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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Power of a Limited Palette

'Spring Valley Color'                 8x10         pastel on gatorboard         ©Karen Margulis    
I like to keep things simple. In my pastel paintings I always choose the pastels I will use for a painting in advance. This ensures that I don't get carried away with using too many colors. It helps me keep the color in my painting harmonious. In the pastel above I used a selection of under 20 pastels sticks, some greens, blues, purples and yellows in various values. The painting is done on a homemade support that was toned purple.(this toned surface also helps to unify the colors)  If you struggle with color...try using a smaller selection of pastels and setting them aside before you paint. It really does help!

If it helps to have a limited palette with pastels than it makes sense that it would work for oils as well. I have completed 8 small oil studies this week using a limited palette and it is making the transition to oils so much easier. I am using Alizarin Crimson, Ultramarine Blue, Cad Yellow Medium, White and Black. The last time I tried oils I had too many colors on my palette and I made mud. Too many choices! I am doing some reading on oil painting this week and I find that many instructors recommend using a limited palette, among them is Kevin Macpherson.

Variations on my mini plein air study

'Valley Color'            5x7          oil on panel   available for $100 email
In his book 'Landscape Painting Inside & Out', Kevin discusses the color mixing process. One of the things he talks about is the 'Power of a Limited Palette'.
"A limited Palette is more liberating than limiting.  With a limited palette of three colors plus white, you can create all of the color and value relationships you need for a painting and you will truly understand the process"
I would rather be liberated than limited so I am embracing the idea of a limited palette in both pastels and oils. I was actually amazed that I could come close to my pastel colors in my oil study (above)  It is by no means perfect, after all I am learning, but I wasn't totally frustrated with the color mixing process either.

Some advice for the pastel artists reading this. We can limit our palettes in a similar way.  Start by choosing three or four colors in dark values. Now find a middle and a light value of each color. Choose warm & cool depending on your subject.  You should have a palette of 12-20 pastels. This is plenty to get a nice, harmonious painting. Give it a try! (I'll plan on doing a step by step demo in a future post)

Today's paintings are based on the mini plein air study I did at the Plein Air Convention.. I interpreted my small study both in oils and pastel.


Sara Mathewson said...

Karen, i love both versions! You really are on a roll here and i love the purple toned support for the pastels. i often do this when I paint in pastels. i take those white foam trays that meat comes on and use them to put the pastels that i'm using in a painting. If i have more than 20 pastels it's not much more and if it becomes more than that the painting loses the color harmony I think. great post! i have been reading them all in my email, but often don't have time to comment. i love them all1 Keep them coming and i'm loving your plein air advice etc. love learning from you!


Ida M. Glazier said...

Wonderful reading---and great thoughts on color harmony. Your little plein-air studies are brillant. Really enjoyed this post, Karen!

Karen said...

Thank you Sara! I am so glad you are enjoying my posts! I love to share and it is nice to know that it has been helpful!

Karen said...

Thank you Ida for your kind words and for commenting. I am happy to know you are enjoying my blog!

Vanessa Turner said...

I always love reading your tips and experiences. Colour mixing seems like an endless journey which can often be difficult. I use to work in graphite pencil only because I didn't know how to work with colour but using this same approach Limited palette) has helped tons!

I notice you often do variations of the same painting in different sizes. Do you find it helps to understand the process better? What do you tend to primarily vary amongst them?