Color Charts


I highly recommend making small color wheels using only three colors. Label them carefully with both the manufacturer and the name of the color.

Possible combinations of six pigments, warm and cool

Professional grade can differ greatly from student grade.  A “hue” will contain more binder and less pigment.  Manufacturers also differ significantly.

Looking at photos of color wheels is not the same as making your own.  by making your own you will immediately understand the characteristics of the pigments, the transparency or opacity, the tinting strength and the tendency toward warm or cool.  The mystery of mixing greens and purples will vanish.  The little color wheels can be carried with you when you paint en plein air.

In The Color Scheme Game Workshops, I ask the students to bring one tube each of any red, yellow and blue watercolor.  Each student makes one color wheel.  We end up with a variety of pigments being used and a variety of oranges, purples and greens to compare with one another when the color wheels are completed.

The ideal limited palette includes a warm yellow, cool yellow, warm red, cool red, warm blue and cool blue.  With those six pigments almost any color can be mixed, including all the beautiful neutrals.  A few of my favorite colors that can’t be mixed are the cobalt violets and the turquoise blues.  when travel space allows, I usually bring viridian and burnt sienna for convenience and economy.  I can mix those two colors but it is more costly in time and money to do so.

I used the following colors to make the eight wheels shown above.

Aureolin (Winsor Newton) – cool yellow, transparent, professional grade

Gamboge Hue (Grumbacher) – warm yellow, slightly opaque, professional grade

Phthalo Blue (Sennelier Aquarelle Extra Fine) – cool blue, fairly transparent, professional grade

Ultramarine Blue (Cotman) – warm blue, slightly opaque, student grade

Carmine (Holbein) – cool red, transparent, professional grade

Cadmium Red Light (Grumbacher) – warm red, opaque, professional grade

At first glance the Aureolin and the Gamboge Hue might appear identical.  However, their unique characteristics become apparent when mixed with other pigments.

Note that no matter what the proportions of cadmium red light to phthalo blue might be, one will never arrive at a purple, only variations (often beautiful) of browns and grays.  There is too much yellow in both the cadmium red light and the phthalo blue.  The yellow negates any purple that might be tempted to appear.

The following are the eight combinations possible with six pigments, a warm and cool of yellow, red and blue:

Warm yellow, warm red, warm blue

Warm yellow, warm red, cool blue

Warm yellow, cool red, warm blue

Warm yellow, cool red, cool blue

Cool yellow, warm red, warm blue

Cool yellow, warm red, cool blue

Cool yellow, cool red, warm blue

Cool yellow, cool red, cool blue

It’s worth the time to create the color wheels.  Please believe me!  Let me know, after making the wheels, if you agree.

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This is the season for mixing greens if you are a plein air landscape painter.  A little time making quick color wheels can save hours of time in the field as well as a great deal of heartache when the greens on your paper or canvas don’t work well together.

Comparing greens resulting from two different blues

The little color wheels using only three pigments each are valuable tools, saving far more than the fifteen minutes it takes to make each one.  The two wheels illustrated here were painted with only one variation…. the blue.  Both wheels show Winsor Newton – New Gamboge as the yellow and  Winsor Newton – Permanent Carmine as the red.  The wheel on the left shows American Journey – Joe’s Blue (Phthalo) as the blue.  The wheel on the right shows Grumbacher – Ultramarine Blue as the blue.  Obviously the orange mixes are the same.  Notice that the purple mixes are fairly close.  The green mixes, however, are strikingly different.  Hopefully your monitor shows this difference.

When the wheels are placed atop one another, showing the greens of the two wheels next to one another as they might appear if you mixed them and used them in your painting, you will see that they don’t work well together at all.  Why? because they describe a different kind of light illumination on a landscape, perhaps a different weather condition or a different global location. I feel safe to say that it would be close to impossible to make them work well together in a painting.

One of the reasons many painters add a green to their palette (such as Viridian or Hookers) is to resolve this conflict of greens mixed with different blues.  By adding a pigment that falls between the yellow and the blue, the temperature of your yellow plus blue mixes can be altered without turning to mud.  Once again …. charts should be made so you know what works well together for you.

The color wheels are created using watercolor.  Oil and acrylics will mix giving similar results, but I recommend making comparison color wheels in those mediums, too, in addition to the quick watercolor wheels.

 

Here is another variation of the basic three hue mixes for the Color Wheel Game Color Wheels.

New Gamboge, Speedball Red, Joe’s Blue (Phthalo) Color Wheel

The Color Wheel on the left is another example of a fifteen minute watercolor, color wheel presented in the Color Game Workshop.  To the right is a color wheel showing neutrals created by mixing near complements from the colors created for the wheel on the left.

Two Variations of the near complement mixes

You have two choices when mixing near complements, the one to the right of the complement and the one to the left of the complement.  The two wheels above show both variations as well as showing different ways of applying the paint to create the color wheel.  I try to get as much information as possible in each wheel.  These neutral mix color wheels are far more time consuming than the fifteen minute basic color wheel.  It is soooooooo easy to get confused and mix the wrong colors.

These wheels were made using New Gamboge, Speedball Red and Joe’s Blue (phthalo).  It is a versatile color palette and may become one of my favorites.

One of the first things we do in the Color Scheme Game Workshop is create a quick (fifteen minute) color wheel using any yellow, any blue and any red.  Students are required to bring only three tubes of paint to the workshop.

Color Scheme Game Workshop Color Wheels

The first color wheel is divided into twelve segments.  Using only the three primaries, a twelve hue wheel is created without too much fussing.  A second wheel is created by mixing each of the twelve hues with one of its near complements to get an idea of the range of neutrals possible.  The wheel above was created using Winsor Yellow, Cobalt Blue and Rose Madder (I love the unique aroma of Rose Madder!)  It’s obvious that three tubes of paint can give you a wide range of colors.  It’s fun to compare the different color wheels that have been created using different yellows, reds and blues.    The neutrals, of course, are limitless.

I encourage students to create these simple color wheels at home using a variety of different primary hues.  They can be painted directly in a watercolor sketchbook to use as easy reference when deciding colors to bring with you when traveling with minimal equipment and paints.  Cut-out templates for various color schemes are used with these color wheels for playing the Color Scheme Game.

When I first arrived in Maryland I tinted about thirty canvases and boards to have them ready for a week of painting.  I painted more than half of them with a wash of Terra Rosa, my standard underpainting color.  As an experiment, I painted eight or nine with a wash of Permanent Mauve, a color that I have not been using on my palette lately.  It is not one of the colors on my Richard Schmid Color Charts.

View of the Wicomico River, Whitehaven, Maryland

After the first day of painting I found that the Terra Rosa underpainting was too warm and didn’t work as well with the colors of the landscape around me.  After the third day of painting I had used all of the canvases and boards that had been washed with the Permanent Mauve.  Those paintings were more satisfying.

the second wash on the remaining panels

As I became more tuned in to the marshes, I liked the Terra Rosa even less.  It’s great for the farmland surrounding me in New Jersey, but doesn’t make it for me in the Chesapeake Bay area.  After setting up my easel at Broad Creek, I brushed a wash of Permanent Mauve over the remaining Terra Rosa panels and let them dry in the sun on the trunk of my K-car.

En plein air easel setup at Broad Creek

Here is my Broad Creek setup.  This was the last of the canvases that had been originally washed with Permanent Mauve.  It felt as if the marshes painted themselves over this underpainting color.

Close up of painting and palette at Broad Creek

That big glob of cadmium red on my palette remained a big glob throughout the week.  I used this color the least, only a touch every now and then to tone down the greens.  Viridian took the prize for the most used color.  Thanks to the Richard Schmid Color Charts I was able to use it to mix all the various greens as well as some gorgeous purple/lavendars ! with it.  Viridian and Alizarin plus white surprised me.  I had forgotten that the mix can lean toward purple.

With all of these new color experiences in mind, I will experiment with other underpainting wash colors to create various moods and illusions of light.

Painting:  painted en plein air, 5″ x 5″ oil painting on gessoed birch panel washed with dilution of Terra Rosa oil paint. View of the Wicomico River, Whitehaven, Maryland.

My focus has been portability, lightweight easel, small canvas board, small palette and minimal tubes of paint. After watching Nikolay Mikushkin wheel his supplies to the far end of the vineyard and paint four large, gorgeous paintings this past weekend I decided to return to larger canvases, a much larger palette, more paint tubes and plenty of brushes.  Though I don’t have blossoming trees in my backyard, I do have the challenge of painting hedgerows and woods, neutral masses with manicures of emerging colors.

Blocking in the oil painting

I squeezed out the colors I used to make my Richard Schmid color charts: Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow ochre, Cadmium Red Light, Terra Rosa, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Burnt Sienna, Viridian, Manganese Blue and French Ultramarine Blue.  I used one of my drawing boards, a 16″ x 20″ piece of 1/4 ” plywood, unsealed, for my palette and a 12″ x 16″ previously painted on and sanded down board for my painting.  Though not as large as I plan on painting, it is much larger than the 5″ x  8″ paintings I’ve been working on for the past year.  What was I thinking?  For me, the stroke is just beginning when I am already off the edge!

I premixed about eight colors to unsure a strong beginning of color harmony and value range.  What a relief to have enough room o my palette to mix substantial quantities of multiple colors and to see how they worked together.  Several of my mixes were scraped from the palette and discarded before they ever had a chance to cause problems on the canvas.

The subtleties of the still-bare branches eluded me.  When I became more adventurous and inventive with my color, the joy of painting in oil outdoors returned to me.  That joy had been sleeping while I worked on tiny boards.  A bit of the harmony vanished as more energy entered the painting.

After first session of painting

I’ll post it again after this afternoon’s session.

…….. I referred to my Richard Schmid Color Charts often while mixing my pigments.  This helped to keep my colors clean as sell as forcing me to be decisive about my choices.

I scraped my palette at the end of the session, but I didn’t clean it with turpentine.  I will allow the colors to build up on the board.  This provides a color reference for the following session, a record of colors used in paintings, as well as various colors and values to gauge new mixes against.

Painting: oil on prepared board, en plein air landscape of spring trees, hedgerow and woods

Correlating each color, in its full intensity, to a percentage of gray on the value scale is often challenging.  Often, it is a new concept for artists, especially beginning artists.

Diamond Shaped Color Value Chart

The above chart is not a perfect example of basic color value as it applies to a twelve hue color wheel, but it serves as an example of a valuable exercise in relating color hues to values.  I highly recommend taking the time to create one.  I also suggest that you use quality watercolor paper when doing this so that you don’t run into the same problems I did when laying down the washes.

The images on left and center are the chart in its first and second stage.  The image on the right is the finished chart (the one shown in the middle) converted to grayscale in my computer.  I will, in the near future, create the same chart in either acrylic or oil so as not to complicate matters with the issue of transparency and dilution of hue intensity.

Diamond color value charts: Watercolor media.

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