available down here – there are enough suggestions of substitutes to be able to work it out. (And if all else fails – know which colour to mail order…) Also this shows how long Liquidtex have been making Munsell numbers available on their paints – very impressive.

All in all, I’m happy with this book (ignoring the chapter on SLR cameras..) and reckon it’ll be keeping me even busier for a bit. Even though I do have and use the Munsell Student Set I’m going to make up a set of colour charts following Frank’s guidelines. Hmmm, and a new underlay for my glass palette while I’m at it.


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