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In Richard Schmid's book, Alla Prima, he talks about the importance of, and his experience with, painting the color charts. Encouraged by his writings, I first did my color charts in watercolor several years ago. Every word Mr. Schmid wrote about doing the charts is true.
I learned more about the colors on my palette painting the color charts than I did with all the paintings I had done before the charts combined. New discoveries awaited around every corner. I mean, when do you get the chance to play with every color combination on your palette?
When I tried to do this while producing a painting, ultimately the painting would suffer. At the time, I was working mostly in watercolor, so my colors would get muddy or my color choices where often "settled" on because I couldn't mix the color I was seeing. After spending the time doing all the color charts, I could immediately see the difference in my work. My color choices where easier to mix and much fresher.
About a year ago, I wanted to work in oils again after a very long break. Before that, it had been almost 15 years since my last oil painting. It took a while for it all to come back to me, but slowly I started to remember how to work with my oils and started to make new discoveries as I painted.
Then a funny thing happened. I started to notice the same issues I had with my watercolors before doing the color charts. My colors where often settled on, especially with the darks. I just couldn't mix some of the colors I was seeing in my subjects.
Then it hit me; I've been using a palette of colors that I hadn't used in many, many years. It is different enough from my watercolor palette that only some of the information I learned with my watercolor charts carried over. In fact, the colors on my palette weren't even the same as the last time I worked in oils.
It was time to do the charts again. I'm about half way through my palette at this time. Just like with my watercolors, each chart reveals new insights into each color and many new mixing possibilities.
Pay attention to the color mixtures and how you apply them. A lot of people will paint the color charts in oils with a palette knife, which is what I'm doing. The knife allows for very clean color mixtures since you can wipe it completely clean. Then there's the added benefit of getting a lot of practice with the knife on canvas. I can already feel the difference with my palette knife from the first chart I did to the most current one. I'm much more confident with it.
With each chart, I get better and better at laying down the color. I got in the habit of mixing all the color mixtures on my palette together when my palette needed to be cleaned. I found this usually happened right around the time I was ready to start on a new color section of my palette. What I mean is I could usually mix all the yellows on my palette with whatever color chart I was working on before I needed to clean my palette.
These mixtures turned out to be wonderful colors I wish I could have saved. I'm actually considering ordering some empty paint tubes to save these mixtures in for the remaining color charts I need to do.
Some simple things to keep in mind for this project:
- Be prepared to go through a lot of paint. This is not the time to be stingy with your paint.
- Make each mixture count and make each one accurate.
- The color of the chart you are doing should be the dominate color in all the mixtures. For example, if you have yellow ochre and cobalt blue on your palette, when you paint the yellow ochre chart the color should lean towards the yellow and when you do the cobalt blue chart the mixture should lean towards blue. None of the mixtures should be equal parts of each color.
- Take your time when doing these. It's not meant to be a race.
For me, taking the time to paint these color charts is the same thing as a musician practicing their scales, or an athlete taking the time to practice the fundamentals of their sport. It's what makes you better at your craft.
Editor's Note: You can view George's original post here.