If you are a painter, do you think consciously about your palette? I know in Arts Support Group we may have folks who are not painters, so I guess I should define what palette means.
In painting, palette can mean two things; the thin board an artist uses to lay out the paint, and/or the range of colors of paint an artist will use. This range can vary extremely with different works, or an artist can choose a specific range of color that is appealing and stick with that range. Palette can also be defined in music for the tonal ranges in a piece of music, or defined down to a movement or phrase. Palette will also pop up in fashion to define the range of colors for a theme or season. So, the word is used in many different ways. What we are talking about here are the choices an artist will make for color of paint.
Let us discuss here for a moment about the type of palette an artist uses to “hold” the paint. That would be what they lay out the colors, mix, and paint from. There are different types of palettes available for the taste of the artist. The traditional palette was a thin piece of wood, biomorphically shaped with a hole in the board for the artists thumb to fit through. The artist holds the palette as he/she paints. Some artists prefer to use a slab of marble to mix on. I saw this done with a teacher whom I was taking palette knife painting lessons. Palette knife painters mix the paint on the palette, not on the canvas, so there is serious mixing on the palette itself. Marble holds up well for this exuberant mixing. I myself use a disposable paper palette. I like to change the palette often for pure colors. It is a lot quicker to throw the old palette paper away for a fresh new palette space to work on. I also do not hold my palette as I paint. It is on a palette table next to the easel. Its all a matter of choice.
But, lets get to the colors of a palette. There are as many colors available in tubes you can ever imagine. I buy a wide variety of colors myself for ease and quickness of mixing. Occasionally I will use a color directly from the tube, but not usually. It is normally mixed with something else to tone it down. We are spoiled with all of these available colors. I always think of our old masters who had to mix every color they used from scratch. That was extremely time consuming.
All of these fancy pre-mixed colors are nice, but an artist can paint with five colors on the palette. Those colors being red, blue, yellow, burnt umber, and white. Notice anything here? Yes, of course. Three of these are the primary colors. This is what we teach our students. All colors are made from those three primary colors, red, blue, and yellow. Now having stated that, if you want anything out in the range of neon or unusually bright colors in that norm, you will have to go to different paint colors. But, logically, anything pretty much can be mixed from this palette. You have to be careful, however, which red, blue and yellow you choose. You will want a primary red, cadmium red light usually will work. If you are working skin tones, you may want to use alizarin crimson, not only for the color but the transparency. For yellow, go with cadmium yellow light, and for the blue, French ultramarine blue. Burnt umber is pretty standard. It works well with the ultramarine to make a dense, dark black. For the white, I prefer titanium white for its viscosity.
There is a run-down on what palette means in painting. It can be either the instrument which holds the paint you can mix on, or the range of colors within your work. Remember, this term can cross over to apply also to music and fashion. I hope you learned something of value from this short tutorial on “Palette”.