Friday, December 3, 2010

The Palette: Fin

So I have woken up sick and it took every last bit of energy and motivation to bring my laptop up from my studio to make this final post. I woke up 2 hours later than I anticipated, sleeping through both alarms, and I justified a 40 minute nap just half an hour after I got up. Suffice it to say, I don't think I can work up the mojo to start a whole new painting for First Friday Self-Portrait... today at least. But I will finish my lengthy discussion on palettes and close off with a few helpful tips.

Having explored the palettes of four exceptional painters I think it is safe to make the following recommendations:

1. As a start, try having at least a warm and a cool of each color. You can split this so you only focus on the primaries and have a few secondaries on the palette, or you can have a warm and cool of all of them. It comes down to preference. Plus temperature is relative. Cadmium Red will appear warm next to Viridian, but next to Cadmium Orange it will appear slightly cooler. Donato exemplifies this with his use of Mud.

2. For some reason the red/orange/yellow colors have more opaque/transparent variety than the green/blue/violet colors, which tend towards the transparent. Having a good balance of transparent warm and cools is important. As far as the latter range of colors are concerned, they work best as transparent pigments in my opinion. I replaced Greenish Yellow with Cinnabar Green Light because it is opaque and just as warm. So the browns I mix with it are very similar and they have the added benefit of being opaque. I try to have an opaque or semi-opaque and transparent of each color except for orange, yellow, and violet. Cad Orange is enough orange, plus Transparent Red Oxide and Burnt Sienna are pretty orangey. Aureolin is a good transparent yellow, but I have no need for it. Magenta is the only violet range color I use and it is transparent. I can mix my own opaque violet since I don't use it in large quantities. Fun fact: all oil colors are inherently transparent given the nature of the medium. Titanium White is the most opaque pigment.

3. Try to use only permanent pigments that are lightfast. There are a couple systems that determine how lightfast a pigment is when you look at the labeling. If you see I through V that is the ASTM (American Society for Testing Materials). The lower the numeral, the higher the permanence. So if you have a tube of color with a V, chuck it. It's not worth the money you paid since in all likelihood it will fade in a couple of years. There is also the Blue Woolscale system that uses a regular number system from 1 to 8. The higher the number, the better the pigment. For more info go here:

4. It is good to experiment with a lot of colors first and see which ones you use more often. Yes, it costs a lot of money immediately. But in the long run you end up saving since hopefully by then you'll know how much and how often you use each color. Titanium White is the one color you should always buy in the largest tube possible since you go through it pretty fast.

5. Figure out what kind of painter you are. Are you the type of artist who uses a limited palette of a handful of colors, or do you roll with half table-top sized palettes with more pigments than you have fingers, toes, and other appendages if you really want to get crazy? Do you paint using thin glazes of color like Maxfield Parrish? Perhaps you build up subtle tones, gradually increasing the viscosity of your paint in the light areas and keep the darks transparent like pretty much every other painter in history? Or maybe you paint opaquely all over with juicy impasto, focusing more on color and value relationships a la Impressionists? Maybe you don't really care about form and tradition, opting for the immediacy of abstraction in evoking responses from the viewer. Regardless, take the time to find out how you paint as it will greatly affect your color decisions.

6. Don't be cheap. I've heard a lot of people say it doesn't really matter what paint you use. They're right to a certain extent since it isn't the material that makes bad art, but poorly trained and delusional artists. If Leonardo had only Winton or Van Gogh oil paints, I'm sure he could still paint the Mona Lisa. But most tube paints are made with crappy oil anyway, nowhere near the same quality oil that painters would purify and cleanse on their own in their studios 100s of years ago. Ideally, grinding your own pigments is the way to go, and I know of a few painters who do that. But who has that kind of time? A dab of of Old Holland or Williamsburg Cad Red goes farther than a giant glop of the same color in the Winton brand. Make the extra investment, you won't regret it and the difference is noticeable.

7. Lay out your palette in an arrangement that suits your needs. I lay mine out ROYGBIV because no one ever told me how to arrange my colors. So naturally I was inclined to use the rainbow. Richard Schmid lays his colors out from lightest value to darkest (not including white). You can put two piles of white in the middle and on either side of that arrange your warms and cools. But please, do not just place them at random. My young teen students learned the hard way that placing them wherever makes a mess. I trained em well :)

8. This isn't really a big trend, but some people find it important to use colors that are safe. This applies especially to anyone who grinds their own pigment. A lot of colors are poisonous, but when proper care is taken you don't have to worry about it.

9. Learn how each color mixes with another color. The color charts are a great exercise, but so is trial and error with a touch of intuition. If you're a disciplined enough person with the patience of a saint, I STRONGLY encourage you to make the color charts. It's a long standing exercise in the education of classically trained painters. If you're a free spirit, just go with it. But keep a mental note of which mixtures look like poop and which ones glow like gems.

I would add a 10th, but odd numbers are more appealing to me. Especially anything related to the number three. Three three's is just downright beautiful. I hope you enjoyed these posts. They were a labor of love, which I think came across. Stay tuned next week for the belated self-portrait as well as some other progress shots and informational tid-bits. Have a great weekend everyone. And try not to get sick!