In 1976, I purchased “The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques” by Ralph Mayer, following a respected instructor’s advice that it was the only book of its kind I would ever need. Too many years later I came to understand how naive I was. Now a growing number of books on materials and methods in painting share shelf space laden with art history, biography, theory, and aesthetics.
Paint is first and foremost a material ingredient. Making color charts is a good way to see how paint pigments appear and interact. For a long time I worked with a chromatic spectrum of ten or twelve colors including cadmiums, earths, lights, darks, and no black. Three years ago an experienced painter introduced me to the concept of limited palettes. Since then I have worked with three-color palettes, varying the specific pigments to related sets of earths or cadmiums: red, yellow, black, plus white, with black convincingly behaving as blue. Replacing black with ultramarine increased the range.
After reading about color on Tad Spurgeon’s website this spring, I incorporated a second triad, extending the concept of limited palettes to a warm and cool of each primary color. The charts shown here are examples of my current dual triad palette using products made by Winsor Newton, Gamblin, Rembrandt and Holbein.
My favorite book on the history of color manufacture is “Bright Earth” by Philip Ball, published by the University of Chicago Press, 2001. It is a fascinating telling of the source, sequence, development, and chemistry of artist’s pigments.
ABOVE: Complementary Colors Chart: lemon yellow, cadmium yellow deep, quinacridone, vermilion, cerulean, ultramarine, flake white; oil on canvas panel, 10 x 10 in (25.4 x 25.4 cm), 5/3/2008
Colors Chart Mixes and Tints: lemon yellow, cadmium yellow pale, quinacridone, vermilion, cerulean, ultramarine, flake white; oil on canvas panel, 11 x 14 in (27.94 x 35.56 cm), 5/19/2008