Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Exploring Color Palettes

How a painter lays out the colors of their palette and the colors they choose is an insight into their painting process. A artist looks at the arrangement of paint piles on a wooden palette as the musician looks at the strings of a guitar. They represent the creative possibilities of describing the visual world through color. Color is described by three qualities hue, value and chroma, together those three components are referred to as a “color note”. So when you look at a thing and say I will describe it with paint, you are actually saying, I will create in some abstract pictorial space that exact shape in hue, value and color with a brushstroke. Or more exactly a color note.

My palette charts are based on a limited palette of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, and ultramarine blue, which offer a surprising range of color and value relationships on their own. The pure color is on the left with two steps of white.  I have written about earth palettes and limited palettes here before, you may want to read those articles also.

The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette. 
(Henry S. Hoskins)

These color notes come from an array of pigments spread across a palette, learning to control and understand that palette is important. Building knowledge of their relationships and how colors interact is much like (using the music analogy again) learning the scales. Most students start with a limited palette of colors and as they become knowledgeable of how they interact, expand the palette slowly.

The idea is to develop a method of working with color that becomes intuitive, color mixing should be a non-cognitive action so that you can find a color note quickly and effectively without interfering with your creative process. Clapton never stopped in the middle of a guitar solo and said, “Crap, where’s the key of C ?”

Expanding on this core set of earth colors I selected colors that would give me further variations on the primaries, a warm and cool in each family with some colors of convenience and modifiers such as sap green and raw umber. The experience of making puddles of paint and experimenting with them to learn which colors are cool or warm, transparent or opaque, and how they relate to each other is an important part of understanding color harmony and color mixing.

This last palette is a classical palette I have come across a few times and experimented with, how historically accurate it is I am not sure. However Gamblins Oil Colors, which is a very reputable source sold this set of colors as an Old Master Palette. With lots of warm earth tones and contrast this palette really has that old master feel to it. I could see Titian or Rembrandt using this palette. A good resource for the history of paints used by artists is Pigments Through the Ages.

Everything that you can see in the world around you presents itself to your eyes only as an arrangement of patches of different colors. 
(John Ruskin)

Three Color Palette
Earth Palette

Explore - Question - Learn - Enjoy, Jim Serrett