Whenever movies portray painters painting, they’re either passionately slashing color onto the canvas, or mindlessly daubing some spot. What the movies never show is the artist carefully mixing colors, moving mixtures of paint, adjusting them, and working with the palette knife. This unglamorous process takes time, skill, and is indispensable. Jorge Alvarez used to repeat over and over, “An organized palette makes an organized painting.” This is true; Clear, descriptive, and vibrant colors are the product of a disciplined palette. To this end, I offer some tips, and a photo of a working portrait palette at about 80% preparation:
1. Mix with a knife, not your brushes.
2. Keep your pure pigments on the margins and make your mixtures in the middle.
3. Organize your pigments in a way that makes sense. I keep white and black in the corner, warm colors up one side, and cools across the top.
4. Take your time. Mixing colors is a huge part of making a painting, expect to spend nearly as much time with a knife in your hand as you do with a brush.
5. Don’t wallow! Scrape up the used, muddy mixtures and make the colors you really need. Those old colors may seem “close enough,” but they aren’t. This rule will keep your painting from getting murky as you move toward finish.