The Paint on My Palette

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One of the questions I get asked often is, “What are the colors on your palette?”

In junior high school, I used to use eight colors: white, burnt umber, Payne’s grey, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, and red (I don’t remember which red). That’s eight, but let’s be honest, I also snuck in one of the cad yellows and alizarin crimson.

I took several night workshops at the local high schools. During one of those classes the teacher asked if I would take out the umbers and siennas and not use them for a month. It was very eye opening to create my earth tones and neutrals from mixing.

My pallet today consists of usually a red, a yellow, a blue and a white.  

Specific colors change often. This week on my pallet the red is burnt sienna, the yellow is an Indian yellow, and the blue is usually an ultramarine blue. I find the narrow range of colors keeps harmony throughout the painting.

I get questions about color more than anything else, and it is the question I have the least knowledge on. I have studied color, and I think math is more entertaining. I do have a few thoughts on it that help get me through.

I remember a couple artists in an almost heated discussion about color and the best way to use it. One artist applied it after a nice grayed down value study, the other applied it from the start in alla prima style but mixed a neutral color in all of it to tame the colors all down.  

I realized I didn’t have a process other than to use instinct—I just put the color down that I thought looked right. I know, too simple, right?

It works for me. But you need to do what works for you.   

First, learn to paint with grays or neutral colors, then when you need the color it will be there. If you don't understand this ask in the comments. Maybe I will write a blog post on the little I know about it and I will go over it.

Second, the good old saying, “If your values are correct you can get away with murder.” Spend some time reviewing value: that’s light and dark. Get them correct and you can play with color all you want and it will read correct.

What brand of paint?  Whatever I can afford. I have more paint on one painting than most put on ten. So, the answer being whatever I can afford at the time. Loving texture, I use a lot of paint. On a larger painting, I can go through a full large tube of white.

I don’t use medium because I need the paint to be thick enough for the texture. Also, I don’t like the dilution effect the medium has on the paint color. I like the paint color to be full strength.

The question I have for you is: What ingredients are in your homemade noodle soup?

My mom makes the best noodle soup in the world. Now, you ask her what is in it and she will tell you noodles, chicken and broth, and of course some salt and pepper and a few things. So why is it better than another’s that made it with the same ingredients?

Is it the way she boils the chicken the night before to strip it off the bone, or the water she pulls from the boil to use as broth? The homemade noodles she rolls out on the table? Or maybe it’s the sprinkle of salt or pepper she throws in? Now, that’s not a ½ teaspoon of salt, it is a sprinkle.

Isn’t it the same with color? Use it to your liking, there is no right or wrong to color if it’s what you want as a painter. We all have different sensibilities. Take away the colors I use and give me yours, and it will still look like I did it. The chicken noodle soup that my mom makes is the best for me, but it might not best for someone else. Your colors may not please everyone, but they should at least please you.

Rett Ashby