A palette to my taste

Palette setup

Although my paint drawer includes several tubes of both primary and secondary colors, I find that I tend to actually use far fewer for any given painting. My clutch of most often used tubes includes two of each of the primary colors, three greens, two browns, and a purple. For each of the primaries, I prefer to have one at each end of the warm-cool spectrum, and (especially for blues) some options in between. The greens also include both warm and cool versions, but sap green is the only green I ever use without mixing in some other color to modify it. I rarely incorporate either black or white except when it is premixed into a multi-pigment paint or I need the black to achieve an extremely dark blend.

Whether I start with a warm-slanted palette or a cool-slanted one depends on my anticipated approach to the subject matter.

Occasionally, I include some other color, such as sepia, but most of the time my working palette is limited to only about six colors. Mixtures of these basic hues can create any variation I might need for a given painting. Maintaining a limited palette helps me ensure a sense of color unity throughout the painting.

The palette illustrated above includes, beginning at the lower left and moving clockwise, sepia, burnt sienna, [an unfilled slot available for an additional brown, such as burnt umber or brown madder], alizarin crimson, permanent rose, yellow ochre, [another open slot available for a additional yellow, usually new gamboge], lemon yellow, emerald green [though I might change this on occasion to a Hooker’s green], sap green, Winsor green (blue shade), indigo, Winsor blue (green shade), cobalt blue, French ultramarine blue, Winsor violet, and ivory black [though this spot may be opened up, also, for a different spur-of-the-moment choice].

I have also illustrated my most-used brushes, which include three #8’s (2 rounds—one synthetic, one sable—and a flat synthetic, which I use as a scrubber), a natural-hair sumi-e brush, a #30 synthetic, a toothbrush (for spatter work), a hake (pronounced “hah’-kay”) brush, a #2 Lizard’s Lick, and a #3 liner. The hake brush is used only to apply washes.

I always keep a sponge in the corner of the palette tray, as shown here, where I can wick off excess moisture from my brushes as I work. The same sponge can be used to wipe out the mixing tray after a painting has been completed. I rinse it out carefully and return it, still moist, to the tray. This helps keep the remaining paint in the cups from drying out too badly before my next painting session.

Because I tend to travel frequently and leave this primary palette at home, I do not use it every day and the paints and sponge both tend to dry out in the interim. That is why I don’t fill the cups as many other painters do. I prefer to work with the creamier consistency of fresh-squeezed paint, so I tend to squeeze out only what I expect to use in the next day or so, though I often leave any residue from previous days’ work in the cup. The exception is if the remaining paint in the cup has become contaminated with other colors by my failing to rinse the brushes adequately between colors. At that point I wipe out the offending colors, leaving as much as I can of the unsullied remainder.

If you liked this article, you may be interested also in my upcoming articles “A Traveling Studio,” “Selecting Paints,” and “Staying Out of the Mud.”

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