Premixing tones

Artists spend a lot of time thinking about their palettes; how many colors, which colors, how big, and so forth. My palette is too large to hold in my hand so I keep it on a cart next to the easel. The palette has to be big enough to contain my color assortment and premixed tones. Not all artists use premixed tones but I always have some and I make sure the palette is large enough to accommodate them.

In this photo of today’s palette, the usual assortment of colors is arranged around the edges, which leaves the center available for the premixed colors and piles of white.

Because I paint a lot of figures, I always have some premixed values of burnt sienna. Burnt sienna is flexible enough to handle nearly any flesh tone with simple modifications. Notice that I don’t have any unmodified burnt sienna. I realized one day that when flesh is in deep shadow, it’s always heavily modified, either with red overtones or complements.

In addition to the burnt sienna values, I mix neutral grays or, as shown here, some cool and warm values. This particular palette has two values of cool gray based on cobalt blue-black. The warm values are raw umber. Raw umber is an important color because it is transparent and quick-drying. Some artists use it for sketching and underpainting. Raw umber is a beautiful color. Transparent darks are the best.

I always have a pile of ivory black too.

Some artists are extremely organized and prepare a large number of values before starting to paint. Vasari criticized the Renaissance master Carlo Crivelli for his over-refinement. Crivelli laborusly prepared dozens of values. Vasari also thought that Ceivelli’s habit of preparing a pile of boiled eggs in the morning and eating them throughout the workday was bizarre.

Perhaps Crivelli took this habit too far but mixing values every day is a good habit for artists and trains the eye. You can also learn a lot about the quality of different brands.

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