Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What color is that? - making color charts

It's Tippy Tuesday! A collection of tips I've gained through experience or stolen learned from other artists.

When I first started painting I really had no idea what the paints looked like - what's the difference between Carmine, Crimson, and Cadmium Red? How do I know whether to use Prussian Blue or Ultramarine Blue?

I needed a swatch chart. Using an old canvas, I made a color chart with each of the paints I had. I mixed in a little white too, at the bottom of each swatch, so I could see how it behaved when lightened.  I keep the chart hanging on the wall in my studio.

This has been so useful for me! I now use a fairly regular routine of the same paints, so I'm more familiar with their characteristics, but I still find it helpful to consult the chart when I'm painting a sky or water, or deciding whether a tree is a warm or cool green.

The next color chart is for mixing greens. Because I paint a lot of landscapes, that's really critical. This chart shows the various mixes of yellow and blue. For instance, in the top row are all the different yellows I have—Lemon Yellow on the left, then Brilliant Yellow, then Permanent Yellow, etc., all the way to Yellow Ochre on the far right. In the bottom third, about, of each box I've mixed in a little white, for further reference of how the color behaves.

In the second row, I mix Sap Green with each of the yellows, in the same order. The third row, with Phthalo Green; the fourth with Cerulean Blue; the fifth with Ultramarine Blue

If you're wondering about the diagonal lines, that shows me how transparent the paints are. Before I painted the swatches, I used a Sharpie to draw a line through each box. So I can see that Cad Yellow Light mixed with any of the blues is very transparent; Yellow Ochre less so. This can be really important when I'm trying to paint in highlights such as sun-lit leaves - all the Cad Yellow Light in the world isn't going to show up when painted on top of a dark color.

I made a miniature version on a piece of cardstock to take with me when I'm painting outside.

I've got another swatch guide for purples - that helps when mixing shadows, some of which are warmer than others.


  1. This is a great idea! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Just what I've been looking for. A reference for the greens is such a great idea for anyone who paint a lot of vegetation. I'm going to do this right now.


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