Organising Your Palette

Some art books advise that you should always lay your colours out on your palette, in the same order and at the same positions.  The rationale appears to be so that you can mix your colours on your palette instinctively, without having to search for them.

I never do this.  Deliberately.  Here’s why:

In the first place, the colour scheme of every one of my paintings is a choice I make.  I do not, as a rule, paint in the same colours, from painting to painting.

This allows me to follow my instincts and be spontaneous about the colours I will put out on my palette, before I paint.  It’s freeing and challenging at the same time to choose your colours seconds before committing to the painting.  You also get to try out different colour combinations and to choose whether you will go with a three colour balance, a four colour, or some other colour harmony.  The colours you choose to put out on your palette are like musical chords.  They all have their own distinct character and flavour and the choice greatly influences the vibe of the piece you paint.  People won’t be aware of it, but they sure will notice.

Secondly, having all the colours you always use laid out in the same place on your palette is wasteful.  You just aren’t going to use green and crimson in everything you paint.

Thirdly, some of my paintings use a reduced selection of colours in the palette and some use a wide range.  On some occasions, I deliberately organise my palette by tonality, irrespective of hue and at other times, I will use a tonal series in related hues, placed in a line of colours on the palette.  Sometimes, I need lots of white and sometimes I don’t use any.  Sometimes the white needs to be near the colour I will mix it with, other times somewhere else on the palette.  I’ve painted paintings with just a strong colour (say Prussian Blue or Dioxazine Purple) and white, to get an interesting monochrome effect.

When I am painting a large area in a single colour or combination of colours, the blobs of paint for those colours will take up more palette real estate than the other colours.  It has to be that way.  There is more paint that will have to be used and applied, for those colours.  If you don’t put out enough paint to cover the predicted area you will need to cover, you’ll run into colour mixing issues and also interrupt your flow to refill your palette.

When I have left over paint from a previous session, sometimes I will augment the palette for my current painting with left over paint from the previous, so that I get some serendipitous mixings and so that there is continuity, in my body of work, from the previous work to the current, even if hidden.  It might give something to do for future art historians! 🙂

If I were to lay out my palette in every colour I have, iridescent, fluorescent and micaceous media included, I would need a very large palette and that would be cumbersome.  I’d also never touch some of the colours.  I cannot imagine painting with a huge palette on my arm.  It would be tiring and ridiculous.

I don’t believe in sticking to the same palette every time, in my work.  I think it’s rather limiting to use the same seven or eight shades every time.  You should at least experiment with a few different reds and blues.  Ochres and browns are more limited in selection, but even still, you can make browns in so many different and interesting ways, that it seems lazy to always place some burnt and raw sienna on the palette.  Why would you do that, if you could mix transparent orange, white and sap green to get into the same territory?  That might tie in better with the background shades you choose, anyway.

In my view, laying out your palette with the same colours, in the same positions, is fine if every one of your paintings uses the same colour space and that works for you, but for me, that’s like refusing to play with anything other than minor seventh chords and prohibiting chord inversions.

Lay your palette out with forethought and design.  That’s better advice.

About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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3 Responses to Organising Your Palette

  1. Rosie (tearose68) says:

    I agree. I often paint using 1, 2 or 3 colours only. ……or I suddenly feel a desire to change the colours.
    I am not a fan of conforming and doing “what everyone else does”

    Very interesting blog post. Thank you.

  2. Pingback: Colour Composition | Creative Ideas for Starving Artists

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