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How to gain control over the colours that can wreck your paintings and make magic with four other...

February 10, 2012

One advantage of the simple palette is the development of colour mixtures as unique to you as your handwriting. A second, and most useful one, is gaining control over those pigments that are notorious for 'taking over' a painting...

I'm thinking of blues like phthalo and cerulean, and most of the greens. Now, not many artists use a palette as limited as mine, and you may not be comfortable with it. But Rembrandt used a palette even more restricted, and look what he did with it! For what it's worth, here's mine:

Flake White
Titanium White
Cadmium Yellow
Raw Sienna
Cadmium Red
Alizarin Crimson
Cobalt Blue
Ultramarine
Ivory Black

(plus four 'magic' extras)
Raw Umber
Madder Brown
Burnt Sienna
Viridian

You can see that I choose the three primaries in both a warm and a cool hue, and in two forms: an opaque and a transparent. This opens the door to adventure, in the use of scumbling and glazing techniques.

  • The two Whites give the overall usefulness of 'fat' Titanium, with the crisp brushstrokes allowed by the denser, faster-drying Flake. You would be already aware that neither White nor Black is actually a colour. An object that reflects all wavelengths of light will appear as white, an object that absorbs all wavelengths will appear as black. 

You'll notice I keep no Green on my regular palette and here's the main reason for the Black:

  •  mixed with Cad Yellow and one of the Blues, or Burnt Sienna, plus White, it gives an infinite range of greens. (My other use for Black is to make the pupil of the eye in a face.)

Please don't ever use Black to simply darken the value (or 'tone') of a colour. You will 'dirty' the colour mix and end up with a deadly dull painting. I cannot emphasise too strongly the danger of this approach. I can tell you a true story to illustrate it – look for that in next week's blog - along with how to use those four 'magic' pigments.©Dorothy Gauvin

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