Monday, 25 February 2008

Exploring my palette for oil painting

The word palette has a double meaning. It is the surface that the artist uses to layout his pigments and mix them together. By extension of meaning, a painter’s palette is also his personal selection of colour hues.

This is a typical palette arrangement I have used for a recent painting.

From left to right:

  • Titanium White

  • Cadmium Yellow Pale

  • Yellow Ochre

  • Cadmium Red

  • Alizarin Crimson

  • Cerulean Blue

  • Manganese Blue

  • Ultramarine Blue

  • Sap Green

  • Blockx Green

Some comments on my palette layout:

  • I may replace Manganese blue by Blue Rex.
  • I may also have “guest colours” depending on the subject I am working on. For instance, if I am working on a marine painting, I will use more hues for blue and green colours.

  • You will note that there is no black. This is because I mix my darkest tone with Crimson Red and Viridian Green. If I want to turn on the blue side, I would add some Ultramarine blue to the mix.
  • You can use Viridian green or Phthalo Green instead of Blockx Green
  • You can add some earth colours (like Burnt Umber or Raw Umber).

My colours arrangement:

  • Colours are separated between warm colours on the left and cool colours on the right side

  • The colours are somehow arranged in a clockwise fashion from light to dark. This is why the Yellow Ochre is between the yellow and the red. If I had dark earth colours (like Raw Umber), I would put them after the Crimson alizarin.

  • Colours are spread in the periphery of the palette, the centre being left free for mixing.

Different ways to organize your palette

  • You could arrange colours according to the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, brown, black, white.
  • You could group warm colours together and cool colours together.
  • Arrange colours that you often mix together next to each other.

Points to remember:

  • There is no right or wrong way to layout your palette. It’s down to personal preference and experience. You need to find the arrangement of colours that works for you. Try an arrangement for some time and see how it works. Give it some time before you alter the way you lay out your palette.
  • Once you have found your way of doing, systematically arrange your palette in the same order. This is important as it is not easy to recognise some dark colours when they have been squeezed on the palette. You need to be able to reach for a particular colour without having to think about it every time. It’s like driving: imagine what would happen if the clutch was at a different place each time. Your mind would be distracted by it rather than concentrated on the road.

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