Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My Color Palette for Studio and Plein Air

This is a revision of an older post from 2012 where I discuss my palette.  I've added WHY I use particular colors.  I recently announced my 2014 workshops, and since there are a lot of questions about color palette before and during workshops, I decided to update this and repost.

Here is my color palette in the studio.

"What colors are on your palette?" is a common question asked during workshops or demos.  This is my studio palette, laid out on a 20x30 piece of glass with a mid-tone gray board placed under the glass to aid in value comparisons.  My current palette consists of the following Gamblin colors, laid out in this order at the top from left to right:  Cadmium Yellow Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre, Transparent Orange Mixture, Cadmium Orange (sometimes), Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Permanent, Burnt Sienna, and Asphaltum.  Then on the left side of the palette, from bottom to top: Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Permanent Green Light, Cadmium Green, and occasionally Sap Green (not shown).  Titanium White is in the top left corner between these two.

I would consider this a modified prismatic palette.  It goes through the warm colors from lightest to darkest along the top, then through the cool colors on the left - from the coolest to the warmest.  Aside from having a range of warms and cools, I am also trying to give myself a range of values. 

I will quickly go through this palette to explain why I chose each:
Cad Yellow Lemon - This is the lightest, coolest yellow.
Cad Yellow Deep - This is a darker, warmer yellow that gives good value range between yellows.
Yellow Ochre - This is a good earth yellow and important in depicting drier climates.
Transparent Orange Mixture - A rich, transparent, warm orange.  Warms up greens beautifully and makes nice green blues for the sky without making it appear too green.
Cad Orange - This is a cooler intense orange.  If I have to choose, I prefer Transparent Orange.
Cad Red Light - This is a warm red and the lighter value.
Alizarin Permanent - This is the cooler, darker red that gives good value range between reds.
Burnt Sienna - An indispensable earth red with decent tinting strength.
Asphaltum - A transparent, dark, yellow earth that grays cool colors nicely.
Ultramarine Blue - This is the cooler, darker value blue that gives good value range between blues.
Cobalt - This is the warmer, lighter value blue with more intensity.
Viridian - A dark, cool green that will tint warm but still look clean with orange, or go grayer with reds.
Permanent Green Light - This is also a cool green with a lot of intensity.  It needs to be toned but once mixing is mastered it has a lot of possibility.
Cad Green - An intense, warm, light green good for new foilage mixtures.
Sap Green - This is an earthy green sometimes good for dark mixes but it can also dull colors and get you in trouble.
Titanium White - A high tinting strength white that's good for landscape painting because it takes less to tint than other whites.  It is a cool white so as you mix it into your color, your mixture will also need to be warmed.

No matter how you lay out your palette, the most important thing to remember is to be consistent! Reaching for colors in the same place each time helps streamline the mixing process.

Here is my slightly simplified plein air palette.

If I am painting outdoors, my typical studio palette is simplified because of space constraints and to make painting more direct in the field.  I lay it out the same, that is all the warm colors across the top and cool colors on the left side with Titanium White in the upper left corner between them.  Top: Cadmium Yellow Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Deep, Yellow Ochre, Transparent Orange Mixture, Cadmium Red Light, Alizarin Permanent, and Burnt Sienna.  Then on the left side of the palette, from bottom to top: Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Viridian, Permanent Green Light.

I have experimented with a limited palette and believe this to be a useful tool for beginning students who may not have a good handle on color mixing.  If you are interested in using a limited palette, I would encourage you to experiment with several versions of a red, yellow, blue palette to see what works best for you.  You will want to give yourself a large value range, so I would suggest Cad. Yellow Lemon or Cad. Yellow Light for your yellow, Alizarin Permanent or Cad. Red for your red (Cad Red Lt is too warm and light for a limited palette), and Ultramarine Blue plus Titanium White.  Another good addition to this would be an earth tone such as burnt sienna. Be sure to have dark values on your limited palette because you can always tint lighter with Titanium.

My palette has been adjusted throughout my painting career.  Most of my palette is Gamblin because they make great paint and they have a wealth of useful information on their website about color properties.  I've been wanting to conduct a brand comparison for a while but life got very busy with a move the last six or more months.  I've been planning how to do this and hope to get it started soon.