I made good use of my travel palette this summer. It includes a fair selection of colors—warm and cool versions of all the primary and secondary colors. Exceptions include a single purple, an extra blue, and an extra red. I like using a limited palette, so usually use no more than five or six of those colors in any given painting, combining those few to create whatever variations might be needed.
Although it didn’t include all the nuanced variations that my larger palette includes, this travel palette met almost all my quick-sketch needs all summer long. But in one instance that “almost” made a difference.
On one of my morning outings I picked up a twig that bore a lovely, ruffled glove of lichen at one end. Set down in sunlight to paint, it revealed a highlighted grey-green, a slightly deeper half-tone, and a much deeper shadow that, in some places, reflected warm overtones from nearby surfaces. I was less concerned with depicting the crackled bark of the broken limb than the interplay of hues and values within the lichen.
But the sap green on my palette was far too warm; the phthalo green, though good for creating strong, dark colors, was far too blue and saturated for this purpose. Blending my own base green from primary colors required a lot of trial and error. Though I eventually developed an acceptable blend, the time needed to mix the colors cost me my optimal light. As the light changed, I could no longer trust that I was perceiving the colors accurately, so I called a halt for fear of overworking the piece.
Later, back in the studio, I compared the blended color with the colors in my full-spectrum palette and found that it was very close to viridian, which could have been modified only slightly to meet the painting’s needs. Also, unlike phthalo, whose stain is impossible to lighten once it has soaked into the watercolor paper, viridian can be lifted to a much greater extent, to reclaim lost highlights or to vary the value. In the more consistent, controlled light in my studio, I was able to revise and complete the painting. And there I took advantage of the viridian I had not had access to in the field.
Although the painting had indeed been slightly overworked, I was able to resolve the problems with a finishing touch of acrylic to pick up additional highlights.
I probably won’t immediately add viridian to my travel palette nor substitute it for the stronger, more useful phthalo green. I like being able to rely on a comparatively simple, basic palette selection. But occasionally there really is a place for the less-used colors of the full-spectrum palette. I’ll never again underestimate the value of viridian.