Organising your oil painting palette can be a personal thing. But many artists actually set up their palette in very similar ways. In this article I show you my way of laying out my colours.
Organising your Palette
I don’t set up my palette very often. I don’t have set painting sessions but paint whenever I have time. As this is very unpredictable I am usually not sure when I will be painting again and so there is little point in cleaning my palette. After all I might be able to get back to things in an hour.
When I stop painting I put my palette inside a box. I close the lid to keep the paint from drying up. When I can get back to the easel I simply open the box and continue where I left off.
If I haven’t been able to get back to the easel for a while, the paint does dry up of course. Cleaning dried up oil paint is difficult and so a disposable palette is therefore ideal for the way I work. I use New Wave Grey Pad and love it. My palette sits next to me on a wheeled trolley. I was delighted to finally find a palette without a thumb hole! The neutral grey colour of the palette paper is very useful as well.
Whenever the dried paint on my palette becomes too distracting to see my colours, I tear off the sheet and start afresh. I must admit this only happens a few times a year. I paint thinly and do not use much paint. And I don’t squirt out much paint either. So there are almost never big dried up dollops of paint on my palette. And so it can last a long time.
Laying out My Colours
When I do start with a new palette I lay out my oil paint colours in a fairly traditional way. And I lay out my colours in the same way most of the time (I think my blues and reds get swapped around now and then). It helps to know where your colours are.
The order of the paint colours is generally from dark to light. There is little point in putting a black right next to a white as the risk of those colours contaminating each other is quite big. So next to a black I put a dark brown. And next to a white another light colour is added. Always put the colours around the edge of your palette so you have plenty of space to mix your colours in the middle.
My Oil Paint Colours
- Ivory Black (Michael Harding)
- Burnt Umber (Michael Harding)
- Ultramarine Blue (Vasari), Prussian Blue (Vasari) or Indigo Tone (Mussini)
- Bice (Vasari),
- Terra Rosa (Vasari) or Alizarin Claret (Michael Harding) (depending on what I am painting)
- Permanent Bright Red )Vasari) , or Brilliant Scarlet (Mussini) (they are basically cadmium replacements, cool reds)
- Raw Sienna (Vasari)
- Dutch Yellow (Vasari)
- Shiprock (Vasari) or Unbleached Titanium (Michael Harding)
- Bluff (Vasari) (skin tone)
- Brilliant Yellow Extra Pale (Vasari) or Warm White (Michael Harding)
Different Brands and Colours
Colours might vary depending on what I am painting so I have added a few options here and there. Of course I have many more colours and brands so I vary my choices often. But the above palette is the general base of most of what I do.
My favourite brands are not necessarily yours. A Burnt Sienna is available within each brand range, so you will choose your favourite brand. But some colours are quite brand specific. Some of my chosen colours are ‘convenience mixes’ which means I could mix them myself but I like to have them ready-made. I like trying out the same colour within different brands. For example I have a Burnt Umber from 4 different brands and various Burnt Sienna’s.
Although most artists have a similar palette set up, there are huge variants within the colours. For a cool yellow, some will prefer a Cadmium Yellow, others a Dutch Yellow or a Naples Yellow – there are more yellows than anyone could every try! Find what works for you.
What most artists’ palettes have in common, however, is some darks, such as black, burnt umber and a dark blue, and some lights such as Titanium White. Most artist will opt for a warm and a cool yellow, a warm and cool red and the same for blue. Which colours you choose for your warm and cool tones, is totally up to you.