What to Know About an Artist’s Oil Painting Palette — Part 2

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What is there to know about an artist’s oil painting palette? You’d be surprised.

In Artist’s Oil Painting Palette, Part 1 we learned about the different types of artist’s palettes for oil painting. The word palette has two different meanings. The topic of this article deals with the type of palette an artist uses to mix color on.

Palette Color and Tone

kidney shaped artist paletteThe most important thing about the oil painting palette is its color. You will find that you will have a much easier time getting your colors right if you mix them on a palette that is the same color as your canvas.

Artists who want to see the true color of their paint will mix their paint on a palette that is same color as their canvas. If you mix your paint on a brown wooden palette and then apply that same paint to a white canvas the color will look different from what you mixed on your palette. For example, if you mix pink on your brown wooden palette you are seeing the pink color against the brown color of your palette. Then when you apply the pink paint to your white canvas, the color is going to look different because you are now seeing that same pink color against a stark white surface. Your pink will look dark on the white canvas, but on the palette it will look much lighter. The Old Masters often painted on brown or gray canvas and their palettes were that same tone. This meant the paint they mixed on their palette was the same color when they applied it to their canvases. There were no surprises or remixing of color to get it right. It was right the first time.

Positioning Your Palette

positioning a paletteThe artist oil painting palette can be used in two primary positions, either on the tabletop or hand-held. Some artists prefer to hold their palettes while they paint. This makes it possible to continue painting from different angles. Other artists would rather set their palette on a table and mix paints that way. Tabletop palettes are usually larger and this feature allows the artist more room for mixing colors. Whichever position you choose for your palette is a matter of preference.

Organizing Your Palette

Organizing your oil painting palette is a helpful skill to use. It may seem insignificant, but a well organized palette will make your painting sessions easier and more enjoyable. How you organize paint on your palette is entirely up to you. There is no right or wrong way, however here is how some artists prefer to arrange their palettes. Some choose to arrange their palette from light to dark paints, while others place their colors from cool to warm. Another way is to group colors according to family, such as grouping all your yellow colors together, oranges, reds, violets, blues, greens and earth colors etc. Still other painters lay out their paint colors in a haphazard manner with no apparent rhyme or reason. Even though there are no specific rules for arranging colors on your palette, the arrangement should make sense so that time is not wasted searching for your colors.

The following are some suggestions for organizing your palette.

    • Place your colors along the outer edge of your palette leaving the center area open for mixing your paints.
    • If you are a beginner, you might want to start with a small section of colors on your palette. As you become a more experienced painter, you can add more colors.
    • Try to lay out your colors in the same order each time you paint. You will soon get to know where they are without having to look at your palette.

I hope this article has taken some of the mystery out of oil painting palettes. The type of palette you choose to use and how you lay out your paints on it are beneficial and the enjoyment you’ll receive from the painting experience. So take your time when it comes to selecting the palette you want. And don’t let the price decide whether you buy one over another. Get yourself a good palette because you will be using it for all your painting sessions.

Happy painting!

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UPDATED: 28 April 2016

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