Friday, June 27, 2014

Painting; Making Color Charts

Red Color Chart of Oil Painting Pigments by Brand

A couple of weeks ago I made the very painful decision to give up on trying to finish a painting, let alone two paintings, to enter in a juried show at a museum in Texas. One painting wasn’t advancing to my satisfaction, and the other one was barely started. Better, I decided, to put the paintings aside and do them properly later than rush it and end up with subpar paintings. 

Meanwhile, I was sidetracked with other projects. One of them was to create color charts of all of my pigments. I’m doing them by colors, and shown above are the reds which are currently in my inventory. 

Step One; Create a Grid

I chose to do these on  9x12 canvas panels because I had them on hand, but one could also do them on unstretched canvas or canvas paper. The first step was to draw a grid on the boards with a fine tip Sharpie. At the very top is the brand of paint abbreviated and the color name. 

I tried to sort all the tubes in some kind of order from lightest to darkest and/or warmest to coolest. Some of my guesses weren’t quite right but it doesn’t matter that much. I put a dab of each color on a 9x12 paper palette. You really don’t need more than a dab. In the left lower corner I put a bigger dab of Titanium white, the most used white by artists. In the lower right corner I put a dab of ivory black. 

Step Two; Paint The Chart

In the second square from the top I placed an “X” with the Sharpie which revealed how transparent or opaque each color is. In that square was placed the mass color right from the tube. Below that I added successive amounts of white to the color until it reached a very pale value in four stages. 

Notice which mass color swatches still reveal the “X” and which don’t. 

Step Three; Paint The Darker Values

The chart is divided in half top to bottom by another grid line. This separates the half adding white from the half that black was added to. For the first two charts, i didn’t put in the center grid line and the demarcation tended to wander up and down across the board. The red chart looks much neater so I’ll definitely do that for the rest. 

Starting from the top of the lower section, I added increasing amounts of black to each tube color, starting with a very small amount until the final box contained just black with a small portion of the color. There are five divisions in the lower section. For those pigments which were already dark in value, five steps were not needed because they went to very very dark in a hurry, as you can see with the one Indian Red and the Gamblin Alizarin Permanent. 
My palette setup for painting the charts


The charts are very revealing. They tell me which colors/pigments are transparent and which are opaque or some degree in between. They tell me just how much a pigment will be dulled down by a touch of black added. They reveal the warm/cool bias of the color. For instance, the Old Holland Red Gold Lake on the far right goes very orange very quickly when white is added. So does the Old Holland Tansparent Oxide Red Lake. 

Notice the warm pinks produced by the Old Holland Scheveningen Red Light contrasted to the cool pinks produced by the Alizarins and the Old Holland Magenta (what a pretty hue that is!). One Alizarin is slightly more blue than the other while Old Holland Vermillion Extra is very close to the Old Holland Cadmium Red Light. 

Using this information I can tell which colors are similar enough to stock one in my studio supplies while setting the other aside in my plein air paint box. Or, which color will not be needed to replace when it runs out. 

I also got a feel for how well each tube of color handled. Some of my older paints are very stiff and applied very grainy, so they may need to be replaced with newer paint or eliminated altogether. 

Final Notes

I used only two #6 brushes (my favorite mongoose: one natural bristle and the other synthetic blend). One brush was used for the lighter half of the chart and the other was used for the darks only. This worked well although I had to rinse and clean the brushes carefully between colors so that remnants in the brush wouldn’t influence the next color. 

When the charts are done, I scrape off the remnants of the pigments and wipe down the palette for the next chart, leaving any remnants of white and black in the corners. Then the palette goes into the palette keeper until the next day. 

I also used gloves for part of the process, my favorite is the Nitrile EX  which seem to be fairly tough but also very comfortable and thin. My husband brings them home from the office for me. 

I look forward to finishing the charts and using them to help me get better acquainted with all my pigments when I soon get back to painting. 

Meanwhile, I’m also doing some sketching. Here’s one I did years ago from life of our German Shepherd, Daisy. That’s as far as I got before she moved. 
Pencil sketch from life of our German Shepherd dog, Daisy

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