Choosing Pigments for A Palette

11:20 AM

When I posted the recent images of color swatches and the post of the blueberry video, I received a number of questions around how I chose the pigments on my palette—all 27 of them and I promised to address that it in a separate post. Today's the day.

I generally work from a split primary palette in that I have a cool and a warm of each primary, a selection of neutrals, some convenience colors (for painting on location) and then what I call "subject matter" pigment choices.

As an example, I LOVE to paint rusty metals and copper that has the green and blue patina, so I have added Anthraquinone Blue and Cobalt Teal Blue to my palette as these two pigments are extraordinary when painting metals.

I also like to include an unexpected "pop" of color in my work. I often drop in Cobalt Teal Blue for this, but I digress...

The palette used in the video has all M. Graham watercolors in it and is an ongoing experiment. There are 5 reds on that palette—Quinacridone Red, Naphthol Red, Pyrrol Red, Cadmium Red Deep and Scarlet Pyrrol. Do I need 5? No...I'm experimenting with them all to find which ones work best for me.

I have found I can't really find out if a pigment is a good addition to my palette unless I've used it in several paintings/sketches as well as completing some color swatch/chart pages.

To distill down my process for choosing colors* for a palette:
1. Do a color mixing chart. Mix each pigment with every other paint on the palette to see what I'm going in mixes. You will often find that another pigment does the same or better job than a newcomer.
2. Study what type of subject matter inspires me to paint—it may be florals, birds, rusty metals, architecture, the desert landscape, etc. Whatever it is, I assess my pigment choices for any paints that I can add that will enhance my work.** This is also known as a "color signature" and can make artwork easily identifiable to collectors as long as I am consistent in my use.
3. Add the pigment to the palette and commit to using it in a dozen paintings/sketches. Some sketches should be the focus of that pigment (the reason I paint said image) while others should use the pigment as a subordinate in mixes.
4. Add in pigments that "speak to me." Again, I add them in just as I do subject matter pigments and experiment with how they work.
5. Neutrals do not have to be Raw Sienna, Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber and Quinacridone Gold. There's nothing wrong with those earth pigments. They've stood the test of time. They've earned their place on the palette. However, there's more than one way to arrive at browns and grays. Scarlet Pyrrol and Cobalt Blue make a fabulous coffee color that when thinned down is the color of beach sand!

One of my favorite neutrals is Neutral Tint—but only the one made by M. Graham. It doesn't have any black pigment in it. Instead, it is made from violet and green. It doesn't deaden other colors and is easily influenced by the addition of blues, purples or browns when I need a super quick dark.

Approach your palette with an attitude of exploration. Test, experiment, and play. See what "speaks" to you in the way of color. Thinking that the pigments on your current palette are the end all, be all may work for you. I've found I do better when I think of my palette choices as an evolutionary process. As I grow, my palette changes.

Words of's really easy to get 47 (or more) pigments on your palette....add slowly, thoroughly testing each pigment numbers so you're not buying duplicate colors from different brands....make sure that each pigment has "earned" its place on the palette....evaluate the colors you use most on your palette by noticing which wells you have to refill frequently. There may be some colors that you simply do not use enough to make it worth your while to leave on the palette. Use them up and replace them with new candidates.

*My choices are also based on the specific pigment properties as well...opacity, granulation, whether the pigment stains, etc. You need to consider these things as well.
**I could easily create the same image with the split primaries and neutrals on my regular palette. This just gives me more room to play.

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