I keep my color pallet simple, short, and as pure and permanent as possible. The mixing surface is a gray, strip pallet (preffered), that can be purchased at any art supply store. Gray because it aids in the mixing of paint. A white strip pallet makes your values and tints appear darker before they’re applied to the canvas and can waste a lot of time, paint and patience.
With me, this procedure came about for the sake of expediency. A strip pallet never needs to be cleaned you simply remove the surface and discard it, it travels easily, safely and is always ready to use. The malleable, clean pigments can easily be recovered each painting day, or in my case, generally more often, to a fresh new sheet.
This will also save quite a bit of money for the young artist and allow him to work his color without inhibition, as some of the pigments are rather expensive, particularly the cadmium and cobalt colors. Many are slow drying enough to save for several days. Just always be sure to work from a clean fresh pallet, at least every day and it will be obvious in your work.
Now let’s take a look at the paint I use: Always use the very best paint you can afford, you’ll find it smoother, finer and more permanent, even in the more exotic and fugitive tints. There will be less contaminating oils and more pure pigment. For this reason I never work with commercial mediums. As far as I’m concerned, all they really do is degrade the pigment and make it more vulnerable.
My medium is odorless turpenoid, a turpentine substitute. It’s a water clear, highly refined mixture of petroleum distillates that can be used for everything, including the cleaning of brushes, knives and clothing when necessary. The only time there is any deviation of medium is during the final live sitting with the portrait subject. Here I mix the turpenoid with five percent stand oil for the minute adjustment of detail so that it will not dry dull. During the painting period, when the overpainting dries to a dull, flat surface, a light spray of retouch varnish will quickly restore the depth of color.
I’ve personally settled on Windsor & Newton oil paint for it’s consistency of color and quality of pigment. It’s easy to find and relatively inexpensive. I’m sure there are better quality oil paints out there, somewhere, but I’m used to it, satisfied with the quality and don’t find it necessary to experiment. If there’s another product that’s better or easier, I don’t know what it is.
The colors I’m secure with on the pallet, range from white on the right to black on the left and this is my basic pallet:
- Permalba White. This is an excellent brushing and mixing white with a smooth, buttery texture. It’s absolutely permanent and lead free.
- Cadmium Yellow
- Cadmium Orange
- Cadmium Red
- Cadmium Red Deep
- Purple Madder Alizarin
- Terra Rosa
- Yellow Ochre
- Burnt Sienna
- Burnt Umber
- Olive Green
- Terra Verte
- Cobalt Blue
- French Ultramarine
- Payne’s Gray
- Ivory Black
There are occasions, depending on subject matter, when other, more exotic colors can be utilized to great advantage. Just make sure they are not fugitive colors and always have fun.
The photo describes my brushes and pallet knives:
- A 2″ and 4″ gesso primer
- Hog Bristle Filberts, #2, #4, #6, #8, #10, and #12
- Hog Bristle Extra Long Filberts, #3 and #6
- Hog Bristle Brights, 1/4″, 1/2″ and 1″
- Sable Fan Blender, #6
- Badger Blender, #4
- Windsor & Newton Series 7 Red Sable, #2, #4 and #6
- The pallet knives are as described. There’s also a scraper.
I use commercial Belgian linen canvas because the quality is so much better than cotton duck. I stopped stretching my own canvas many years ago, there just isn’t enough time. When I paint on board, it’s untempered Masonite treated with several thin coats of gesso to reduce unwanted brush stroke texture.
This is my personal setup and not necessarily a recommendation. Ultimately, we all have to find our own way with materials and determine what feels comfortable and works for us. Brushes and knives are comparatively crude tools and not particularly difficult to use. Manual dexterity isn’t a great asset, because we paint with our mind and our eyes. You’ve heard it said, that the artist, in his perception of color and form, has a great eye, never a great hand. There is no such thing as the artist’s touch. I share with the non artist the inability to draw a straight line without a ruler. However, after a whole lot of practice, I can give a fair impression of one.
I like to use the term “impressionistic” in describing my work because light is the essential factor. I also very much concern myself with a designed spontaneity in the way the paint is applied to the canvas. I don’t “noodle out” anything. If I can make one stroke do the work of three or more, I find a freshness and satisfaction in it. If the value and the color is right, it can appear to be so much more.