Wednesday, 27 January 2016

The Power Palette

The colours you choose to put on your palette can be a deeply life-affirming experience. Artists will defend to the last their decision to use a specific red or blue, and some artists are famous for their use of a colour, think Vemeer and that blue, (Natural Ultramarine or Lapis in case you were wondering), Rembrandt used quite a bit of red in his portraits, and then there's the black argument. Many of my students will come to a workshop with a whole plethora of colours, where this artist says to use this, and that artist says to only use that, but there is a real danger of getting lost in it all and not discovering yourself.

From 'Husband's hero:

Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, 

do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.

Bruce Lee

The colours used by Vemeer in his celebrated painting can be found on Girl with a Pearl Earring Palette and see more on his colour choices in this National Gallery article 

Image C/O Wikimedia
Girl With a Pearl Earring
Johannes Vemeer
Now in the collection of the Mauritshuis in The Hague

I'm very much into the 'try it and see' method of learning. You will only know if it works for you by giving it a go and seeing what results you get. Over recent years I have decided against the use of Cadmium colours but that was mainly instigated by the European legislation to ban the use of Cadmium in paints. As it is the change has been a real bonus, and I personally wouldn't go back now, but I know many artists who still swear by them, and that's okay too. See Complicated Cadmium 

Whenever I am working on a painting, I tend to start with a limited palette of six colours on the warm and cools spectrum, and add any specific colours as I go. After colour testing and matching during the sketchbook stage, I soon know which ones I will need and don't overpower the palette with colours I don't need.

A multitude of different colours using just one purple and one other colour

Winsor Violet with Quinacridone Magenta,
and Winsor Violet with Indian Yellow  were my favourites here

My 'Power Palette'. The basic six colours that tend to be a starting point for many of my paintings.  

Lemon Yellow
Sennelier Yellow Light 

Ultramarine Light
Indanthrene Blue

Anthraquinoid Red
Perylene Maroon  

Essential addition - Transparent Yellow See also Treasured Transparents

The Power Palette in action
with a few additions

For some subjects it's necessary to have a subject specific palette. For 'Fade to Grey' for example I needed some really specific purples and pinks, so had to change the palette to suit. My favourite additions are:

Quinacridone Magenta, 
Permanent Rose 
Quinacridone Purple 

These extras to the basic colours provided some beautiful variations to the purple palette, and I wouldn't have achieved the depth of tone or complexity without them. It's important for me to be flexible and not stick rigidly to the same colours.

Now we're on the subject, don't get me started on how I put the colours on the palette. Some students get very itchy about how to put their colours on the palette. Does it matter? You just squeeze the tube somewhere around the edge and away you go. I couldn't tell you if there's any order to where they go, do I keep the reds yellows and blues together, or all the cool and all the warm together, it's generally shove it on and go for it. Of course, I can understand why there should be some plan to a palette. Familiarity, knowing where everything is and even labelling your palette will help you along the way, but I am not that organised, tend to have too many palettes on the go at once and really just tend to recognise the colours I have. A limited palette also helps.    

Playing around with some new additions

Always best to try first
Getting that purple

Of course half the fun of being an artist is trying out new paints, brands and colours, and there will always be new technologies making better products, giving us even more choice. On the other hand, it's difficult to ditch an old favourite or, heaven forbid, the company stops making it, but sometimes this can be the spur we need to get our work into a higher gear.

Just to demonstrate that I do have quite a few colours, here are my collections. I do keep reds and pinks together, blues and any greens and yellows and golds in separate in boxes, so I know what I've got, but that's as good as I get. when it comes to organising colours. 

Not so limited

Mixing neutrals

Although I do have Sienna and Umber in my palette, I like to mix browns, bronzes and golds from the colours I have. Quinacrdone Gold is a new favourite, and it was used a lot on the 'Gone Conker' painting. Mixed with Anthraquinoid red, it makes the most delicious bronze.

As with everything else, my attitude to the colours I use is to experiment, go for it and enjoy the happy mistakes and joyous successes. It's all a learning curve, and a mighty pleasurable one at that. But getting back to Vemeer and that blue, do I have a colour that truly lights the fire? Yes, but I'll let you think on that one... ha ha.

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. 

If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.

Albert Schweitzer


Starr White said...

Terrific post!! the whole subject of color is a bit overwhelming for the beginner (me), and since I am immersed at present trying to understand the whole color,value,tone issue - this was very helpful! I have also been stressing about which colors to buy and how to lay out my palette!! Turns out, I've been doing exactly the same thing you do, and I was delighted to see you using a plain white ceramic plate, same as me :)

Trying to find some good info on tonal washes at present - do you have any related posts?

Sketchbook Squirrel said...

Thank you for your really lovely comment Starr. So pleased you found the info useful, and the plats are sooo handy. Hmm, tonal washes? Can't remember if I've done a post on that. Good idea, so I'll write one up :) x