Palette Musings




Palette Musings Notes

I’ve been working on a couple of winter palette paintings. I really love my winter palette and feel very comfortable with them but I have had to work hard to come up with a suitable revision of them for summer work. I think I finally have. The key to me was retaining the lovely color of the winter palette, a limited number of hues and the harmony of color so important to me. I needed to put in the cooler greens and yellows though for Florida Summer, without making the colors scream! After quite a few months of experimentation, here is the current palette.

Linda’s Etsy Shop


cad yellow lemon

cad red light

ultramarine blue

Prussian blue

paynes gray

titanium white


Use cad yellow medium instead of lemon

Use red iron oxide instead of cad red light




So, lemon yellow and the Prussian blue are the additions to my summer palette. This gives me a range and keeps the color under control. The only thing I can’t really mix is a true violet. For that I would need to add a rose, which I have for that if needed. I really love the dirtier purple I get with the cad red light and UB. There aren’t that many violets around where I live but there are lots of the mauvy colors. I think I’m going to like this palette.

I find the key for color mixing and harmony revolve around using different small limited palettes for different paintings, rather than trying to make one palette fit all my needs. I used to use a huge range of hues to meet every single painting possibility, but I found myself having lots of problems with harmony. Too many paintings with out control of color.

Small Paintings

I usually found this problem to be typical for my plein air work. Working plein air is often about immediacy and quick decisions. Unfortunately, that is often disastrous for inexperienced painters. Having a palette that you know will work, in advance, and sticking to it will save many heart aches.

To me, the best way to develop a palette is in the studio under controlled conditions. I like to do my experiments first, selecting and discarding hues until I see something I like. Then I will make a color chart for that palette. This tells me if there are problem areas for the palette and whether I like all of the mixes. Then comes the two value charts, one with black and one with compliments only. Only then do I decide that it can go into my useful palettes book for future paintings. When I go out into the field, I know exactly what will work and what won’t because I know my palettes well. I can set up my box with the 5-6 colors which I think will work best for any particular scene. I have my charts with me to compare to the local color of the scene as well.

I remember a few years ago going to North Georgia to paint for a week. I wasn’t as experienced as I am now. I was doing horrible paintings for about 6 days in a row. It was truly humiliating. I finally decided to get rid of the palette I was using and go back to a severely restricted palette with 4 colors. I was able to get myself back under control for the last two days of painting and to turn out some less terrible work. The problem was that I was in a strange place,with different color than North Florida, so I was lost. I let it get the best of me and lost control in my palette. In those days there was no planning for painting, no real study of color mixing or values.

My idea of plein air work was to show up and paint, hoping for a decent painting and not to be too embarrassed. It has only been in the last few years that I can turn out good work alla prima when I have to. It is still my least favorite way to paint but I can’t get around the necessity to do it when I do location work. Now days I am armed with good color charts, an understanding of how value families relate to each other and the process of Notan. I’m much better prepared than I used to be.

All I have to do is pull out my notebook and leaf through about 10 palettes to select the best one for the place I’m painting. No more guess work and awful mistakes. If you have your palette thought out and feel confident about it, you won’t need to concentrate on that. You can think about other painting problem solving issues instead like value structure and composition.

There are so many issues to consider when you paint that the more of them you have under control, the easier time you will have in making a decent painting.

Here are a few tips for managing your palette for beginning oil painters:

Try to put your paints out in the same order across the top of your palette each time. You will learn to know exactly where each hue is located.

Keep the white separated, squeezing out more white than other hues. You will usually use more white than any other hue. It is important not to contaminate the white if possible.

Squeeze the paints out in ribbons instead of large blobs. It will stay cleaner and less contaminated.

Pull from the end of each ribbon for mixing, leaving the rest of the ribbon intact.

Do all mixing further down the palette, away from the ribbons of color. Use a palette knife to pull from the ribbons, placing the small portions elsewhere on the palette to mix.

As the rest of the palette becomes messy, stop and wipe it off entirely, leaving the ribbons alone. You will then have a fresh palette surface to mix on without disturbing your original lines of paint.

As the original ribbons are used up, wipe the spot where they were and reload with fresh ribbons of paint.

This is a great system, especially for oil painters, because you can prep your palette and just keep using the paint as you go through the day and then leave the ribbons for the next day’s work.

Today’s Recipe:

Hummus Dip

2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (16-ounce) can chick-peas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water, plus extra, if needed
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted lightly
Toasted pita thins

On a cutting board mince and mash the garlic to a paste with the salt. In a food processor puree the chick-peas with the garlic paste, the lemon juice, 1/4 cup of the oil, and 1/2 cup water, scraping down the sides, until the hummus is smooth and add salt, to taste. Add water, if necessary, to thin the hummus to the desired consistency and transfer the hummus to a bowl. In the food processor, cleaned, puree the remaining 1/4-cup oil with the parsley until the oil is bright green and the parsley is minced transfer the parsley oil to a small jar. The hummus and the parsley oil may be made 3 days in advance and kept covered and chilled. Divide the hummus between shallow serving dishes and smooth the tops. Drizzle the hummus with the parsley oil and sprinkle it with the pine nuts. Serve the hummus with the pita.

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