Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Designing my palette

I was asked a very good question about why my Ultimate Mixing Palette and my personal palette are not quite the same. I answered the question in the Blog post but I want to explain more about how I go about choosing colours, and show some of the exploration I do. I have pages and pages of colour mixing experiments. I generally document what I do and will include some of the pages here.

My Ultimate Mixing Palette is designed to be a universally useful range of colours, without the idiosyncratic colours that are often found in recommended palettes. I chose each colour not only for what they could do alone, but also how they mixed with the other pigments to create more colours. It is designed so that usually only two colours are needed so it is easy to create whatever colour is desired. I included some my own palette choices, of course, but I wanted to explore other options to see if there were better ways to work. I wanted a relatively small number of colours with excellent mixing options. I wanted colours that are readily available and didn't cause confusion. I really wanted to focus on yellows, reds, blues and some interesting granulating earths but also added phthalo green for its versatile mixing potential.

I tend to start with blues. Ultramarine is a basic blue in a watercolour palette and a real favourite. If I only had one blue that's what I'd have. My second would be Cerulean Chromium as it is great in skies, then I look at the phthalo blues as a strong, staining cool blue. Here I was comparing warm blues including different brands of ultramarine blue. The various ultramarines are largely interchangeable though the DS version once again is my favourite because of how it mixes with DS Burnt Sienna to make my Jane's Grey. I like the less granulating Schmincke version and Da Vinci paints are always excellent. I liked the M.Graham colour too but I don't like the gooey M.Graham paints for plein air work. I also love the richness of Indanthrone Blue, which is the fourth blue in my 20 colour personal palette, though it is not an essential colour. Cobalt is beautiful but doesn't have the depth of Ultramarine.




When creating a palette I tend to start with a basic mixing pair - blue and its opposite - orange. In painting I find a burnt orange/burnt sienna more useful than a bright orange. I choose to use a PBr7 earthy looking burnt sienna as it doubles as a skin tone if watered right down and is also useful in landscape and botanical work. There are some ultramarine and burnt sienna options above, and more below.

On the next page I was comparing more burnt sienna options and ultramarine. I wanted to explore some of the many other neutral orange options too. I looked at DS Burnt Sienna, Da Vinci Burnt Sienna, M. Graham Burnt Sienna, DS E.F. Red Iron Oxide, DS Transparent Red Oxide, DS Quinacridone Burnt Orange and Schmincke English Venetian Red. I also explored a few different ultramarine options along with the more purple W&N Smalt Genuine. I concluded that the DS ultramarine and DS Burnt Sienna was still my favourite due to the lovely grey this pair makes. Da Vinci Burnt Sienna is also very nice - it is slightly more orange. I use the DS burnt Sienna in my personal palette but also have the slightly wild DS Transparent Red Oxide as a more granulating and brighter 'extra' in a 24 colour palette as it is perfect for Australian sandstone.



At the bottom of the above page I was looking at the various Burnt Umber options. I have this in my 20-colour palette simply because it is faster than mixing ultramarine and burnt sienna to make its hue. It is not an essential colour but a useful convenience colour.

In the next tests I was trying to decide whether it was perhaps worth having an orange rather than a warm red in the palette. Burnt Sienna is a basic neutral orange in my palette so I was looking at whether a bright orange would also be useful. I concluded that it doesn't add as much as a warm red. A bright orange can be mixed very easily, and I find that burnt sienna is more useful as a base colour. In this case I was looking at Transparent Pyrrol Orange as my warm red. I also looked at Pyrrol Scarlet later. The first mixed explorations on this page were looking at what combination of a warm red and a crimson would make a bright 'fire engine' red - useful to be able to mix but not an essential palette colour. 


I don't choose to have a purple in my palette as they are so easy to mix but I do need the right pigments in the palette to be able to make a beautiful clean purple. I planned to have a cool red - either Quinacridone Rose PV19 or Quinacridone Magenta PR122 as the cool red for making purples. The blue was going to be Ultramarine so I tested DS Quin Red, MG Quin Rose, DS Quin Rose, Schmincke Purple Magenta, DS Carmine and DS Pyrrol Crimson to compare the purples they created. I settled on DS Quin Rose as it is a lovely colour for floral works.

The yellow explorations are to see whether a warm yellow, such as New Gamboge or Hansa Yellow Deep is necessary. I tested Nickel Azo yellow here but elsewhere I also tested other cool and mid yellows and chose DS Hansa Yellow Medium as the most useful primary yellow, along with DS Quin Gold as the warm yellow as it mixes such gorgeous greens.



Here I am looking at mixing pairs and my goal was to create a 24 colour wheel with single pigment colours where each would neutralise its opposite. Notice how close together Transparent Pyrrol Orange and Pyrrol Scarlet are on the colour wheel. Also how close together Phthalo Blue GS and Phthalo Blue RS are. These were two important pairs to consider, as I'll discuss below.



The next mixes are the opposites from the colour wheel mixed together. Most neutralise each other beautifully, creating wonderful neutralised red, oranges and yellows which are of course Indian and venetian red hues, yellow ochre, raw sienna and raw umber hues and burnt sienna and burnt orange hues. If you know how to mix them, you don't need to have the earth pigments in a palette, though painting is faster and simpler if you do.

A really important couple of mixes are shown here. Look at number 6 and 7. Notice that in mix 6, Phthalo Blue RS + Transparent Pyrrol Orange - the hues are a series of warm browns. They are beautiful burnt orange, burnt sienna and burnt umber colours along with a rich black and greys. 

In mix 7, Phthalo Blue GS + Pyrrol Scarlet, the hues are lovely indian red, venetian red, light red colours. This is generally a more useful mixing pair as it doesn't replicate the fantastic Burnt Sienna + Ultramarine pair shown in mix 5. I chose this mixing pair - mix 6 - for my Ultimate Mixing Palette set as I wanted a set of colours that give the most options. This is true even if you reduce the palette to just 12 colours and remove the Indian Red and Raw Umber. 

Personally, though, I like the warm browns made in mixture 6 and use this pair in my palette. It isn't as useful generally but is a personal preference. I know how to adjust the colours to make the Indian red hues if I need them. In my Ultimate palette I also thought it would be less confusing if the warm red was called Pyrrol Scarlet rather than Transparent Pyrrol Orange! Phthalo Blue GS is a very common palette colour. The Red Shade is the perfect colour for an Australian sky, at times, but the Green Shade is a more obvious cool blue, so it is also in my Ultimate Palette, and my teaching palette.

Another really important mix is shown above - number 9. This mix of Phthalo Green BS and Pyrrol Crimson creates a fabulous black, along with a range of deep aubergine and plumb colours that are otherwise not easy to create. It also creates a deep perylene green hue - fantastic for deep foliage shadows. I have other pages that test out different crimson mixes but chose the single pigment Pyrrol Crimson. So I find that 3 reds - a warm, a crimson and a pink/rose red really is ideal for maximum mixing options.

In this next page I was looking at how few colours you could get away with and still create a range of colours (if you know how to mix them). The key to these limited palettes is the orange/blue combination once again as that is what creates the brown and grey range. The red needs to create clean purples with the blue but also clean oranges with the yellow. This palette is interesting as it has no earth colours since they can be created by mixing. I was looking at whether Carmine (a crimson) or Quin magenta is most useful, though I think I prefer Quin Rose in the end as a great cool primary red.




Here is the same idea using Phthalo Blue RS and Transparent Pyrrol orange with Schmincke Purple Magenta (PR122 - Quinacridone Magenta in most brands) this is a gorgeous set if you only want a few colours, but you need a lot of mixing space. Notice again the lovely mixtures you can make with Transparent Pyrrol Orange and Phthalo blue GS. The mixes would be similar with Quinacridone Rose instead of the PR122 magenta.








Here is my Ultimate Mixing Palette, set up around the colour wheel. Orange and purple are so easy to mix they are not necessary unless you want them for convenience.



If you find these explorations helpful, do please let me know and I'll post up some more.
Colour is such fun! Happy painting.

24 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this! Very inspirational post, and so very helpful!

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    1. Thank you Ophelia. I'll keep them coming :-)

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  2. Thanks so much for this thorough explanation. It is so helpful! I have the pyrrol transparent orange and the phthalo blue green shade from your ult. mixing palette. Did you do any mixing with that? Does it make a huge difference?

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    1. It doesn't make a huge difference but yes of course I have mixed them :-) You can see the TPO mixed with both phthalo blues here - http://www.janeblundellart.com/watercolour-mixing-charts.html - count down to chart 47! Just use the TPO as your warm red.

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  3. Oh dear, be still my beating heart! I get all a-flutter seeing how you mix so many colors to get so many MORE exciting colors.
    I could sit and make color charts 24-7 and never use my paints for anything else and be perfectly happy.
    But I'm a slob and don't keep tract of where I've been (and I'm not tidy), so seeing your neat and careful charts is really helpful....super eye candy, too.
    I always look forward to your posts to follow what you're up to with paints.
    Thank you so much!

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    1. :-) Well Susie I have certainly spent many many hours doing just that and it is part of how I taught myself watercolour. I do some charts with great care and precision but I now do all the other colour experiments in sketchbooks rather than on rough paper so I keep them, as they do come in handy. It is very important to document them at the time, especially if using different brands, so you remember what you've done. It is also important to paint with them though. A great exercise is to just work with a mixing pair - burnt sienna and ultramarine or Phthalo Blue and an orange, or phthalo green and a crimson - and paint a little study. You'll be amazed at what you can do with just two colours.

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  4. i love listening to you talk about colors
    and to see your palettes. Thank you so much!

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  5. I love this posting of mixing colors. I rarely take the time to mix the colors I have to see where they will go. It is so interesting what lovely and very different colors you can get from the mix of just two colors. What process did you use to do your mixing? I have trouble trying to get exact proportions when trying to create a chart like this. I would definitely like to see more!

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    1. Thank you Barbara. For these charts I was only choosing to make each colour different rather then getting a gradual change from one to the other. I make a puddle of each colour and gradually add one to the other, adding a little water here and there to see the hues in full strength and in washed out tints. As long as you create 20 or 30 different hues you'll see a pretty good range! The charts on my website are done far more systematically, but in a way I think the more random ones are interesting as you see two hues next to each other that might be useful in a painting.

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  6. You sent me scurrying to my paint drawer to see if I had what I needed mix these in real life. Luckily, I had several of them and am so blown away by the mixes! While waiting for my first watercolor class to start, I got a mixing book by the School of Color and started making color mixes. Then, after class started, I was so busy trying to learn techniques that I drastically simplified my palette and forgot all about those mixing exercises. That was several years ago. On the plus side, this let me learn my standard colors and their abilities very well, but now it's time for me to branch out and you have helped open my eyes to some very intriguing possibilities. Many, many thanks!

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    1. Thank you Jeanette. I'm delighted you've been inspired to explore your colours further :-) Happy painting!

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  7. I absolutely love what you did here, thank you for sharing such clear and beautiful illustrations of how to achieve great color blending!

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    1. Thank you Sue. I am always exploring new options. I think that however long you've been working with a medium it's always important to play and explore. I also just love trying different pigments.

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  8. All of the time you have spent studying and analyzing color is a mindblower! You ask above that if these posts are helpful to others that we should comment to let you know...They are much much more than helpful! The seemingly endless stream of posts you continue to share are deeply insightful, concise and well though out. These color studies are valuable references for anyone who's interested in artist grade pigments, watercolorist or otherwise.
    Than You Jane for all that you share.

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    1. Thank you. I have many sketchbooks full of explorations. I used to fiddle on rough paper and throw them away but decided to do it in sketchbooks so I could refer to it again. I'll keep publishing them :-)

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  9. I have been searching tahsis kind information for a while... I really thank you for your explanation. It is helpfull and unique. I am planning to buy Daniel smith but they are expensive... Do you think it is a good idea to buy Mijello gold 36 coloured tube set on Amazon. And only taking main 4 Daniel smith color. Maybe adding some special color like moo glow... What do you recommend? Thank you ... Ps: do you have Instagram Pinterest or Facebook account?

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    1. I have only tried a few Mijello colours but they have been very nice, mostly, although some of the colours are very strange mixes (such as the Burnt Sienna). 36 colours is a lot to start with - perhaps there is a 24colour set? but if they are the paints you can buy locally easily for a good price they are worth a try. Get a set, try them out, see how you like them and what you can do with them, then perhaps add any from another brand that you can't mix with the set, if there are any!
      My Instagram is janeblundellart and is fairly recent so not many posts. My Facebook page is Jane Blundell Artist.

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    2. Dear Jane,
      First of all I am really grateful for the quick response ... Maybe this is going to be too much to ask but I could really use a list or names of main (12-15 colors ) and special earthy colors based on your expertise.... A million thanks in advance.

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    3. There is a huge amount about pigments, including my recommended 15 colour Ultimate Mixing Palette, on my website in the Resources and Tutorials section. You may well find what you need there.
      http://www.janeblundellart.com/the-ultimate-mixing-palette-a-world-of-colours.html

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  10. Dear Jane,
    Now I am trouble with colors. I will buy my new palette. I have read all your blog more than twice:))))
    I need your attention pls... Can you guide me?
    Should I take per about 14 tubes of Daniel smith Watercolor.( but they are 15ml)
    Or what do you think about this?:
    Dickblick.com is selling 14 half pan travel set...I can take it and add five or six Daniel tubes. Or if you will help me I can choose equally them from sennelier watercolortubes. These tubes 20ml and cheaper than Daniel smith. Pls help me. I am living in Turkey Izmir. And my husband will be next days in business trip in USA. This is my only chance. Thank you.

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  11. Sorry I wrote wrong sennelier set. This is the exact one... Half Pan Metal Case, Set of 12 (plus 6 FREE!)
    ! The colors in the set include Burnt Sienna, Ultramarine Deep, Phthalocyanine Blue, Warm Sepia, Lemon Yellow, Carmine, French Vermilion, Alizarin Crimson, Payne's Gray, Phthalocyanine Green Light, Forest Green, Dioxazine Purple, Raw Umber, Cinereous Blue, Naples Yellow Deep, Bright Red, Venetian Red, and Ivory Black.

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  12. Hi Jane, Just stumbled across your website - what a fantastic resource for those of us (me) stumbling around in the dark (well the muddy!) I note you talk about colours that work in your native Australia. Have you any recommendations for colours that work for UK landscapes?

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    1. Colin the same colours will work just fine. I had expected to need to use a hansa lemon or other definite cool yellow rather than the hansa medium, since you get such bright greens in the U.K., but in fact I didn't need to change anything. The basic 'ultimate mixing palette' colours I have suggested in my website work the world over. The colour I used most in the U.K. was, perhaps not surprisingly, Jane's Grey :-)

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