I received another question from a new blog subscriber yesterday I think some of my readers might find it interesting.
Here is the question:
I discovered you while reading about you on the the Plein Air Magazine online newsletter.
Marvelous work! So happy to find you … and sign up for your newsletter.
I’m an hour north of Los Gatos … so sorry to miss the Los Gatos event.
Your work is wonderful.
May I ask: what is your color palette? It’s so rich.
I have a neighbor with the exact same rose arbor … and no idea how to paint it!
Would love to see a photo of that finished work.
Hello Fran. Thank you for your kind comments, and your email question — and welcome to the blog!
Cadmium Yellow MediumCadmium OrangeCadmium Red MediumAlizarin PermanentCobalt Violet (Sometimes this is replaced by Dioxazine Purple.)Ultramarine BlueCobalt BlueCerulean Blue Hueand Viridian
And Ochre, used as a color modifier. (I can mix my own earth tones — ochre, siennas, and umbers using the colors found above, but I find having a tube of ochre on hand to be a time saver. Having said that, I have a strict rule I follow: if I am using a color modifier too much, or become lazy and careless with it, I take it off the palette. This forces me to go back to mixing the colors I need, instead of mindlessly reaching for an approximate. So, in truth, I have recently dropped tubed raw umber and ivory black for my bad habits. I kept over-using both and blocking up my darks. So I am back to mixing browns and blacks on the fly. (see the diagram below)
I also paint with a Lead White. A very important color to me. Lead White (aka, flake white) won’t chalk up a mix the way Titanium will. However, having said that, I do have Titanium White in the paint box. Because sometimes you need the opacity it provides.
So my palette is essentially what Sorolla used outdoors, minus a Rose Madder, Chinese Vermilion, Venetian Red, and something called Peach Black — which I’ve never been able to identify. (Hey, any paint historians out there who can help me out with peach black?) I’ve been using this palette for almost 28 years now, with some variation on occasion. But I always return to this basic set. It can mix almost every color I need with the least number of tubes of paint.
You’ll see that with the exception of the one yellow and one green I have a warm and cool version of each hue. That’s one of the tricks we color magicians use to maintain the intensity of our secondary mixes. Every time you mix two or more hues together you will lose some saturation. You can minimize the drop in intensity, but you can’t avoid it. So the best way to minimize the graying down of a hue such as a warm purple is to mix it using a warm red and a warm blue — and of course, you can use a cool red and a cool blue to create a cool intense purple as well. If you mix a warm red with a cool blue the two different temperatures will cancel the saturation out a bit. For some reason Cadmium Yellow Medium can be biased in either direction so if I am traveling light I’ll just carry the medium. (Well, this is not entirely true, if I know I will need an intense cool green I’ll throw a Cadmium Yellow Light into my paint box as well. But putting too much cool green into a painting can make it less appealing to the public. Dunno why, it just does…) The same goes with Viridian. I can push that green to the warm or cool as needed. Although it certainly comes straight out from the tube as a cold green.
The other important tip I would share about mixing colors is to hold off using white as much as possible until late in the painting session. Most painters overuse white or start mixing with it far too early. Whenever white is mixed into a darker color, intentionally or not, it destroys transparency, and I like my darks to be transparent. Transparent equals rich and glowing in my book. This is an old-school approach to painting and it should not be considered better or worse than any other way to paint. My way is just more old school. If you look Ye Olde Masters you’ll see they generally made an effort to keep their darks free of white as much as possible and they slowly increased the opacity of their mixes color as they went up the value scale towards white. This makes sense if you think about how oil paint wants to work. Of course, there are times when you do need a dark to be a tad opaque, especially if there is a gray or neutral quality in the shadows, so don’t take what I am saying here as a hard and fast rule. But do try to reduce the amount of white you use in the early stages and you’ll see what I mean. Your color will stay cleaner. It will sparkle more and viewers will respond without knowing why. (They don’t have to know why. This is why we are magicians!) Sometimes I won’t even lay out any white until late in a session. I’m serious. I can be just as sloppy or lazy about white as the next painter. And once you put it down the game changes.
Anything more about color palettes and mixing than this has to be taught face-to-face. So you can see it in action. Which I do in my workshops. (see below) In fact, if you ask any of my previous students they’ll tell you 90% of what they learn from me relates directly to color and how to mix it. First how to see color. Then how to mix color. And of course, then how to stick the color on the canvas. (Ha!)
So Jan, good luck with your color mixing. And keep it clean!
UPDATE: Because workshop sign-ups this year have been so quick I may offer a second outdoor class the following week, if there is enough interest. That will be decided after the first week closes.