The Art and Working Practices of Brian David MacNeil
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
The Oil painter’s palette
my wooden palette with my choice of oil colors
The oil painters palette is one of those things that seem like magic for the student painter. Choosing the right colors, arranging them just the right way and then changing them all over again, again and again. At least this is my story. I can remember first starting out painting the concept of mixing colors together to produce other colors really didn’t enter my mind. I found myself at the art stores buying all these different hues planning to one day paint with them.
To my surprise later on in years I discovered that one doesn’t need every color the supplier can produce to make a wonderful painting. In fact one can get along pretty well with just a red, blue, yellow and the addition of white. With that in mind that is how i have set up my own palette. From left to right i have Lead White, Cad. Yellow medium, Yellow Ocher, Raw Siena, an earth red ( I have been jumping back and forth from Red Ocher and Burnt Siena), Cad. Orange, Vermilion or Cad Red Light, Alizarin Crimson, Raw Umber, Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue and Ivory Black. Now this may seem like a lot of different colors but in my mind i still only have white, red, blue, yellow and a short cut color named orange (I have the Cad. Orange because i was not able to reach the same high croma mixing red and yellow together). All of these colors on my palette have something in common. They start out at a lighter high chroma value and then fall to a darker low chroma value. When I am trying to match a color I ask myself,”what kind of red, blue or yellow is that.” My next question would be, ” what is the general value of that color.” Lastly I would then check the chroma of my mixture. If i have matched the correct hue and value there should be very little fiddling around with chroma.
One could argue and say that this system is too simple and i may agree with them. But for me I like to think of the colors on my palette in there most direct form. For example when I’m painting flesh or objects in nature it is very rare that i’ll need to dip into my cadmium colors. In fact this is the way in which I prefer to start a painting. There are two reason I limit myself in the beginning and paint only with the earth colors. One is because I am not an alla prima painter, my work consists of several layers of paint to get the look I’m going for. So with the earth colors I am able to apply a faster drying paint layer without the use of a rapid drying medium that may weaken the paint layer. The second reason is that I feel by in the beginning working in a limited manner I’ll have more choices to work with when I come to finish the painting. Say if I need one object to stand out among the others, I can boost up the chroma merely by the addition of a little cadmium color. Generally I reserve the cadmium colors for the lighter value color mixtures. When my mixtures are primarily comprised of white I prefer using the cadmiums to combat there chalkiness.
Of coarse there are many exceptions to the rules when mixing color. I only offer just a brief description of what goes through my head while I’m making a painting. My hopes is that this can help simplify the subject just enough to make your painting easier. I also wish for others who are more experienced to comment on this section in a helpful giving spirit to advance the education of art to whom ever reads this blog. Thank You!