2018 Workshop Schedule. New workshops added! click here for details.
Visit my Patreon Page for more painting instruction

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Beautiful Mess...Making Sense of a Messy Palette

'Fall Fantasy'          5x7          pastel         ©Karen Margulis
available $75
It happens every couple of weeks. I start out with a clean slate....or clean butcher trays!  I like to begin a new painting by choosing the pastels I will use and putting them in a tray. Having a limited palette forces me to have some control over my color harmony. It helps me approach a painting with a plan of sorts. And for me having the plan is like having a map.....I have directions in case I get lost....but I am always open to taking detours!

I know many artists don't care for this way of working. It seems confining or maybe too involved. There are many valid reasons for not preselecting a palette and wonderful paintings are created from what seems to be an overwhelming choice of pastels. I believe it takes a lot of experience to be able to confidently choose the right colors without any advanced planning.

Until we have the many miles of canvas that is required for true intuitive color confidence....an organized palette is the key to success!

A Beautiful Mess!

The day I began to choose my pastel palette before a painting was the day I finally felt in control. It has made all the difference in the world in how I paint. But after a couple of weeks of daily painting and filling all my butcher trays....I am faced with color chaos. Trays filled with pastels used for the past week's paintings are now mixed up and dirty.  I spend a few days working with them like this as a challenge. It makes me work to find the right colors and values. It keeps me on my toes. It is good for a change of pace.

But I don't care to work this way for long periods of time. I like to make sense of a messy palette so I take time to clean each pastel by wiping it off on a soft towel and putting it back in my big box. It is definitely time after the frenzy of the 30 painting challenge!

Messy trays from a month of painting. Time to clean them and put them away!

I used an older unfinished underpainting for today's pastel


Sandi G said...

I started following your advice to use a pre chosen palette and it's very helpful. I noticed that I often pick similar colors for certain landscape paintings maybe that is because they are the best colors for the greens , blues and compliments.
I also like to use an under painting of similar colors. Thanks fo all your advice through the years.

robertsloan2art said...

I'm that exception. I get inspired by seeing all the colors and confused if I have a palette gap. I'll sometimes choose a palette for a challenge like "use no more than 14 sticks" but more often I've got one box of pastels open at a time.

Instead I use set boxes and stack them, using hard pastels, then medium, then super soft at different stages or just using one texture throughout. I don't like mixing up the textures because I have a heavy hand, going at a painting with Senneliers early on will make layering hard because I'll do heavy impasto strokes. I'd rather use those toward the end.

Everyone has their own organization. When I do get a big table and can spread all of them at once it'll be interesting to see how my layout evolves. I might still stack trays though - or rearrange them, because texture matters to my paintings.

Carolyn Weins said...

I have also found a tupperware container with cornmeal works wonders when cleaning pastels. I toss several dirty pastels into the container, put the lid on, and shake it for maybe 10 seconds. I filter out the clean pastels with my fingers and I'm on to another batch. Sometimes only wiping with a paper towel will do, but often the cornmeal clean does the trick.
I enjoy reading your blog and have decided you must either not sleep or have more that 24 hours in your day! You accomplish so much! Thanks for you informative blogs.