Monday, April 20, 2009

My Palette

I have been meaning to talk about my palette for awhile and since things have been so slow around here lately, now seems like a good time.

When I first moved into my new studio, I had all my paint tubes set out on the top of my flat file cabinet, which is right behind me when I am at the easel. Doug suggested that I put them all in one of the flat file drawers but I pooh poohed him and informed him that having to open the drawer would be WAY TOO INCONVENIENT.

Around Christmas time I had a get together in my studio and wanted to have the top of the flat file clear so that I could put out some of the small paintings I had been working on. So I loaded up the top drawer with all my paints (they fit perfectly). When it was time to get back to work after the holidays, I just left them where they were. Turns out that it is pretty easy to just open the drawer when I need them! Of course it helps that I just leave the drawer open while I am working. This also give me the top surface of the cabinet to clutter up with stuff. heh.

Obviously I like to have a lot of paint on hand! I like to have a good variety of colors available although to be honest, I mostly just use about a dozen or so of them regularly. Each day though, I try to put out one or two colors that I don't normally use. The colors that I currently am obsessed with (these colors change periodically, I am very fickle) are Indigo Blue, Green Ural, Medium Cadmium Yellow, Azo Green, Gamblin Light Blue, Caeser Purple, Vasari Ship Rock, Gamblin Light Magenta, Gamblin Cadmium Red Deep, Cobalt Green Pale, Cinnabar Green Light, Old Holland Violet Grey. I don't stick to a certain brand of paint because while I do like some brands more than others (I am loving Vasari paints lately!), the colors are what's important to me and every color varies from from manufacturer to manufacturer. For example I use a yellow from Grumbacher in almost every painting. Not the best quality paint ever, but the color trumps that for me.

Anyway. In college, I got in the habit of using a disposable palette pad and still use that now. When my studio was downstairs it was necessary to put everything away at night (mostly because of the cats who spend their nights walking on every single surface of the house) so the disposable palette was convenient for that. Now that I have a studio with a door, I have been tending to leave my paints out for a few days. I may end up getting a more permanent surface to mix my paints on, but for the time being I am still using my old set up. The pad sits in a butcher's tray which helps to contain the flying paint and Liquin and I use a tin foil muffin cup to hold the day's Liquin. This is my whole set up; the palette, and another tray with a jar of Turpenoid Natural to rinse my brushes and a rag to wipe the brushes off. And other junk too, heh:

I put out the paint I think I will use each day, although I often add more colors, as I go, depending on what I feel like doing. I use very little paint and I don't do a lot of mixing of colors, maybe two colors, more if I want a mucky color. Mostly I thin out the paint with Liquin until I get the consistency that I want, and then mix another color in.

Unless I am painting more than one large painting in a painting session, I rarely have to move to a second sheet of palette paper. If there is paint left after I am done for the day, I leave it to use the next day. Or I will scrape it off with a palette knife and put it onto a new piece of palette paper if I need more space for mixing. This is my palette after doing about 10 very small paintings, 6x6 and 5x7's.

Traditionalists would probably flip seeing what I do with my palette. I use crazy colors, and different ones all the time, I just put them out in no particular order, and also different order each day. I have never felt the need to conform to the traditional palette and much prefer changing some things up, especially since some of the other parts of my process are fairly rigid. Makes a nice balance, I think.

So I would love to hear how you handle your palette. Traditional, crazy or somewhere in between?


Unknown said...

Wow!!! I am so envious of all that paint!!!

I'm squeezing, standing on top of and running over with a car my tubes of paint because of my budget. When I hit the lotto, I'm going to buy lotsa and lotsa paint just like you!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Sheila, that is YEARS of paint buying, some of those tubes are almost ten years old! I use so little that it really lasts forever. Even the colors I use all the time last for months.

Janelle Goodwin said...

Your drawer looks like a rainbow of paint. You have it arranged like a color wheel. So cool!

Barbara J Carter said...

Wow, I think I'm the exact opposite. I like to use a very limited palette, just 1 or 2 reds, one yellow, 1 or 2 blues, and white. Last few days, it's just been 1 red, 1 yellow, 1 blue, and white. And I always put the colors down the left side of the palette in the same order: white, red, yellow, blue. It does mean I have to keep careful track of how much paint I have. Can be a disaster if I run out of one!

Sydney Harper said...

Wow, look at the colors! I'm always wanting to buy more colors, but the reality is that I tend to use a limited palette. I have a palette arrangement similar to yours with a disposable paper palette in a tray. Colors around the edge in whatever order I'm feeling like that day.

Cheryl McCarley said...

I too love lots of colors! And I paint on disposable paper. But, instead of a butchers tray I have a plastic container, with a lid that is made for the paper to fit in. So, my cat can't cross over it at night. Same with my liquin, plastic container with lid, if it goes dry I can scrape it all out with a palette knife. I'm glad to see that we have a similar palette style - how fun!

sarahfburns said...

fun topic tracy -

I learned the traditional way - to arrange my palette prismatically and always put the same colors in the same place for faster access. I greaw accustomed to this and like it. I use a wood palette - scrape it and oil it and now it's smooth like glass with years of oil and pigment polishing it. I save leftover squeezes on a smaller plein air palette in a beer fridge.

Too many colors kind of blows my mind, so I own about 20 and use less than that on a regular basis. I run out of lead white, yellow ochre and ultramarine most often.

Unknown said...

Ooh...I love talking paint.

I have been playing around with arranging my paint tubes and have 2 drawers in the metal table next to my easel, that I use in a similar way. I have a piece of glass on top that I always intended to use as a palette, but I mix a lot, so I have kept with the paper palettes. I have lots of old tubes (Grumbacher in the old soft metal tubes that might be lead), not so old and new tubes of paint. My current faves are Williamsburg and M.Graham (lots of pigment). Mmmmmm. walnut oil...

Giselle C. Gautreau said...

I'm jealous of that file drawer!

Right now I've got a big piece of plate glass that moved across country with me. Surrounding it on 3 sides is a rainbow of tubes of oil paint. Like you, I use little paint, lots of Liquin, and have tubes that are about 10 years old. Like you I have colors that become new favorites, and I also have certain colors that are only made by certain companies, and I stand by those. Rose madder (by Shiva, Green Gold ( Old Holland), Indian Yellow (Gamblin).
I love the plate glass! If I had to replace mine, I'd go down to the nearest Glass supply shop & order a custom size. I just scrape down the surface with a razor blade when I'm done. I'd ask for the edges to be beveled (or sealed) so that they're not sharp. Then some white paper behind the glass and voila! Painters' palette!

I spend a lot of time mixing, so I like room on the palette to mix up all these little batches of color.

I love hearing about others' processes too. Thanks for posting on fun stuff like the nitty gritty of painting.

Heather said...

I love this post and am quite jealous of all of your paints. I would go completely numb with such a variety - and spend my day arranging the paints in an attractive manner.
For me Less is more :-)

Shanster said...

I don't know anything but thought this was a really fun post! Interesting to take a peek into your paint drawer for sure!

Tracy Helgeson said...

Love hearing all these palette habits! Thanks everyone!

Melody said...

I too, have an enormous amount of paint but I like it that way. All those wonderful colours to choose from... who can resist. I've been playing around lately with glazing and I want to buy every transparent I can lay my hands on.

Angela Wales Rockett said...

I use acrylics (primarily golden, but sometimes Liquitex too) instead of oils, but other than that, our palette habits are very similar. I've taken to using a piece of glass wrapped in butcher paper for the surface which I then store in a sealable container to keep my paints wet overnight (I've gotten to the point where I can make it last for days now). But when I'm done with the palette, or the paint's too dry to use, I can just crumple it up and throw it away.

I use 3 water jars, one for rinsing, one clean one for wetting the brush to thin the colors, and one for letting the brushes sit in while I work to keep them wet. I also don't really have an order to laying out my colors, I just lay out what I think I'll need, then add to it as needed. But I have started to try to store them in some semblance of order so I can find the tube or bottle that I need without too much searching.

NJ ART 73 said...

Hi Tracy
I loved those closeup pictures of your paint tubes! Where did you find that Windsor & Newton paint tube with the Japanese lettering? I work with acrylics & use a Masterson Super Pro Stay Wet Palette. I used to think that this type of palette was a big joke . I had this palette sitting around the studio and one day decided to use it. I had been using paper palettes from day one but I had noticed that I ended up wasting a lot of paint. I love using this palette! If I add some ammonia to the sponge when soaking it it keeps it from becoming nasty. I usually work with just water and some gloss meduim but since using the Stay Wet palette I am using less water & paint. The paint can stay for a few days and even weeks. A big plus is that the mixtures used in a painting can be saved for another session or two.
I begin my paintings by selecting a color and using the Quiller Color Wheel to select aditional colors that will work together.I have found the Quiller Color Wheel to be invaluable. Usually I end up with either a complementary or analogous palette. It seems that I gravitate towards the yellows, oranges and green color families. I do not set up my palette in any particular fashion. I begin by putting some color out and work from there. This system seems to work for me . My preferred brands are Golden, Liquitex, Daniel Smith and Stephen Quiller. Some of my favorite colors are Golden Hansa Yellow Opaque, Lt Ultramarine Blue, Neutral Gray 8 , Van Dyke Brown, Transparent Red Oxide, Prussian Blue and Alizarin Crimson Hue & for some reason Light Green Yellow Shade, Liquitex, Cad Orange Hue, Vivid Lime Green & Parchment, Quiller Violet and Daniel Smith Moonglow and various Daniel Smith Iridescent acrylics such as Aztec Gold. Even though I do not use a lot of red I enjoy Cad Red Light. I am finding that Thalo Green is wonderful to mix with the Alizarin Crimson . BTW the Prussian Blue Hue & Alizarin Crimson make a beautiful rich purple.
I have decided that in addition to studio painting to go outdoors. Since I found a full French easel clean and needing very little repair in the dumpster I figured that the muses were trying to tell me something.I am going to work with the Chroma Atelier acrylics. As if I needed a reason to buy yet more paint when I am blessed with a more than adequate supply. While I enjoy with acrylics I cannot work with them outdoors. I have painting since 1973 & using acrylics exclusively since 1979. When I am outside I am going to be one of those artists that has a definitive palette set-up.Researching plein air painting it seems that having a set palette is important because of the time limations and such when working outdoors. I was going to go with a limited palette but it seems that excluding white I will work with 15-17 colors. I am going to use a Creative Mark Acrylic Miser Palette-the one that looks like a watercolor palette . Since this snaps shut I figure that with the exception of white and a few extra tubes I will not have to carry out a lot of tubes into the field. If I work larger than planned ( 8x 10 & 11 X 14) I will have to make adjustments since I will need more paint.
I arrange my 60 ml tubed acrylics in the devil egg holders by Tupperware except for the yellows. Those ended up in an upside down gift box top. I arrange the paints by color families dividing the "browns" by whether they are in the orange or yellow range. I find that by organizing my colors I can find what I need quickly. I am keeping the Atelier acrylics seperate from the others.
This system also helps me to keep track of just what I have in inventory. I store all those nearly depleted tubes in a box under the easel. It is always an adventure to see what is in there. Additionally I also use fluid acrylics by Golden, DaVinci & Liquitex. I set up these paints in no particular order and the palette on those plastic folding snack tables that the now defunct Linens & Things used to sell. Since I have to sit when I paint I also use the floor near the easel for jars holding the brushes, water bucket and the gloss meduim. I am also using a small metal snack table that is from the 1950's and was part of many family cookouts.

M.A.H. said...

I love talking shop...
I'll just have to take pics of my palette and upload on my blog. A friend gave me a bunch of old paints when she stopped painting and some of her paints were from an older artist who had passed away. I used to store my paints in a bus tub and then an old coca-cola bottle crate. I now store all my oil paints in clear shoebox containers according to hue and place them on a trolley which I can roll around the studio. I have a table I found and I had a sheet of white foamcore and glass cut to size. I attached castors to it also. The trolley of paint tubes slides underneath the glass palette table, so that's convenient.
Sometimes I use a disposable palette, sometimes the glass or sometimes a slab of marble if I'm grinding my own colors. I do NOT arrange them in any color wheel or warm/cool order. I'm incredibly sloppy. I usually pick a few colors out of the bin to start with and figure that's more or less the palette. I have layers of skins on my Galkyd and linseed cups. I like the idea of cupcake liners.

The whole process is on the fly. I once took a plein air workshop and tried to place my colors in a spectrum. It slowed me down.

Congrats on the AAF! I wish you much success!

Lindsay said...

Thanks for sharing. Beautiful colors!

Ir.Yan said...

good luck always....
from Indonesia man..