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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make enough of your base mixture for each of the subsequent 4 lighter values.
- Don’t contaminate tube colors you have laid out.
- I had a push pin, binder clip and wall space ready to hang each panel.
- 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!