Organizing your palette

Photo of how I arrange my palette

For a long time, I never paid much attention to the way my palette was organized when I painted. The only thing that was consistent was that white wound up in the same spot. I typically only used the colors I needed for that session, which isn’t a bad idea since it minimizes waste. (Paint can be expensive.) Gradually, I began organizing similar colors next to each other, such as yellows next to white, and warm and cool browns next to each other on the palette. Cobalt had a tendency to sit next to raw umber since I often mixed those to make a blackish color (and still do.)

Mixing more colors up front to save time later

In the past few months, however, I have consistently organized my palette in a chromatic fashion, mixing pretty much the entire range so that if I need a color, I can easily add it to whatever I’m working with at the moment. I’m no longer interrupted by the problem of finding a tube of paint, squeezing it out and mixing linseed oil into it, before adding it to whatever I’m mixing. My motive was to make myself more efficient and save time in the long run.

Then I began to wonder how other artists arranged their palettes.

The colors the masters used

While I haven’t found out a tremendous amount about the way various Masters have organized their palettes, I have discovered a bit about the colors they used and their techniques. It turns out that Gaugin just put his paints on his palette all willy-nilly, never really doing the same thing twice, and never cleaned his palette off. He just went for the purest colors possible, using more or less raw color. Leonardo da Vinci started his paintings in grayscale or sepiatone and used transparent glazes of color to bring out that famous smoky effect he called sfumato.

Some neat sample palettes

Gamblin's Basic High Key Palette

My Google search brought me to the Exploring Color Palettes page on the Gamblin Artists Colors website. It has some fantastic basic palettes that are a great jumping-off point for formulating your own. Painting landscapes or floral still lifes? Try the landscape palette. If you like to use lots of glazes like daVinci, try the Transparent Glazes palette, which utilizes paints that are more transparent, making them ideal for glazing. It turns out that the palette I use is most similar to that of the Old Masters.

What colors do you use and how do you arrange them as you’re working? Share in the comments, posting photos if you like.