Pallet Making: Things I Have Learned

Ok, so this might surprise some of you, but I have not been formally trained, to paint with anything other than watercolors. Therefore its been an uphill battle learning how to paint with acrylics. And I wish that someone had told me some of the secrets that I know now, like using retarding medium. (hehe)

In this post, though word some, I'm going to do my best to walk you through my pallet making.

First rule: Choose your colors.

Now I love: Paynes Gray, Burt Sienna, Quinacridone Crimson, Hot Pink (aka Medium Magenta) and Electrick Blue (Brilliant Blue). The last two colors I find visually, to be the most obnoxious colors out there. So of course I love them the more.

Generally speaking, I will use at least one of the aforementioned colors as a starting point for my pallet. Then the other colors I use are usually related in saturation.

I break my colors into Warm tones and Cool (receding tones).

When I paint, I will use cool colors in the shadows and make all my highlites, warm. But often times I make my colors according to my emotional state at the time I start painting. Its something that I've learned from Kandinsky's book, Concerning the Spiritual In Art. I've noticed that I make pastel colors when I'm upset, b/c they look like dead peoples flesh. And I make vibrant red toned paintings when I'm excited.

For Purposes of this demo, I'm refreshing a pallet for a picture that I am already working on. (Self Portrait #5)

*These are the base colors*

I forgot to make note of the individual colors that went into each mixed color, however I do have the tube colors:

Phthalo Blue
Ultramarine blue
Cerulean Blue
Manganese Blue
Brilliant Blue
Emerald Green
Raw Umber
Prism Violet
Quinacridone Blue Violet

Cadmium Red Light
Quinacridone Crimson
Raw Sienna
Primary Yellow

When I make a pallet, I create a base color, or the "Father Tint", from which all other colors will be created. In this pallet the Father Tint is a combination of Quinacridone Crimson, Raw Umber and Phthalo Blue. The goal is a cool, rich, dark brown.

From this Father Tint, I take small amounts and add it to the subsequent colors. I do this to "dirty" up the colors and keep them from being so tacky and overly saturated. Though I paint with very saturated colors, if you were to compare my pallet version of an electric blue to what comes out of the tube, you will notice that my colors are purposefully "dirty".

Now I need to add an electric blue to match my current pallet colors.
*I do my best to work from the darkest color to the lighter, more brilliant tones last.*

Notice in the image that I mix all my colors on the same spot. I do this so that all the colors have a little bit of the previous color in them, there by visually relate. Thats why I call it the Father Tint, because from him the other colors are made

So now that I have Briliant Blue on spot where I mix the paint, I now mix in the other "Parent Tints", into the new color.

When the color is almost uniform I add my secret ingredients:

*Glazing Medium (gloss) and Retarder Medium*

Add enough retarder medium to keep the pallet wet for a few days (about 8 drops). I also use glazing medium instead of adding water. I like it when my paints are fluffy, like hair moose. I tend to paint with a lot of semi-transparent layers. I add just enough glazing medium so that the paint moves very smoothly but also translucent. By making the paint this way, I can build a very colorful range of tones on the canvas.

*the glazing medium looks like glue*

I mix with a narrow pallet knife. Also, make sure you clean your pallet knife when you move between colors. I may like dirty colors, but not mudd.

So you mix in the various mediums and colors until you have a consistent consistancy you like and a color thats uniform


Since this was the last color I need to make, I scrape the mixing spot clean for the next step.

*razor blades, an artist's best friend. Even when He's emo*

I scraped the mixing spot, because now I take the base colors and add white

* I add roughly the same amount of white as there is pigment to mix with*

As I am making the light version of the colors I find that somtimes I have to tweek the color slightly to get it to read stronger.

*I was fine with the base colors, but when I added white, the orange hue needed more yellow*

Eventually when all the base colors get their white counter part you should end up with a pallet that looks simliar to mine
*rule of thumb: you will always need more white than you think.*

Ta-Dah: Your pallet should be all done and ready to attack a canvas

Final note:

Even after you have mixed all your initial colors, there will usually be a shade of something you need though its not mixed. The way I make my pallet you should be able to get the in between colors and still have a cohesive mix.

*Hey, if the colors look good on the pallet, chances are that they will look beautiful on the canvas. Even if you suck at painting (which I still do) at least the colors will be noteworthy*