10 Ways to Kickstart Your Art – #4: Take Control of Your Palette
In two weeks I will be holding my 5-Day “Kickstart Your Art: Oil Painting Bootcamp” here in Bozeman Montana and I will soon be launching an online version, so to lead up to both workshops I’m writing a 10-part blog series! (If you missed the previous blogs, catch up on the whole series here) These are ten of the things that have helped my own work the most, and that I see make the biggest improvements to my students’ work. The actual workshops will cover a lot more than these ten things of course, so join us in August or sign up for my workshop newsletter to learn more about my online class.
This Week: Take Control of Your PaletteYour palette is the console in the spaceship of your studio, and you can't get to the destination of your finished painting without it. A lot of the time when you end up lost (in space), the problem stems from your paint mixing and management skills. Knowing how to choose and organize colors, how to get the most out of your mixtures, and some technical tips on tools go a long way to make painting more intuitive and productive!
Keep it Simple:When someone brings a giant grocery bag of 20 or more tubes of paint to class, it's time to stage an intervention. For some reason we think that having more colors will make mixing easier, but it's actually the opposite! You'll spend so much time hunting for a specific color and trying to remember what you used yesterday that you'll be completely frustrated. There's nothing wrong with getting adept at using a dozen, twenty, fifty, or a hundred colors - but the key is "getting adept." Start small, start simple. Learn each color, fall in love with each color, and then it becomes intuitive and harmonious.
Build Your Palette:
- Pare down your sack of colors to one or two versions of each of the primaries plus white. Good examples are a warm and a cool of each primary, an intense and a neutral/earth tone of each, or an opaque and a transparent. As you get more comfortable, add new colors one at a time.
- Don't add color to add color, add color to fill the empty spaces in your process. Add a color you mix a lot and want to save time by finding pre-mixed, a color you can't mix at all with your current palette, a neutral or tinted white to give you more dimension, etc.
- Arrange your colors in a way that makes sense to you on the edge of your palette - grouped by temperature, in rainbow order, organized by value, whatever you like! Give each squeezed pile an official home and squeeze it in the same spot every time, so you don't have to think about where to reach when you're mixing.
- When you get confused or frustrated, pare back! Over time you'll find your perfect palette buddies.
- Even though I have a roster of about a dozen favorite colors, I almost never use more than four at a time on any painting. Keeping my palette limited makes it easy for me to remember mixtures from day to day, and as a bonus I get almost instant harmony! Experiment with limited palettes and see what your perfect number is.
Make it Easy On Yourself:I find one of the best investments in good, clean color is to get three things: a glass palette, a razor paint scraper, and a palette keeper.
- A glass palette is the easiest to keep clean and therefore mix clean color on
- A palette keeper can keep your paints from being accidentally mashed or smeared by cats in your studio (a bigger hazard than you think), and if it's mostly-airtight it can save you money by keeping your paints fresher!
- A paint scraper with a nice cushioned handle and a good sharp blade will make it easy to get rid of old mixtures and make room for new
Break It Down:When trying to match a color you can see (or even one you’re visualizing), it helps to tackle each aspect of color individually:
- First ask, what hue is it or where does it fall on the color wheel?
- Then ask, where does it fall on the value scale between white and black?
- Finally, is it very saturated or very neutral (more grey or brown)?