Two kinds of people.

Richard Schmid Color Chart

Arrangement of color charts with template peeled off.

There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who believe in color charts, and those who roll their eyes like it’s a colossal waste of time and paint. I was in the first camp. I am also an admirer of artist Richard Schmid. Aside from being a master painter of landscapes, still life and the figure, Richard finds time to author some of the best art books I’ve ever read. I imagine Donald Sutherland’s voice reading his book. I haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Richard. In his book Alla Prima II, Schmid details how to make color charts using “his” palette of 12 colors. While there are websites that explain his technique and reasoning, I highly recommend purchasing the book. It is packed with relevant content relating to all aspects of painting. So, with a week off in the dead of winter, the time had come. Time to make the color charts.

RIchard Schmid color charts

My color charts DONE!

Prior to making color charts, I was a consummate brush dipper. I dipped my brush into colors; dab, dab, dab – two or three colors at a time. I cleaned my brush and did it again for the next color. I instinctively mixed colors. Mixing colors is a bit like cooking. Unfortunately, my Irish genes kick in when I cook. I don’t use recipes. Rarely.  So, when it came time to make the color charts, I was doubtful I would be successful.  I envisioned wasting paint and making a hot, albeit colorful, mess. But I discovered something about myself I never thought possible:  I can be methodical. I can be organized. I can slow down. I can see. I can improve. I can follow directions and I can be successful. I made colors I had never seen before! If oil paint was edible, I’d have gained five pounds. I was a paint-mixing mad ninja scientist!  It was tedious, crazy-making work. Here’s some practical advice for your chart making adventure:

  1. Save time and order pre-made color panels from Color Frontier. They arrived two days after I ordered them! They come with a palette knife and have an adhesive window template. When removed, it will reveal all your wonderful colors.
  2. It took me 3-4 days, not two weeks as others suggest. The first chart took the longest, each chart thereafter was easier because I learned the unique properties of each color. The colors reminded me of my students or pets. Some were pokey, like yellow ochre. I had to use a lot of that color to get colors to “move”; then Alizarin permanent was the sassy color, only needing a tiny bit. She is strong! You see, you will get punchy making the charts. I worked 6-8 hours a day for 3 days and an hour or so on the 4th day.
  3. Use baby wipes and towels to clean your palette knife each time you touch a color. I even found myself folding the paper towel methodically after each wipe. Place your garbage can nearby.
  4. Use a palette knife to apply the paint to the chart. It is easier to clean than a brush and teaches you about knife work. I used a small Italian palette knife that was the perfect size to apply the paint.
  5. Make all your variations of each color on your palette before putting it on panel. You will see the variations in front of you. It was easier to lighten or adjust the color mixes.
  6. Start with darkest. Next, mix the middle value, then the lightest. Lastly, make the in between values. Keep the 5 values in order on your palette – it is easier to see the subtle differences.
  7. Make enough of your base mixture for each of the subsequent 4 lighter values.
  8. Don’t contaminate tube colors you have laid out.
  9. I had a push pin, binder clip and wall space ready to hang each panel.
  10. Be “present” and take note of the colors as you go.

I’m so glad I took the time to make the charts. I am patiently waiting for them to dry so I can really study them. I think I will waste less paint, especially white. Knowing the tinting strength of colors is going to help tremendously.  And I can now say, I made the charts!

Do you pick favorites?

Remember having a favorite everything as a kid? Favorite TV show, favorite cereal, favorite game, and the quintessential favorite color. As an adult, it may seem silly to have a favorite color. But as an artist, I must admit, I have a favorite color. I know, I am breaking all the rules. But there is one color I sneak into practically every painting. I don’t even do it to create color harmony.  I just use it because I have a great association with it, and it makes me happy.  My secret color? Winsor Newton’s Cobalt Turquoise Light. I even like the word turquoise.  To me, the color dances! It’s light, peppy, optimistic, cheerful yet doesn’t demand too much attention when used sparingly.

I have not seen this color on any recommended color palette by any artist. It is a color you can mix using variations of cerulean, but there is something about seeing the tube and the tiny squirt on my palette that makes me happy! It’s ready to get mixed, ready to do its job. My palette feels naked without it!

I remember as a kid, going to Lake George Village in the Adirondacks in New York State.  My sister and I would go into souvenir shops and handle all the merchandise. We would smell the insides of the cedar boxes. We would pick out patches for our jeans and would buy a piece of turquoise jewelry. I never knew where it came from or how the gems were made, I just loved the color and besides, cool people had turquoise. Stevie Nicks wore turquoise.  I have seen turquoise waters off the island of Puerto Rico, Culebra. I have swum in the turquoise waters off Key West & Miami. They are as pleasing to be in as a preheated bed.

Flaminco Beach, Puerto Rico

While Cobalt Turquoise Light takes the spotlight, the real star is light!  Our colors get all the fame and attention “oh, the colors!”, but the reason we love color is because of light.  Light shines on color. Light gives us memories. Light gives us feelings, emotions. It gives us life and miraculous possibilities. Light gives us rich reds and bright blues. It reveals the crimson of a rich ripe strawberry or the cerulean blue of the sky on a dry summer’s day. Light is what makes the waters blue. Without light, colors would just be bumping into each other fumbling in the dark. Thank you, light, for giving me my favorite color. Okay, I must ask, what’s your favorite color?