palette wandering

by this time my experimentations with paints had gone off in two directions — random and systematic.

i was already pursuing a system ... the comprehensive paint swatches on ruled off Arches CP blocks.

now i began randomly playing with paints, using the swatches as a reference, selecting palettes for specific paintings, making large mixing tables (yellows in the rows, blues in the columns, greens in the mixtures) and mixing scales (yellow at one end, blue at the other).

paints by themselves are one thing — paints mixed with other paints are another thing. i started to delve the design concept of a palette, and the paints that should be on my palette.

as i worked, i referred the behavior and attributes of paints back to the ingredients of paints ... opacity, transparency, staining, permanence, hue, lightness, saturation ... earth, metallic, organic, synthetic, ox gall, gum arabic, pigment, water.

i tried to learn the dynamics of wetting and drying ... moisture, water, capillary action, currents, pooling and running, evaporation and soaking.

and i began to experiment with the many methods for applying paint ... brushes, brushstrokes, washes, glazes, charging, blotting, scraping, scrubbing.

week after week, i tried to get in at least two paintings a week, usually on weekends, sometimes on a week night. i adjusted my methods and subjects to get in and do a painting in about an hour. this was fine: it kept my focus on color combinations and simple technical problems, such as washes and working wet in wet.

if i was too tired to paint creatively, i made paint wheels, methodically measuring off the paint spacing, the circumference, laying down one color and then another, watching the palette harmony unfold as i worked. then i changed paint brands, paint colors and started again.

i began with the color arrangements in stephen quiller's color wheel book, testing his color scheme and trying other color combinations. i discovered that my color sense was different from his: my paint wheel didn't follow his recommendations.

by trial and error i recognized consistent preferences and for the first time focused on a limited set of colors that most interested me:

1. aureolin
2. nickel dioxine yellow
3. perinone orange
4. perylene scarlet
5. quinacridone red
6. quinacridone magenta
7. dioxazine violet
8. ultramarine blue
9. iron (prussian) blue
10. cobalt turquoise light
11. phthalo green BS
12. permanent sap green

i found this set through making many paint wheels. (and i should say now, years later, that I no longer use perylene scarlet PR149, perinone orange PO43 or aureolin PY40 because of their marginal lightfastness.)

i didn't look at this paint wheel and wonder what was missing. i saw through it all the paints that weren't there, and all the reasons why these twelve paints offered something better.

i still didn't appreciate the significance of paint lightfastness, but that was a story in itself. most of the art tutorials were written by artists who started their careers before lightfastness became an issue, and who were too old or too timid to adapt to the new, more permanent pigments.

i began finally to feel i understood the variety in paints — not an intimate familiarity with all the paints, but a hazy sense of what different paints had to offer, and the relative uses of them all, and what happens when you use one paint instead of another, and my preferences among them. i couldn't always explain those preferences, but they were palpable.

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