Tips on Oil Painting – Know Your Paints


In this discussion we assume that you use a basic 6-color. The 6-color palette could consist of the following colors:

1. Lemon Yellow

2. Cadmium Yellow

3. Cadmium Red

4. Permanent Rose (Alizarin Crimson)

5. French Ultramarine Blue

6. Phthalo Blue

7. Titanium White

8. Ivory Black

You could use a no. 10 filbert.

As a beginning artist, the first exercise to try is to color eight 2″ x 2″ squares with each of the above tube colors and study the result. Try to memorize how these colors look. Use a cheap canvas or a sheet of thick drawing paper.

Lemon Yellow is, of course, yellow, but can you also see the green undertone or bias? Stare at it for a while and see if you can discern the underlying green. Do the same for:

– Cadmium Yellow (orange bias)

– Cadmium Red (orange bias)

– Permanent Rose (violet bias)

– French Ultramarine Blue (violet bias)

– Phthalo Blue (Red Shade) (green bias)

Memorize and visualize the bias of the six colors on your palette.

Next, you can color 2″ x 2″ squares with mixtures. Start with Lemon Yellow and Phthalo Blue (Red Shade) which both have a green bias. You should get a clean green. Then:

* Mix French Ultramarine Blue and Permanent Rose (both have a violet bias) which yields a clean violet.

* Mix Cadmium red with Cadmium Yellow (both have a violet bias) which yields a clean orange.

Again make an effort to remember the colors of these new mixtures.

Now you can cross mix your tube colors two at a time. For example, mix Lemon Yellow with French Ultramarine Blue. This should give you a green but because Lemon Yellow has a green bias while French Ultramarine Blue has a violet bias it will be different from the one you got before. Compare the two greens and try to remember the difference. Then:

* Mix Cadmium Yellow with Phthalo Blue (Red Shade)

* Mix Cadmium Yellow with French Ultramarine Blue

This will give you all together 4 different greens. Look at them and judge them regarding hue, value, and intensity.

You can do the same with the two blues and the two reds which will you give four different violets. Finally, repeat the process with the two yellows and the two reds which will give you four different oranges.

Next, use different amounts of Titanium White to create tints of, say, French Ultramarine Blue. Mixtures of a tube color with white are called tints. Study a number of French Ultramarine Blue tints to see how Titanium White lightens the mixture and if the tints become chalky or not.

You can also mix each of the six tube colors with black. These mixtures are called shades. And finally, you can mix any tube color with any other tube color or with blank and white (i.e., with varying degrees of grays) to get what are called tones.

What is important here is to create a habit of observing and remembering the mixtures you produce. By now, you can probably guess the potential diversity of color a 6-color palette can produce. We haven’t even added the tertiary colors, i.e., the mixtures of three colors.

Make sure you save your painted squares and that you duly record the colors involved as well as the approximate amounts of each of the colors that make up the mixture. In other words, save your color charts and study them at regular intervals.

The ultimate objective is to accumulate enough active knowledge about mixtures that you can reproduce just about any color without having to think too much.

At that point all your attention can be directed towards artistic expression. Although it is a rather tedious job, it is nevertheless a necessary one. So do a little bit of it every day.


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