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Doing the Charts: The Color Charts That Is

by George De Chiara on 6/22/2011 9:32:08 AM

This post is by guest author, George De Chiara.  This article has been edited and published with the author's permission. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.  We've promoted this post to feature status because it provides great value to the FineArtViews community.  If you want your blog posts listed in the FineArtViews newsletter with the possibility of being republished to our 14,000+ subscribers,consider blogging with FASO Artist Websites.  This author's views are entirely his own and may not always reflect the views of BoldBrush, Inc.

 

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.



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 37 Comments

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
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George,
I really appreciate your discussion of colors. Just this week my sister lent me a book with Munson color chips. I did the first 5 exercises but after a while, I was not sure what the point was (Placing chips on a chart)
I do agree that it is important to know your colors, but I don't understand what you said in the end.
You said:
"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."

Can you show us? a picture is worth one thousand words. Thanks again


Zan Barrage
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Great to see you writing here George. You are absolutely right. These charts are the scales on the piano. You have to practice your scales before you can play a Mozart! Same with paint.

Jill Banks
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George, I enjoyed your post ... and had been spurred on to do color charts, too, by reading Richard Schmid's book. And, I encouraged my students to do the same. It really makes a huge difference and helps with choosing value as well as color. I abandoned my color chart project before finishing but have been thinking about returning to them. Your post just might push me over the edge. Thanks for the reminder!

Virginia Giordano
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Hi George - Doing my own color chart opens new territory for me. I'm not clear on all things you covered, but I learn by doing, so I'll jump in. Can you post an example or two to help the 'visual learners?' Thanks for this post.

Meltemi aka Phil Kendall
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The wheel has already been manufactured. You can buy colour chart books e.g. Winsor and Newton Colour mixing guides: Acrylic. It has 2,400 two colour mixes with four in betweens 20/80, 40/60, 50/50, 60/40...cost? about UK £9.99 US$ 19.95....Enjoy being the artist and not waste painting time playing around too much perhaps?

Zan Barrage
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Meltemi,

I think you are missing the point. The idea is to do the colour charts with the colours in your palette so you can become an expert at what they can do. This is not theory this is practice. I think my piano scale analogy is very appropriate.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
via faso.com
Looking at someone else's printed or painted wheel is not the same as you painting it yourself. I understand that. I am a visual learner (like Virginia mentioned) and from what you said, the yellow ochre one should start with yellow and the Cobalt Blue should start with blue. Well, of course! (am i missing something here?)

My sons made my husband a box to carry pies in. One did the wood work, the other did the painting. Using a few tubes of acrylic paint, my son found himself in the predicament of having to mix colors. He wanted a spring green and all he had was hansa yellow and a phtalo green. I told him. better start with the yellow... He also wanted a deep blue and he had to get there with French Ultramarine Blue. I told him to add yellow ochre. It all seemed like magic to him, since my suggestions worked...but I chalk it up to experience, I have been mixing colors so much that I have memorized these "formulae".

George De Chiara
via faso.com
Mimi - I have updated the post on my blog with some images that may help explain what I mean with the dominate color in the charts. Please take a look and let me know if this helps.

Zan - I agree. My oldest brother is a musician and I can still remember him playing his scales for hours on end.

Jill - I still need to finish mine too! I ran out of canvas boards half way through. For those of you who thinking of doing these 8x16 inch panels work very well for a palette of 10 - 13 colors.

Virginia - I'd be happy to post more examples. What would you like pictures of? I have 2 on my blog now of my charts. Please let me know if you would like more.



George De Chiara
via faso.com
Mimi and Zan are right. The point is to learn for yourself what each color on your palette does. A book can not teach you which colors have more staining power than others or how much of each color to mix to get the color you are seeing. Nothing beats this practice. Plus as Mimi pointed out you can memorize these formulas for future reference or better yet, just bring your charts along with you where ever you are painting.



Virginia Giordano
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I think I got it - something for me to work with and begin using! Thanks.

mimi torchia boothby watercolors
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Here's the link to his blog post: http://georgedechiara.com/blog

yes, that helped, thanks!

Jill Banks
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For my charts, I bought 16" x 20" panels which were cut down to 8" x 20" to accommodate a 15 color palette. The basics of doing the charts is to create your first chart of each color straight out the tube for the top row ... then the lightest value of the color for the bottom row ... a middle value for the middle row ... and then a value 2 and value 4 for rows two and four. Then you create a chart for each color in your palette with the first column of that chart being that color (Viridian, say) straight out of the tube with its five value. Column two for that chart is Viridian mixed with the first color on your palette in five values. Column three is Viridian mixed with the second color on your palette in five values, etc. As George shows on his blog ... the Viridian chart is about how that color mixes with the other colors on your particular palette ... but you want the chart to read "green" overall -- or viridian dominant. It is amazing how much you learn by doing this ... yourself. It's time-consuming, but worthwhile!

Jill Banks
via faso.com
For my charts, I bought 16" x 20" panels which were cut down to 8" x 20" to accommodate a 15 color palette. The basics of doing the charts is to create your first chart of each color straight out the tube for the top row ... then the lightest value of the color for the bottom row ... a middle value for the middle row ... and then a value 2 and value 4 for rows two and four. Then you create a chart for each color in your palette with the first column of that chart being that color (Viridian, say) straight out of the tube with its five value. Column two for that chart is Viridian mixed with the first color on your palette in five values. Column three is Viridian mixed with the second color on your palette in five values, etc. As George shows on his blog ... the Viridian chart is about how that color mixes with the other colors on your particular palette ... but you want the chart to read "green" overall -- or viridian dominant. It is amazing how much you learn by doing this ... yourself. It's time-consuming, but worthwhile!

Virginia Giordano
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I'm sure the process is very good for learning/understnding more about color - I am already thinking I will adapt this to other ways I mix color.

Donald Fox
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Working with color charts is a very broad topic, for it depends on what the specific goal is when mixing colors together. If the idea is to study value changes - how does cerulean blue change as it is lightened with white, for example - you might create a straight line scale (say 10 steps, but you decide) that has blue on one end and white on the other. The challenge is to make eight (or howwever many) consistent value changes between blue and white. At least two things are learned from this: 1) how much white it takes to shift the blue a certain amount and 2) whether the blue is intensified or dulled by the white. Many colors are initially intensified by white but then rapidly are dulled as the amount of white increases. Not only does the value change but also the intensity. Perhaps of equal importance is that these exercises train the eye to actually see more accurately the differences between colors and values (thus the analogy with a musician practicing scales also training his/her ear). Once a particular scale is completed, what if you then make a second line that creates a continuous blend from blue to white while matching against the steps in the color scale (side by side for easy comparison)? Do this for every color on your palette. Do the same thing with black added to each color. Then create two-color color scales. Try making three-color scales.

Make a plan for how you will proceed rather than being haphazard. Work from warm colors to cool or vice versa. Start with a single color and create charts with it mixed with every other color on your palette. Move to the next color and so on until completed. Spread this over days or weeks so you don't burn yourself out and quit. If you've never done something like this, you'll be amazed at the nuances you'll discover.

Thanks, George, for kicking this off.

George De Chiara
via faso.com
Jill - That's exactly how I approached my charts. I guess anyone who's read Alla Prima probably approaches them like this. Thanks for the clear explanation.

Donald - You are absolutely right. Having a plan of attack and spreading them out over a period of time is key to not burning out on them. They take time. I've been averaging a few hours for each chart and I can't do more than 2 in a day.




Carol McIntyre
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Yippee for color charts! In my color classes students will groan initially when we start our various charts, but then discover all kinds of beautiful colors as well as the fun of doing it. Some of them go on to make works of art out of their color charts. Collectors also like to look at them and find them fascinating.

If you don't want to pay for panels, just get a tablet of canvas paper for your charts.

Also, don't forget to make color charts of the various color opposites. It is also suggested that whenever you add a new tube of paint, make a few charts using that color. Brands of the same color can make a difference.

PS i have yet to figure out how pastel artists learn about color mixing....??

Phyllis O'Shields
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These charts are very valuable, last year I started making them in oil paints and refer to them constantly. I had previously used books for chart references and it just did not work for me but when I sat down a couple of days working through them I truly learned by lessons. I also purchase some funky colours from Daniel Smith and this helps to make charts to truly explore the more exotic mineral colours.

I looked at the ones posted on your web site and appreciate all of them that you can share.
nThaks Phyllis O'Shields - O'Shields Fine Art

Esther J. Williams
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George, I did the color charts awhile back and it was after I reread a art college text book called "Art Fundamentals, Theory and Practice". By Ocvirk, Bone, Stinson and Wigg. This is a great book too. There are practice exercises in every chapter, I began my color chart from the exercise at the end of the color chapter.
I took a sixteen by twenty canvas scrap from a roll I used for giclee prints and graphed out the squares with pencil. It turned out to be great canvas sheet because it had a drying medium or gloss on it. It didn`t soak up the oils like a regular gessoed canvas. I still used loads of paint because I made my squares one inch by one inch. I can roll this up to pack for a trip now. For the mixing of the twelve colors in a complimentary chart, I made six squares vertical and nine squares horizontal. I wrote one color, like yellow on one end and it`s compliment violet on the other end. Then I wrote yellow-green next to the yellow and red-violet next to the violet. And so on until I had six colors on one side that would meet the complimentary color on the opposite end. I did a blog on making a color chart last year too, I showed a picture of it. So, I had nine squares to make gradated colors and the middle color should`ve been the most neutral one. Well, that is what the text book said. Fumbling student that I was, I found that if I wasn`t careful with the portions, I made mud fast. I did start out with the primaries like yellow, red and blue to make my secondaries also. I did use a palette knife to pick up the dabs of color and mix them on my palette, but a bright brush to gather it from the palette and fill in the squares. Then I started to add only a couple of dabs of violet to the yellow, filled one square, the next square I added a little bit more violet to the yellow and filled in the next square. And so on with the opposite end. Discoveries did happen. Like keeping a limited palette and mixing your own colors. You learn to portion, be an chemistry student all over again. In chemistry lab, if we added one drop too much of one mineral to another, we could get an explosion. Not with the oils, but we can make brown or mud very rapidly if we mix too much of one opposite with the other. The greens and reds make brown in equal portions, so do the yellow-greens and red-violets, blue-green and red-orange. At least we can make different shades of brown instead of buying a brown tube. But there are some secondary oil colors from the manufacturer that you can do better with, like my cobalt violet I use now. I like how it mixes with yellow and yellow orange much better than my own violet blended from ultra marine blue and alizaron crimson. But I love the violet I make from those two. I also use a raw sienna because it does not make green when mixed with orange, it is a warm color.
Making the color charts is an exercise in measurements, analysis and control. It is an eye opener as to what colors you can blend in specific proportions to achieve more brilliance, harmony and balance in colors for your paintings.

I made another chart to learn about tinting and shading colors with white or black. Another eye opener for me, I really enjoyed that one. It taught me how I can build a cadence of graduating colors for better perspective in my paintings. It also taught me how wonderful and harmonious analogous colors appear when placed next to each other. It hangs above my easel in my studio. If I am painting and I get confused, I look up at my oil color chart and say ah-ha! After doing these color charts, my paintings began to have color richness to them that they never had before. I have done many paintings since making these charts and I thoroughly enjoy mixing colors on my palette that better represent the subject or even add a dash of complimentary color to the shadows. We tend to experiment more and not use black as much to make neutral colors since blending the complimentary colors will produce more rich neutrals.
They are worth the time and effort.


jack white
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George, great to read your column. Everyone has a story on mixing.

When I stopped doing the gold-leaf work and decided to paint with oils I went to a big art supply company in Dallas, Rush Art Supply. I purchased a .37 mil tube of every color they had. I used several different brands to make sure I got all the tube colors.

When I discovered a color Mars Orange I order a box of that color. (smile)

I purchase a dozen 30x40 canvas and went to my studio and began mixing. Needless to say I was totally confused for the first three months. In time I kept tossing away the ones I didn't need and kept buying more white paint. I'm sure my garbage pickup people thought I was nuts seeing all those big canvases covered in colors.

The process worked and in time I invented my double primary pallet that makes it impossible to mix a muddy painting. It all started with those mixing charts. Keep painting, Jack

Sharon Weaver
via faso.com
I recently blogged about this too. Mimi, I posted pictures of my charts if you want to see them you can at my website. Just click on my blog and go to the posts 1) Steps to Understanding Color posted 5/2 and 2) How to Mix Colors posted 5/23. I have only worked through a few but when you look at the chart for Lemon Yellow you can see the entire chart is very lemon looking. This is an amazing tool that will definitely help you with your painting. I understand that you can keep these charts for years and refer back to them over and over again.

mimi
via faso.com
Thanks Sharon! Hmm, you have a point I had not considered, the possibility that i might discover something that I haven't already stumbled upon in my mixing while painting. I have done some color charts but I have since added (and dropped) some colors.

I like the colors in your paintings a lot!

Sharon Weaver
via faso.com
Thanks Mimi. After doing the Lemon Yellow chart I stared to use lemon to mix with more of my palette. It was especially appropriate during the spring with those fresh green colors but I also liked the way lemon mixed with the reds to make such pretty corals. The charts are a lot of work but well worth the effort.

George De Chiara
via faso.com
For anyone doing the charts in oils, don't forget to varnish your charts after they have dried. This way you can take them with you and not worry about getting anything on them. Just be sure to use a non-yellowing varnish.

Carol - paper canvas is a great idea. The charts would be weigh a lot less and not take up much room.

Esther - Those sound like great exercises and a real challenge to get right. I bet you learned a lot doing them.

Jack - That's a great story. I wonder what the clerk thought when you checked out with one of every color.



Zan Barrage
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Jack needs to adopt a few of us!

Brian Sherwin
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I always dreaded color charts in college... lol But then... I'm a tad color-blind. :)

Kim
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Yikes. I did that sort of color chart thing and more in two color theory classes way back when. I loved those classes, but I recall how time consuming the mixing was.

jack white
via faso.com
Color charts are good when you are starting out, but after you become an experienced painter, why the charts? I can mix most any color with my eyes closed.

First of all ALWAYS place your colors in the same spot every time. It's like a keyboard. The keys are the same on all of them. You can't think and type. You have to let go and your fingers will do the rest. The same with mixing color. I see the color I need and begin mixing. I think the reason mixing is so easy is my uses of 2 yellows, 2 blues 2 reds and white. I mix all the earth colors. Earth colors kill a painting.

I haven't used a color chart since 1979, my first year learning to paint in oils. I know color. I suspect the vast majority of those reading this also knows how to mix colors without needing a chart.

One of these days I'll explain my color mixing system. You can't mix muddy pieces with my system.
Jack

Donna Robillard
via faso.com
This was an article I definitely needed to read. A few years ago I did a few color charts but definitely need to do more. Thanks for the encouragement.

Carol Schmauder
via faso.com
I haven't painted a color chart in a very long time. Thanks for the reminder about the importance of doing so, George.

George De Chiara
via faso.com
Brian - I hated doing the color charts in college too. I think it's because of the way they were presented to us. It was presented more as color theory rather then a great learning opportunity.

Kim - Yes, these take some time. I should have about 2 weeks invested in mine by the time I'm done.

Jack - I agree with you about putting your paints in the same spot every time. It gets to the point where you don't have to think about where the color is, your brush just goes to it from muscle memory.

Donna - Got for it. It's time well spent.

Carol - Thank FASO for picking up my post:)

Actually, come to think of it I need to thank them. It's been a wonderful experience having my blog post re-published here. Thanks FASO!



Carol McIntyre
via faso.com
Jack, you did a thorough study of color and color mixing way back when. I have seen many an "experienced" painter who needs to do color charts because their color mixing needs work or they just rely on formulas. Also, very few artists don't realize that tube black is a real killer and how many know how to mix burnt sienna using the tube colors you mentioned?

jack white
via faso.com
Carol,

I used gallons and gallons of paint and yards of canvas when I was trying to learn to mix colors. When I started painting on my pallet I had Davy Gray, Paynes Gray, Sap Green, all the earth colors, Mars Black, Mars Orange and worst of all Persian Blue. Ouch! A touch will stain a quart of white. No wonder my first work was so horrible.

Today Mikki and my pallet has six colors plus white.

Your point proves to me the professional never really learned to mix colors. They still rely on a formula. When you really understand mixing it's like typing. You know the keys without thinking.

Once you understand my mixing system it's the same as typing. I learned to type in high school. Never typed again until 1993 when we got our first PC. It was amazing I still remembered the keys. Same goes for my mixing system. It's branded in your brain.

If you don't mix enough of a color, with my system it's a piece of cake to mix the perfect match.

I'm confident all who learn my system can mix all the earth colors out of red, yellow and blue plus white. You eye only sees the three primary colors so why not paint with them?

You mentioned Ivory Black. My dead friend and master artist A. D. Green mixed Ivory black and yellow to get a great green. I never use black, but he did with magic. He mixed ivory black with Ult blue for a wonderful midnight blue for his night scenes.

I'm a purist. I use phthalo blue and alz crim for my black.
hugs, jack

Carol McIntyre
via faso.com
Jack;
I am with you allllll the way! Years ago people made fun of me because of all of the many color charts I painted. I came up with my own 6-color palette (painting in watercolor, white is not needed) that sounds similar to yours. Then I switched to oils and had to learn how to mix with white, which took much longer than I thought it would. I then pushed it to three 8-tube color palettes based on the color opposites; a yellow-purple palette, a orange-blue palette, and a red-green palette. And I love these palettes.

Some artists are just lazy and don't want to mix colors so they spend money on paints. Why own a sap green is beyond me and I am sure you feel the same. Mixing, as you suggest and know, creates richer colors and greater color harmony.

May the color chart guard march on! :)

Jo Allebach
via faso.com
I better get busy!
Thanks for all the great ideas.


George De Chiara
via faso.com
Jo,
Take your time when doing them. Observe how the colors mix, what happens when you add white the the mixture, which colors are more dominate than the others. I gave myself about 2 weeks to do mine, but I'm not doing them for 2 weeks straight. I'll break it up over a couple of months so I don't burn myself out on them. Have fun!


Jo Allebach
via faso.com
Thank you George.










 

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