Looking at Mark Rothko paintings is often an experience that is a bit befuddling, because looking at their paint surfaces, it's very difficult to play that game I'm always talking about like a broken record, of visually unwinding the paint surface and understanding how things got there and in what order and when, in other words. Today what I'd like to do is take a little bit of that magic away from his technique. Rothko, by the way, never wrote about his technique. He very seldom invited people into his studios to watch him paint, because he also was rather secretive and didn't want people totally understanding how he got these very amazing paint surfaces. However, what I'm not doing is letting the cat out of the bag, because I think, as you'll find, when you start to work in this type of painting, in this method of painting, suddenly all these aesthetic avenues are open to exploration. And Rothko, who is an artist who spent most of his time doing exactly that, found combinations of these techniques I'm about to show you that, chances are, you're not going to find yourself and I haven't either. In other words, what I'm doing is opening the door into a type of Rothko technique rather than saying this is exactly how Rothko did it, because to be honest with you, nobody really knows. Since his paintings were not documented in process and he didn't really tell anybody how he did it. I can tell you that he usually painted with oil, but not always. I can tell you that sometimes conservators have found protein in his paint films, which suggests that he used egg that he mixed into his paints. Why would he use egg in his paint? Probably because he was emulsifying his oil paint. As you know, if I take this oil paint and I try to clean it up or thin it with water, I get a big gunky mess. If I mix egg yolk into it and then I add some water into it, I may be able to froth it. This is something that de Kooning did, as well as a number of other New York School artists around mid-century. So by all means, take this basic structure that we're about to take a look at today, and experiment with it. Add different materials, substitute different materials than the ones I'm using, throw an egg into it. Hell, try throwing mayonnaise into it, see what happens, because maybe you'll stumble upon something that I haven't and perhaps no one else has either. In other words, well, let's cut to the chase. So in terms of chroma, Rothko is someone who worked with very, very deep colors at times, very bright, high key colors at times. Very pure color at times, very complicated, low chroma color paints at times. In other words, Rothko is an amazing colorist who did everything at a certain time. A nice way of painting because essentially Rothko afforded himself the opportunity to continually change his composition because, and here's the key, he was painting translucently almost all the time. He was painting in very, very thin washes of paint that you were always seeing through. So for example, he would never paint just a purple color. He would mix a couple colors together. Who knows, perhaps five different colors together. He'd then thin it out with perhaps a little bit of medium or varnish, but a whole lot of solvent like turpentine or mineral spirits. In doing that, he's adding washes of color. You can think of adding washes of paint in watercolor technique, and essentially Rothko is doing something very similar but translating that into the oil painting medium. Let me get started here and I think a lot of this is going to be self-explanatory. I'm going to mix up a rather deep characteristically Rothko tone. This is a little bit of cobalt violet, actually cobalt violet hue. Again, that's synthetic replacement for cobalt violet. This is a burnt umber, which is an earth tone. It's a semi-translucent earth tone, and that's important. Again, you can find the opacity listed on most tubes of paint. This one tells you, hm, well, I guess this one doesn't tell you. Shame on Grumbacher. But usually it'll tell you, opaque semi-translucent or translucent. And you want to stay away from the opaque stuff in working like Rothko, because if it's opaque you can't see through those washes of color anymore, and you'll see momentarily why that is so interesting. So for our base tone here, I'm going to add a little bit of linseed oil. Let me get that paint started before adding some mineral spirits, some solvent to it. So there's that nice earth tone. And I'm going to liven that up with a little bit of violet. What I've made now is kind of a deep plum type color. But you can see, even in my palette, I'm leaving all these tracks behind because it's rather stiff paint even though I added a bit of medium. I'm now really, really going to thin it by adding solvent to it, so I can really make a wash, or a stain, if you will, of paint. Again, get that into a nice uniform consistency. Even on the palette, you can see it's becoming rather rich, rather luscious looking. And now let's just work on one area of the painting. This is called stretching out your paint. It's very watery. There's not much of it. But you can really keep on going with it and continue that very, very thin paint film. And what I've done is really knock out most of those white spots in that section of the canvas, because you don't want the ground peeking through directly. So I've made a very interesting kind of purplish earthyish dark ground to begin on. Now what I'm going to do next is work with some staining on top of that. Now when you're really staining, I suggest not working in a palette, because it's going to run everywhere and make a mess. But rather working in, well, an illy coffee bean can or a yogurt bucket, a little cup, something like that. Something that's going to contain your solvent better so it's not running all over your palette, because you'll end up spending the rest of your time in the studio chasing your paint around rather than putting it on canvas. So I'm going to start with a little bit of raw sienna. And now some naphthol crimson, which is an organic color. It's a red. It's a relatively cool and very, very translucent red. I'm not lying, there it is. So this is really the amount of paint that I'm going to add. And now I'm playing the game of additions, and this is really when Rothko type painting gets interesting. Because recall if I'm adding binder, and this is varnish, perhaps used as a binder perhaps, and linseed oil, I'm going to thin that paint. I'm going to make it more translucent, but I'm also going to give that paint body, because this stuff, it dries, and actually the paint will increase in volume because this stuff has been added to it. If I use mineral spirits, temporarily I'm doing the same thing. I'm thinning it, I'm making it more translucent. But the net effect has nothing to do with translucency because this is going to disappear. It all evaporates, which is going to give me a more opaque, less translucent wash of color, because there's nothing else in there to push that paint, push those pigment particles apart. That's really the role of the binder. So what I'm going to do is a little bit of both. And I'm actually going to substitute, in this case, varnish, dammar varnish, for linseed oil, because I want to add some surface gloss to this paint application as well. Rothko's all about comparing and contrasting different qualities of paint, and the matteness or the relative glossiness of his paint is critical, especially as we advance through his career chronologically. By the end of his life, he's making paintings that are almost, one could say, about matte and gloss transitions. And I'm going to give it a nice healthy addition of mineral spirits. Now with the brush, and I'm not going to be crazy about cleaning my brush here, because Rothko's colors are so complicated that if I use a dirty brush, it's going to actually help, chromatically, these two colors relate to each other. I'm adding a little bit of that deep plum color now to this stain of color that I'm going to add over it, which is to say I'm going to do something relatively subtle to this wash of color. And because it's a wash, I'm going to be seeing through to this layer underneath. So as an example, I'm going to take this color that I've just mixed up, And give you an idea of what it looks like by itself. And you can see it's also a rather complicated color, a little bit red, a little bit earthy, a little bit orange. But we're seeing some white through it, actually. It's a quite transparent kind of paint. And we're seeing it lighter than it actually is because it's so transparent that white is reading through it. And guess what, we're right back in the realm of watercolor again, where the light source is the whiteness of the page. Here it's the whiteness of the priming. Now if I extend that paint now into a zone over that ground, we're going to see something very, very different happen. This is the same thing on top as that, but now we have a very, very radically different underlayer. And because we're working with stains of paint, such transparence results in a very, very different relationship, wholly based on what's underneath it. Now you can imagine that I've actually repicked up or rewet some of that underlayer because that's oil paint. It's still wet and it will be for a week. Now if I wanted those colors to be very closely related, I would do that, and I just did in fact. If I wanted this color to remain somewhat separate from it, I would allow this paint film to dry first and then glaze over it. A week later I might add another glaze to that. Now you'll notice that I've left areas exposed around it, and this is a Rothko trick. He's always giving you hints of what came beneath something else. He's giving you an idea that there's something on the surface, but I can't really tell what that color is. Looks really complicated and deep because I'm seeing through these paint layers. But if I look to the edge of it, I say, hm, well, there's something else. And you can imagine if I made another layer here with a different color, I might leave a little bit of that exposed on the edge and then perhaps work further up. So we'd be seeing, in this case, three layers of color here, here two, and then as I brought a third application up here, we'd be seeing a different two even. So glaze after glaze after glaze of different translucencies, different matteness and relative glossiness of the surfaces, dependent on adding varnish or linseed oil, or perhaps even adding egg yolk or something protein-based to not only opacify but to matte out your paint. And what you can see here is just in this very, very quick exercise, some of these drips, some of these types of brushstrokes, these very active kind of brushy interfaces between different paint layers. That really is the syntax for the magic of Rothko's paint surfaces.