Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Palette 1



Here's my palette. The colors don't photograph very accurately and your monitor throws in another variable. On my monitor the ultramarine blue is way too electric for instance. I have shown you this view of my palette to let you see how I arrange it. Here's a usual palette for me. It seems like every time I look down, it's different. Actually the core of the palette remains the same and I experiment with a few additions and variations . These are of course, oil paints. When I look at a great historical painting in the museum and wonder "why can't I do that" I want to know the difference between that work and mine is my ability, and not my materials. If the problem is my materials, that's easy to fix. If the problem is my ability, I can work on that too, if I have the right materials. As I have said in a previous post , all of my colors are from RGH artists oils. Here's what I've got on there.

starting from the top going across to the right:
Titanium white
cadmium yellow light
cadmium yellow medium
cadmium red light
burnt sienna
cobalt violet
Prussian blue

and on the left descending;
Golden, or yellow ochre
ultramarine blue
Viridian, or sometimes pthalo green
Quinacridone red
Ivory black

I will go through this list and write briefly about each of these colors;

Titanium white, the standard artists white these days, opaque and nonpoisonous, that white stuff on your lifeguards nose is titanium. Lefranc and Bourgeois makes a really nice titanium that's very reasonably priced. Some artists like zinc white because it's more transparent and they feel it doesn't overwhelm their colors making them chalky. Some brands of paint are a mixture of titanium and zinc and try to get the best qualities of both. Lead white is somewhat transparent as well, it dries more quickly than the others and handles better than the others. It gives a nice surface and is the white in all the old paintings in the museum. It is poisonous and is becoming harder to find.

Cadmium yellow light, or pale. Never buy a tube that says hue on it! A hue is some unknown pigments mixed up to look like the color you actually want. If you want azo yellow (or French's mustard) buy tubes labeled that way. Manufacturers sell these to students and hobbyists who don't know the difference. They won't handle reliably in your mixtures and lack pigmenting strength. Student grades of paint often are hues. Painting well is hard enough to do with the best of materials.

Cadmium yellow medium, more orange and warmer than the cadmium yellow light. I can live without this by feeding a little cadmium red light into my cadmium yellow light, but it is convenient having it and it helps me to get greater variety when mixing greens. There is a lot of variation between makers and some makers' cadmium yellow medium may be the same color as another makers' cadmium yellow deep.

Cadmium red light, this is an expensive pigment, but a tube will last you a long time. All the cadmiums are poisonous . Don't eat or smoke while they are on your hands. Never put these in a spray gun, and I would recommend you never work with this pigment in a powdered form (such as grinding your own paint, let the pros do that). Used responsibly they are safe. Most of the things in an artists' studio are poisonous to one degree or another. I was taught to paint with real vermilion in this slot on the palette, that is mercuric sulphide and is really, really poisonous and nearly impossible to get these days however it was a lovely color. When you see the blush in the cheek of a woman painted by John Sargent, that's vermilion. Often your red is going to be used to "step on " ie. modify another color slightly and vermilion did that nicely. There are some nice proprietary reds that are possibles in this spot on the palette. Sennelier red is a nice one. Rembrandt also makes a nice red in this range. I don't see a good replacement for the cadmium yellows but you may decide to choose a substitute for cadmium red light. The important thing is that this is a warm red, you will have a cool red on the other side of the palette.

Burnt sienna, is an absolutely wonderful color! It is inexpensive. Earth colors are (or rather were) colored dirt dug up in various places in Italy, and are mostly forms of iron oxide. They are made in the lab today and are, I think, far better than the real earth pigments. These are reliable, permanent and well behaved colors.They dry relatively quickly. I like to sketch paintings in with burnt sienna. Some artists who choose to use limited palettes and work on a chromatic palette don't use earth colors. Some of the western painters have popularized this approach lately. I will talk about limited palettes in another post. Oddly enough the old masters had just the opposite sort of palette and worked with three color earth palettes. There's a lot of different ways to skin the same cat, each has its limitations and advantages. My palette has both an earth color palette and a chromatic palette within it. Winsor and Newton makes a nice burnt sienna. Since burnt sienna is a relatively inexpensive color buy a good one.

Cobalt violet, an extremely expensive color. I love it, but I can't say you really need to have it. Its got a lovely sort of glow that no other violet has. Dioxizine has far more tinting strength. I feel dioxizine has too much in fact, and will actually stain the hairs in your brushes. Most of the proprietary violets on the market are dioxizine, often toned down to make them more manageable. You can mix your violets over on the other side of the palette with ultramarine and quinacridone or alizirin. Gamblin makes a less expensive cobalt violet and it is fine.

Prussian blue, This blue leans slightly towards green. It is not a real popular color these days having been largely replaced with thalo blue. I use Prussian because it is more manageable, thalo blue being so much more powerful than the other pigments on your palette that it can be over assertive in mixtures. Many fine painters have relied on it though. Emile Gruppe used it extensively as the blue in his chromatic palette. Most of the proprietary blues labeled with the makers name are thalo.
Neither of these colors is particularly expensive so you may want to try a small tube of both. Like cobalt violet you may decide you don't need this color either.

Thats it for today. I will talk about the other half of the palette in the next post.

2 comments:

marybullock2 said...

Great information! I'm glad to hear that someone else likes cobalt violet and prussian blue besides me - most artists I've talked to, have never heard of them.
I notice that you do not use Alizarin Crimson - why not?
I've heard of one plein air artist that squeezes her paint out in pill boxes (the kind that have a compartment for each day). She has one for her cool colors and one for her warm colors. When she is not out painting, she puts them in the freezer. On her painting day, she takes them out and they thaw by the time she has arrived at her destination. She said that this keeps her squeezed out paint from drying up. Do you think this is a good idea?
Thanks for all your information - Mary

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanx Mary: I feel like the overeager dweeb in the third grade who is waving his hand frantically for the teachers attention and yelling I know,I know!
I had planned to speak about alizirin in the next post and will talk about keeping paint on ice as well.