Above: Chicken (sketch is Ziller Glossy Black Ink with dip pen on background painted with Indian Yellow FW Acrylic Ink; gouache)
This post is part two in the series: Project 640 Tubes
Readers will recall that I promised to suggest colors for a gouache palette when I started Project 640 Tubes.
(Note that for purposes of this discussion by "color" I mean the pigment in the paint, which I might refer interchangeably to by pigment number or by tube name because it's clear I'm discussing a particular brand. If you elect to buy a different brand of gouache than what I recommend you need to make sure you're getting the right pigment. The name on the tube can be the same across brands, but what the companies put in the tube in terms of pigments can be very different indeed. I recommend you only buy Schmincke and M. Graham Gouache, read the first Project 640 Tubes post for why.)
I like to work with a minimal range of colors whether I'm out in the field (typically 8 colors and 3 convenience colors: zinc white, calligraphy gold, and buff titanium) or in the studio. Using a limited palette helps ensure that my mixes will all bear some relationship to each other and create a greater harmony. That's the hope. I tend to work with specific complementary colors, near complements, or with triads I find appealing. The same colors on someone else's brush can yield a vastly different result, which is one of the fun things about use of color. It's always ultimately about the individual.
- Venadium Yellow (S) OR Azo Yellow (MG)
- Gamboge (MG)
- Yellow Ochre (MG) OR Titanium Gold Ochre
- Burnt Sienna (MG)
- Napthol Red (MG)
- Quinacridona-violet (S)
- Helio Turquoise (S)
- Dark Indigo (S) (My beloved PB60, which is not available in M.Graham's line, hence Project 640 Tubes)
- Zinc White
- Buff Titanium (a Daniel Smith watercolor)
- Gold (Schmincke's Calligraphy Gouache, gold; because you never know when you're going to need a little bit of "bright sparkly")
This selection of colors essentially gives me a couple complementary color pairs I like to work with (Burnt Sienna and Dark Indigo which yield a rich Malamute gray); or near complements (Helio Turquoise and Napthol Red); and essentially provide a warm and a cool of each primary (red, yellow, blue). This gets me by in most situations.
Recently, while trying to expand my landscape vocabulary and also spend more time painting people, I've found that I really need some additional colors, or at least need to practice with and then abandon some new colors. With this in mind I have filled a slightly larger palette (3.25 x 2.5 inches) (Pocket Painter Palette, I purchased from Wet Paint) with some additional colors.
The colors used in this palette are listed in the diagram below the photo, but I also added Cerulean Blue (MG) and Purple Magenta (S) after the photo was taken and they are only written in on the diagram.
The addition of 4 blues, another red, and another yellow, along with Raw Sienna and Raw Umber gives me access to color mixes that landscape painters readily rely on for greens. I still haven't had much time to work with this palette to decide which colors I'm going to keep, but it is a useful set of colors to experiment with, given the colors I'm starting with in the very limited palette.
I encourage students to stick with a limited palette, mix the heck out of it, then branch out and see what they like to add or substitute. Color is a personal thing. Some colors will be pleasing to one person and less so to another. By analyzing the colors used in the paintings of your favorite painter you can begin to identify new areas for experimentation. You might even end up using the same palette of colors as that favorite artist, but you might emphasize the warm colors it contains instead of the cools. You might stick with complementary colors and never explore the triads fully (I encourage you to do that however).
The main point is that you will be doing a lot of experimentation with your selections to find out what works for you. Don't think of this experimentation as work. This is part of the fun and spontaneity of working with paint. Embrace the process.
I also recommend that you look at both of Stephen Quiller's books on color theory: Color Choices, and Painter's Guide to Color. Quiller has done a masterful job of breaking down the discussion of color theory into small digestible chunks. He has a ton of suggested exercises. I recommend that you do them so that you really can digest those chunks of information and get the insights.
I've had students come to color theory class with commercially printed color guides or swatchbooks that show all the various paint colors mixed with the other colors. The students stare and stare at these books. They ask me how to mix a particular color, then stare and stare some more at the same charts. Basically they are wasting their time. They are looking at a chart that has been printed using the 4 process color printing inks. Those swatches bear a relationship to what you see when you paint, but only an approximation.
While those books might be useful at some point and in some situation I'm not recalling right now, they can never be as important or useful as the physical act of mixing paint yourself and seeing what results on the paper you are actually using, with the brand of paints you own, and the brushes you have selected. Doing color mixing exercises will give you firsthand cascading ah-ha moments with which you can build a unique color palette (in gouache or any paint medium).
Jeanne Dobie's Making Color Sing, is a watercolor book that addresses color theory issues in an interesting and easily absorbed fashion as well.
Exploring Color by Nita Leland has lots of useful information on selecting a palette of colors. She provides sample palettes and then a sample image painted with those colors so that you can see how the choices dictate the result. I have found that people stumbling to grasp the whole concept of how they can arrive at what they see in their mind's eye find this approach helpful.
Have fun on your color selection journey. Don't forget to send Art Graham a postcard from that journey reminding him you wish he made PB60 in his line of gouache! (firstname.lastname@example.org)