Sergio Lopez - North SF Bay Area Fine Artist

Upcoming Shows and Events

•Spoke Art: April 7, 2016. "The 5th Annual Moleskine Show." San Francisco, CA.

•Bakersfield Museum of Art: April 9th, 2016. "Kern County Plein Air." Bakersfield, CA.

•Christopher Queen Gallery: May 1st, 2016. "The Golden Hour." Duncans Mills, CA.

•Abend Gallery: May 13th, 2016. "Contemporary Figuration." Denver, CO.

•Paso Arts Fest: May 26th, 2016. "Signature Exhibition." Paso Robles, CA.

•Los Gatos: June 18th, 2016. "Los Gatos Plein Air." Los Gatos, CA.

Sonoma Plein Air: September 10th, 2016 "Sonoma Plein Air." Sonoma, CA.

•Modern Eden Gallery: September 17th, 2016. Beautiful Bizzare Invitational Show. San Francisco, CA.

•Christopher Queen Gallery: October 2nd, 2016. "A Splendid Journey: 40th Anniversary Show." Duncans Mills, CA.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Conversation About Palettes

Thomas Kitts has been blogging about color this week. You should read this article and the replies before going further here.

Thomas writes: "It seems to me as a colorist/painter that there is a gap in the red-to-blue spectrum waiting to be filled. Sure, I could mix alizarin and ultramarine together to bridge that gap but I've tried it and am never satisfied with the result. Especially when I use that mix to modify other hues."

Yes. I have never been satisfied with the purple you get from mixing alizarin and ultramarine as a local color for anything. I like it as a cool dark for shadows in sunlight, but it's a purple you kind of have to "trick yourself into seeing". I am also looking for a tube of violet color that can be easily modified yet has a strong identity of its own.

Thomas writes: "As for intensity, almost any mineral colorant will exhibit a weaker tinting strength than a modern synthetic – assuming all other things are equal. But in my mind, and for my way of painting, a weak purple isn't bad thing. It's rare for purple to appear in an intense state out in nature. So I tend to use my purples as a modifier, to gray down distant greens, or to create a transition between warm reds and cool blues in flesh tones."

I mostly use purple as a modifier as well, but there are those rare instances that you need a purple that is hard to mix without having specialty colors, like flowers for example. I am going back and forth between a Cobalt Violet Hue and a Mineral Violet. Might need to make a color comparison chart (re: Richard Schmid) to see how they mix with the colors in my palette in reality.

Thomas writes: "The thing is, we artists need to learn more about the actual colorants used in our paint and rely less upon what I call the "shelf name" on the tubes."


Right. Always check the actual ingredients in a tube when comparing different brands of paint.

"...Or worse, your tube of white might say Kremitz/Cremnitz/Cremetz/Flake White and it isn't even an actual lead white but a substitute." 


I don't think I've come across such false labeling on a paint yet, but I have seen stuff labeled "Flake White Substitute" with some combination of Titanium/Zinc/Calcium Carbonate.

Thomas writes: "Lefranc's informs us on their online color chart that their cobalt red violet (shelf name) uses a colorant identified as "PV49" (ASTM standard). Hooray for them. So if I want to try to find an equivalent in another manufacturer's line, say a Gamblin paint, I should be looking for PV49 and not something called cobalt red violet."

Yes. That's how I discovered that Winsor&Newton's Green Gold is the same as M.Graham's Azo Green, and NOT RGH's Green Gold, which is a lot more like the Sap Green you would find in other manufacturers' paint tubes.

Thomas writes: "Another thing to look for on the paint label is how many colorants were involved in creating that hue. Again, LeFranc's chart states that their Cobalt Violet Light is composed of PV49, PV14, and PW4. That's three hues, not one. This means LeFranc's cobalt violet light may be a fine color to paint with but it also might behave differently than a single color equivalent would when they are mixed into other hues. (There is a school of painters out there who fastidiously restrict themselves to using single colorant paints. They believe they have more control over what happens in the mixtures if they do. I am not a passionate advocate of this idea but on occasion I do see their point.)" 


The thing I am most concerned with is variations between batches when manufacturing the paints. If Lefranc slips a bit and adds, say more PV49 and less PV14, therefore changing the color of the paint you're used to, you may not be happy with it. Or maybe even worse, it actually works better for you, but only for that one tube, and you never get that magical combo again. So I am more likely to buy a color that is composed of less pigments than one that isn't.

Thomas writes: "In the end, your palette becomes a personal one. Often, it becomes idiosyncratic to you as well. None of us end up working with the same colors all the time, or even the same set to us throughout our lives."

Yes. My palette has evolved over years of trying different paints, different manufacturers, reading about others' palettes, and most importantly, going out in the field and finding out where I need to fill gaps or what I can add to make things more convenient for me.

My palette as of June 2012:


I will tell you a little bit about why each of these colors is on my palette.

Always On My Palette:

  • Titanium White - It's the easiest white to find. I learned to paint with it, and am most familiar with how it mixes with other paint. It is powerful, opaque, and leans ever-so-slightly to the cool side. I haven't officially added Transparent White or Foundation White, but I might, because they are great colors for mixing into other paints without overpowering them. 
  • Violet Gray (Holbein) - I love this color. I bought it one time on a whim and instantly fell in love. It's great for mixing skies because of the little bit of violet I detect when observing skies in nature. It is great for the reflected blue light of the sky in shadows, or any other condition that might produce cool shadows. I wish Holbein made big tubes, because I use it so much. I've tried other colors that look similar but there's no substitute. 
  • Yellow Ochre - The staple of nearly every palette. Almost everyone learns with it, and for good reason. It mixes well, doesn't overpower, very stable and permanent, and probably the cheapest and easiest yellow to find. Can look pretty bright when mixed with Titanium White especially when used in a limited earth palette. Good color for mixing true natural yellows in nature. 
  • Permanent Yellow Deep (Holbein) - A new addition to my palette, and I like it so far. I am on a quest to find a perfect yellow to mix into white that approximates California sunlight. This is pretty decent. Mixes with other colors well too; it's not as dominant as cadmium yellows. Cadmiums kinda' spook me anyways. 
  • Alizarin Crimson - Another one of those colors that almost everyone learns with. It can be over-powering, especially to newbies. Once you know how to use it though, you'll find it a very essential color. It improves nearly every painting when used properly. I learned to paint skin tones with it, and I use it in landscapes to "smuggle reds (see Stapleton Kearns' blog (pluggin' other blogs all day)), and all types of other uses. Makes a great warm red when mixed with my other yellows, even though it doesn't look like it would. 
  • Viridian - Another color that people learn with. A lot of people use this as their only green. It mixes well with other colors, and I could get by with this as my only green, BUT... 
  • Green Gold/Azo Green - I learned about this color from reading about Jeremy Lipking's palette. I love this color. It's not terribly expensive, strong yet doesn't overpower, mixes into just about every other color to help make a good foliage color, and takes on a different characteristic when thinned out(much like Burnt Umber does). I would recommend everyone try it. I hope it becomes popular enough to make manufacturers produce larger tubes of it. I can only find small tubes. For those interested in trying this color, make sure the pigment number is PY129.
  • Burnt Sienna - I use this as an earthy red substitute that better approximates the reds found in nature than Cadmiums do(unless we're talking about sunsets, flowers or man-made reds). Terra Rosa fits this slot too, but it's too over-bearing. 
  • Burnt Umber - Another color I learned with, and is a good easy color to work with. It mixes with Ultramarine Blue to create a good black (cuz everyone says don't use black right?)and makes a good undertone for canvases and drawing. I'm beginning to suspect it is overused in most plein air paintings, so I am beginning to use it less and less in certain situations. I do use it quite often since it works well when mixed to approximate the browns in nature. 
  • Ultramarine Blue - The blue that everyone learns with. It's a cheap solid blue that can easily be the only blue that you ever need. It mixes well with everything, though it is pretty much the coolest blue, and falls short in certain situations. 

Specialty Colors:

  • Radiant Yellow (Gamblin) - The Radiants are an interesting group of paints that I like to pull out in certain situations. They get a bit 'pthaloey' meaning they can overpower mixes if not used carefully. I like Radiant Yellow especially for sunlight in the skies, highlights in water, etc. Basically anything that can use a bright very light yellow and find mixing the perfect combo with other yellows too time-consuming out in the field. This would be my favorite yellow and I would use it all the time if it was warmer, but it tends to go too cool too easily. I want a light warm yellow when creating the effect of sunlight and it never quite does it. I still really like this color, and it's ALMOST a staple color. 
  • Radiant Green (Gamblin) - Not pulled out that often. It's a cool light green that works great for certain situations. I like it for creating the cool greens in the marine foliage of Northern California. It's also a good convenience color for certain brightly lit distant trees/hills etc.It also makes that teal color you find on old pickups easy to mix. I find other uses for it, but I don't normally use it. 
  • Manganese Blue Hue - Another color I heard Lipking uses. I am not sure what he uses it for, but I mostly use it for skies on a clear day, creating turquoise colors, and basically anything else where you might use a Pthalo Blue(I think it might have some Pthalo Blue pigment in its composition). Not an essential color, but when you need it, man you are glad it's there. 
  • Cadmium Yellow - I use Cadmiums less and less these days, but I used to use them all the time. When I just need a strong bright yellow (usually on a man-made object) for any reason I'll squeeze a bit of it out on my palette. A little goes a long way, so I don't have to buy a whole lot. 
  • Cadmium Orange - Mostly used when painting sunsets or late evenings. This color is hard to find in nature otherwise. 
  • Cadmium Red - Just like Cad.Yellow, when you need a strong bright red, late evening, or painting certain flowers, man-made objects etc. Come on, anyone knows when this color comes in handy. Just a dab'll do ya. 
  • Cobalt Violet Hue - My current purple of choice in the quest to find a perfect purple. Not quite enough tinting color for my taste, but otherwise it's nice. 
  • Raw Umber - I don't use this color that often, but I like it a lot when painting gloomy and/or foggy days. A cheap color that works well for creating certain darks when painting shadows in foliage and whatnot. I continually find new reasons to use it. Good for certain moods. 
  • Ivory Black - Possible the most misused and feared color of 'em all. Hey sometimes pure black is called for, and and you don't have time to be mixin' all o' that Ultramarine and Burnt Umber. Works well when mixed in very small quantities with other colors when you just need to drop a mixture a couple of values/saturation points(saturation points? Is that thing? If it ain't I'm claiming it now). 

Even after that is said, I don't have it on my palette that often at all. I've gone months without touching it.
This palette is a work in progress, as I am sure everyone else's is. The more you paint, the more you learn what your own personal leanings are. When people look at my paintings they say they tend to lean towards warm palettes. I am so far from what I want the color in my paintings to look like. It's hard to explain what I am after in words, but I am working towards more harmony and better unity to convey the sense of time in place for whatever atmosphere I am attempting to depict. The better I understand my palette, the closer I get to what I am after.

A palette is, simply put, a set of tools and shortcuts that an artist uses to help convey the unique way he sees the colors in the world. The more an artist paints, the more he searches for the straightest path to the most accurate representation of his vision.

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