mel stabin palette
Source: Watercolor: Simple, Fast and Focused by Mel Stabin. Watson-Guptill, 1999. © 1999 Mel Stabin.

20 : cadmium yellow pale (PY35), cadmium yellow (PBr7), yellow ochre (PY43), raw sienna (PO20), cadmium orange (PBr7), burnt sienna (PBr7), cadmium red (PR108), alizarin crimson (? PR83), ultramarine blue (PB29), iron [prussian] blue (PB27), cobalt blue (PB28), cerulean blue (PB35), phthalocyanine green BS (PG7), viridian (PG18), hooker's green dark [hue], sap green [hue], raw umber (PBr7), burnt umber (PBr7), payne's gray [hue], ivory black (PBk9) • With Mel Stabin's palette we reach a paint selection that is so idiosyncratic as to defy recommendation. Four greens, two umbers and two blackish neutrals in a palette of 20 paints would normally be a symptom of novice paint selection. But as mentioned before, a broad selection of paints is usually the palette strategy of a colorist who prefers to use paints without much color adjustment or who mixes colors on the paper rather than the butcher's tray. Stabin is a skilled colorist, so the implications of his choices are worth exploring.

With 20 paints on the palette, any palette limitation is intentional, so Stabin (unlike Lucy Willis) clearly does not like purple and ensures his purples are relatively dull by using alizarin crimson to mix them. Stabin is surely aware of the fact that the purple alizarin tints in the demonstration painting will quickly fade, and it is bizarre that he persists in a choice that compromises his otherwise very lightfast palette.

His selection of red, yellow and blue paints is very conventional: the hue spacing and pigment choices for the warm colors are similar to Michael Rocco's palette, and the blues are the same as the Lucy Willis palette. These choices are the foundation of the warm/cool color contrast in a palette, and Stabin follows the practice of artists with a more realistic or "paint the light" orientation. (In the demonstration painting he emphasizes light with the hackneyed workshop trick of reserving the most brightly lit surfaces as white.)

The cluster of earth pigments and neutral darks provides the "control center" of the palette, as these paints gently neutralize almost any other saturated color and temper the staining behavior of many paints, and quickly lay out warm, mid value areas such as the dry grass meadow. They also work well with the two basic methods for creating a large color area: (1) lay down the area with a saturated wash, then modify this wet mixture with a neutralizing unsaturated complement; or (2) lay down a relatively diluted wash, and brighten it with charges of saturated color. Stabin's "fast and focused" painting tutorial endorses both methods.

The convenience greens quickly anchor color mixtures on the green side of the color space and show that Stabin prefers the green mixing strategy of tweaking a premixed green with the addition of another paint on the palette. The demonstration painting shows Stabin modifying the greens on the paper by dropping in one or more neutralizing complementaries (such as violet) or hues that shift the color temperature warmer or cooler (such as burnt sienna or a blue). This is a much more efficient way to obtain diversity in green colors than by first premixing various greens from yellow and blue, which is the second (more traditional) green mixing strategy.

Stabin's "California School" style of painting (reminiscent of Rex Brandt and Edgar Whitney) aims for the rapid, stylized and expressive construction of a painting in the field. Stabin's palette selects paints that work best for those artistic aims in those painting circumstances.