Posts Tagged ‘palette’

The Value of Viridian

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

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.

130707 Lichen Every Aspect

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.

Reevaluating the Palette

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

I’ve found that it’s a good idea to periodically review the paints in my palette. Not only do I consider which ones I’ve made good use of and which I haven’t, but I also find it helpful to update my charts that show how they interact with one another. While doing that this fall, I made some discoveries that will help in my paint choices for the coming year. Among other things, I have found that there are several paints that could be dispensed with or be replaced with a more satisfactory alternative.

Palette, December 2011

Of my five yellows, I found that three are very similar in color but behave differently in use. The yellow ochre, a semi-opaque that tends to muddy my mixes, will not be replenished when it runs out. The similar raw sienna is more transparent and poses less of a mixing problem. It provides a more subtle and slightly warmer underwash than the third similar color, quinacridone gold, which is stronger and more lively for mixing with other colors. New gamboge is also a rich, warm, more intense yellow that is good for mixing. And the bright, cooler Winsor lemon is needed for the lightest, clearest yellows applied over reserved white.

In the brown realm, burnt sienna is my standby, supplemented by burnt umber for my darkest darks (often mixed with indigo) and the more red-toned brown madder, which I also love to pair with indigo. I’ve tried sepia but found that that’s another color I can dispense with.

It has perhaps been a mistake to rely too heavily on the transparent reds—permanent alizarin crimson and permanent rose, more recently supplemented with the lovely quinacridone red and quinacridone magenta. Being transparent, these are fine colors for mixing, but I find the quin red a bit wimpy on its own. I need a good rich red to punch up a painting. A transparent scarlet lake is a new acquisition that I hope will fill the bill. It has a warmer cast than the cooler reds I’ve been using.

Though I have a purple (Winsor violet), I seldom use it, usually preferring to mix my own from the colors used elsewhere in the painting. This helps to maintain a sense of color unity throughout, rather than introducing an unrelated hue.

Of my blues and greens, Payne’s grey (which I consider a very muted blue) is my least used. Cerulean, being opaque, doesn’t blend well with most other paints (though permanent rose transforms it to the startling and lovely hue my father used to call “sky-blue pink.”) Cerulean is fine as a sky color but is largely limited to that use. And I find that the hue is very similar to that of Winsor blue (green shade), which is more amenable for mixing. French ultramarine blue and cobalt blue, on the other hand, are both workhorses and must-haves, as they are both useful for skies, water, shadows, and blending with other colors. The muted indigo (a premixed blue blend that can be subtle despite its powerful pigments) has become a personal favorite and almost indispensable to me. A new acquisition is Manganese Blue Nova, a Holbein paint, which creates a lovely range of greens when mixed in varying proportions with quinacridone gold. Though I haven’t used them as extensively, I enjoy the liveliness and mixability of my Winsor blue (green shade) and Winsor green (blue shade), from which I can achieve a good range of aquas and turquoises when blended together. Their transparency seems to lend them both to successful mixing with other colors. Permanent sap green has become another of my workhorses, as it is a good supplement to palette-mixed greens and is, in itself, easy to vary for great foliage.

I like the clarity and vibrancy of the transparent colors, particularly the quinacridones. And I’m less concerned now than I used to be about whether a pigment stains or can be lifted off the paper. So, as you see, as my tastes and needs change over time, I expect my palette selections will continue to change as well, both adapting to and contributing to the evolution of my work.

A Limited Palette

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Wave to Me Frondly

Viewers may wonder how a painter can create a color-rich scene without using a palette overflowing with paint choices. The key to successfully using a limited palette is in choosing a few primary-based paints that work well together and that blend to create the supplemental secondary and tertiary hues needed.

In “Wave to Me Frondly” (#110108), I used only four paints–three primaries and a secondary color: new gamboge, indigo blue, brown madder, and sap green. (Despite it’s name, “brown madder” actually is considered a red.) All four of these colors have a warm cast, which helps to convey the warmth of the sun-lit scene.

I began with a background wash of a mixture of new gamboge and brown madder, varying the proportions as I washed them across the paper so the background wouldn’t be all the same flat blend. Most of the fronds are painted with a blend of brown madder and sap green, with some indigo blue added in the darkest areas. A pale wash of pure indigo tints the highlights on the fronds, and an extra bit of new gamboge brightens the sun-kissed spots on the leaves. I dropped in some extra areas of brown madder at the end of the painting process to help balance the nearly-finished painting. But no additional paint colors were needed.

If you like this discussion of paints, you might also be interested in reading “A Palette to My Taste” (December 1, 2010),“Staying Out of the Mud” (March 1, 2011), and “Selecting Paints” (to appear later this year).

Staying Out of the Mud

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

One of the banes of novice watercolorists is that old bugaboo “mud.” It took me a long time to realize what caused mud to develop both on my palette and in my paintings. Part of it, I knew, came from overworking the paint, combining too many colors to create the hue I wanted. Yet I wasn’t sure how many blended colors equaled too many.

I began working on the theory that cool-slanted colors shouldn’t be mixed with warm-slanted colors. But that theory didn’t prove true in every case. At last I realized that when opaque or semi-opaque pigments were mixed with transparent ones, the transparency was sacrificed, and the result became a muddied concoction.

The question then became, “How can I tell which pigments are transparent enough to work well with my palette, and which will I need to be careful using?” I eventually found the answer to that in the color charts most paint manufacturers provide. One of the paints that had been a staple for me from the beginning was yellow ochre, which I discovered was considered either opaque or semi-opaque (depending on the manufacturer). That pigment proved to have been the culprit in many of my muddy blends. Another popular color that caused problems for me was cerulean blue, which is often actually a mixture containing white, and is also semi-opaque.

I still use opaque colors, but with considerably more discretion than before.

There is definitely a place for opaque and semi-opaque pigments in watercolor work. And there simply seems to be little option for some hues. But I’ve learned that it’s usually more effective to use the opaque pigments in the base layer of a glazed painting or for detail on the top layer, rather than to blend on the palette with transparent paints for a widespread wash over the paper.

Unless you understand the components of the paint you use, it’s difficult to know what to expect of it. When a single-pigment paint is available for a certain hue, I try to use that rather than a blended version so it is easier to predict how it will react with other paints, how transparent it will be, and how stable the hue will remain over time.

Most paint manufacturers provide a chart that reveals most of this information for their own paints. To see comprehensive comparison charts, including transparency, opacity, and permanence of a wide range of colors and manufacturers, I’d recommend that you refer to Hilary Page’s book Guide to Watercolor Paints. Because the information changes continually, the author also provides free updated information online at www.Hilary Page.com.

If you like this discussion of paints, you might also be interested in reading “A Palette to My Taste” (December 1, 2010) and “A Limited Palette” and “Selecting Paints” (both to appear later this year).

A traveling studio

Wednesday, December 15th, 2010

Traveling-Studio Supplies

As I mentioned in my previous article, “A Palette to My Taste,” I normally prefer to work with moist paints, fresh from the tube. I forego that luxury, however, when I travel. Instead I use a small “piggy back” palette, with a lid of its own, which serves as my mixing tray. This entire tray can snap into the lid of a larger palette, which I leave at home. Squeezing a limited quantity of creamy paint into the tray’s palette cups, I intentionally allow them to dry for several days, uncovered. Each cup is labeled with the color and manufacturer’s name so I can restock it with the same color when I get back home. After the paints have dried in the tray, they are no longer subject to airlines’ “liquids” regulation so can be packed into either my suitcase or a carry-on bag.

My other traveling-studio necessities include a soft drawing pencil, eraser, and a fistful of brushes—a #30 round synthetic (my workhorse), #8 round synthetic, a natural-hair brush somewhere between those two in size, a #0 round or liner for detail, a small scrubber, and (if I intend to use frisket) a small disposable round. An old toothbrush or typewriter eraser brush works fine for spattering paint or water.

I like to tuck in a compressed cellulose sponge or scrap of terrycloth (such as an old washcloth) with which to sop excess water from my brushes and to wipe up spills, in lieu of relying on paper towels or fast-food napkins, which aren’t always absorbent enough for my needs. A quart-sized collapsible water bucket is handy, too, but in a pinch, a jar, can, or even a small disposable cup can be used. (I avoid employing reusable food or serving containers when using any potentially toxic pigments, such as cobalts or cadmiums.)

Watercolor “blocks” of paper, up to quarter-sheet size (about 12 x 18), can be packed in a carry-on suitcase. These have the advantage of providing their own backing and do not require stretching. (I save any covers or backing boards to use as stiffeners for finished paintings to be repacked for my return.) Or a small watercolor journal can easily be slipped into even a mid-sized purse. Paper larger than quarter-sheet size poses more of a problem, since it must be bought at my destination and shipped back separately. I don’t use an easel. Since I prefer to work on a horizontal surface, and watercolor blocks include their own stiff backing, a table, flat rock, or even a lap can suffice when I’m traveling.

Other items are optional, depending on whether I anticipate needing them. Liquid frisket can be bought in small containers, either for packing or as an on-location purchase. Spray bottles (to be carried empty) are available in travel sizes. And drawing pads and graphite paper can also be easily packed if I expect to want them.

But whenever I’m traveling, the most crucial “studio” element of all is my camera, supplemented, of course, with extra batteries and memory cards. I don’t always have time to execute a painting on location, but I can almost always manage to snatch a moment to whip out my camera to record a scene, a mood, or a detail for future reference.

If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested also in my previous article, “A Palette to My Taste,” and the upcoming articles, “Selecting Paints” and “Staying Out of the Mud.”