How to Create the Perfect Pallet – Mixing Colors

As I’m writing this it’s been raining, the sun just peeked out from dark foreboding skies and a beautiful rainbow has appeared.  I’m always awestruck when I see one.  It’s God’s personal palette and I’m delighted by it. That’s what it’s like when you begin mixing your colors for your prepped canvas.  I’m always amazed as I mix the pigment and add new color to it.  The way they combine and dance often surprises me.  These colors will form your underpainting.  I use a very tight palette and never vary from it.  It consists of Grumbacher’s Thio Violet, Thalo Blue, Cadmium Yellow Medium, and Permalba White.  Permalba White, in my opinion, is the best white on the market.  You should choose the colors that reflect you.  I mix all of my colors from these, creating a tight family of color.  By using this process not only will your colors work well together, you’ll gain color insight, it will also save you a great deal of money.   

I use a large glass palette, and squeeze out a small amount of each color with an ample amount of white.  I mix my colors, adding turpentine as needed, to make a buttery consistency.   This will also allow the work to dry quickly, within a day depending on the humidity. Then using a palette knife, I take a small amount of one color, separating it from the primary colors, and begin adding another color to it until I have mixed the correct combination to achieve the result I was looking for.  

It’s important you keep your work space clean, never contaminate the colors, so have an ample supply of paper towels for the palette knife.  Every time you change colors clean your brush or palette knife.  At the end of every day I always clean my work space so that I have a fresh start the next day.  

These initial colors will be the underpainting.  I mix a soft variety of light siennas.  Then starting with the sky or background and moving to the foreground, I paint the image.  It is of the utmost importance that your light areas retain the lightness of your final image or it’s very difficult to regain it.  Regarding your dark areas and shadows, they too need to be quite light.  The painting should have very little detail if any at this point.  I use flat, square ended brushes for the majority of this stage of the painting.  When the painting is near completion I’ll also use fan and script brushes for the details.  

Once the canvas is covered, step back and study what you’ve created.  Then take a mirror, turn your back on the piece, and look at its reflection.  It will give you an entirely different perspective and you’ll be able to see things you hadn’t noticed before. Correct any problems you see. However, if the paint is too wet, then wait until it’s dry to rework an area.  Remember, this is simply a rough in to give you an idea of where you’re going and cover the canvas.   One of the wonderful things about oils is you can always paint over an area.  I remember when I transitioned from graphite to oils – I was terrified.  I thought once I’d painted it, how could I ever erase an area?  Little did I know how forgiving oil was, much more so than any graphite. 


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