Color Exercises

Color Exercise #4: Using up Miscellaneous Pigment

Over the years, tubes of paint accumulate.  The favorites are used and replenished while others remain in a bag or box taking up valuable studio space.  Student grade paints are replaced by professional grade pigments.  Donations from artist friends and disgruntled hobbyists join the neglected tubes of paint.  Eventually some pigments harden and end up in the trash.  Knowing that I was destined to be snowed in today, I decided to explore my collection of ignored pigments.  As long as I continued to know very little about the characteristics of the pigments, they would remain useless to me.  First I made a swatch of each color on narrow strips of illustration board, making sure to label each swatch carefully and to run the color off both edges of the strip.  Using these sample swatches I created three different color / value charts.

One chart divides the colors into five values, one into seven values and one into ten values.  Using titanium white and ivory black I carefully mix the grays.  By holding the color swatches directly above each of the gray values I determine where each color falls on all three charts.  I write the name of the color along the appropriate horizontal strip.  I assign all of the colors to the charts before I start painting in case I need to re-evaluate and make changes.

I use a permanent black marker to write the names of the colors on the charts.  When I change my mind about a value assignment I paint over the marker with titanium white acrylic which dries fast and can easily be written on again with the marker.

Once the colors are assigned values on all three charts I begin painting in the charts with a palette knife.  A knife is easily wiped clean between colors and does not contaminate the next color.  I learned my lesson when I made my first Richard Schmid chart.  At the end of the session I had fists full of brushes to be cleaned.

Why go to all this trouble?  Because pigments can vary drastically depending on the manufacturer and the grade of paint.  Note the difference between the Winsor Newton Naples Yellow and the Grumbacher Naples Yellow.

Student Grade paints are often quite different in hue and/or value from Professional Grade paint of the same name made by the same manufacturer. Note the difference between the Student Grade (Winton) yellow ochre and the Professional Grade (Winsor Newton ‘WN’ Artist ) yellow ochre.  Both are manufactured by Winsor Newton.

A chart made from my own paints is a more dependable reference than even the best quality color wheel or color chart found in a book or purchased at an art store.  Each person sees colors a bit differently and will assign them differently on value charts.

To stray a bit from the topic of color value I would like to mention that color temperature is also perceived differently by each artist.  Ultramarine Blue is considered to be a warm blue by some and a cool blue by others.  The inconsistency among artists I respect drove me crazy until I began working it all out for myself.

The three charts took a total of ten hours to complete.  By the time I painted the last color my car was buried i snow and drifts covered the lower part of the windows.

The completed charts are photographed and converted to grayscale in my computer.  Any  misjudged values are easily detected.  I print out copies of the grayscale charts for reference rather than repainting the charts to make corrections.

As I worked with the various pigments I noticed differences in opacity, transparency, consistency and texture.  By the time I finished I had recorded enough information to use each and every tube of paint (as a pure, unmixed pigment) without hesitation.


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