The real voyage of discovery is not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. - Marcel Proust

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Organizing your palette

I admit I probably break all the rules when it comes to laying out paint. Maybe it's from being self-taught, or maybe it's from being cheap. But when I get ready to paint, I don't squeeze out blobs of all my colors, or put them in the same order every time. If I'm not going to use cadmium orange, I don't put it on my palette. I think white is the only color I put in the same place every time. I know everyone says to be consistent in how you put your paint on your palette. What do you do?

Just in the books I have, I've read these strategies for organizing your palette:

1. Opaque paints on one side, transparent on the other.
2. Warm colors on one side, cool on the other.
3. In spectrum order, regardless of these other properties (i.e., white, follow the color wheel basics).
4. Earth tones first, then spectrum colors.

This is what Mitchell Albala says in his book "Landscape Painting:"
The palette is more than just a place on which to squeeze out colors. It can be a roadmap for thinking about color and color mixing. Always lay out your pigments in a consistent and logical order; this will allow you to work faster and smarter. Avoid the "spotty palette syndrome," with colors randomly placed in different spots each time you paint.
Uh-oh. Guilty as charged. Something else to work on -- curing my "spotty palette syndrome!"


  1. Hi Monica, I'm like you in that I taught myself how to paint. It's taken a long time to become comfortable with my palette. I prefer a small wood palette for oils. For painting outdoors or quickies I have been using a wood cigar box as my paint box. I keep a wad of cotton stapled to the top inside of the box saturated with clove oil to keep the paint usable longer. I don't know exactly how the clove oil works but it seems to work pretty good at keeping paint nuts moist. (Some people I've read add the clove oil to their paint nuts. I was uneasy to do this because I also read that the paint could discolor and darken.) For a color like a brunt umber, it's going to dry quickly regardless. I have found it helps to keep the palette arranged in an ordered manner. I do use different paints hues depending on the painting but I always have a home on the palette to add a hue should I require a color: white first in the lower right corner, moving up, cadmium yellow lemon, cad yellow med. If I don't put out oranges, I will leave a blank space on the palette to add it. Then next cadmium red, alizarin crimson,a cool blue, warm blue, black, gray, then a cool and warm green. So its light to dark, cool to warm arranged following the color wheel. I don't really concern myself with opaque or transparent arrangements for the oil paint layout. I still sometimes get the spotty palette syndrome but it's ordered spots.

  2. Some great ideas, M.A.! Thanks so much. I'm definitely going to try to become less spotty. :-) And I may have to try that trick with the clove oil.