I have been busy over the past few weeks creating color charts as recommended by Richard Schmid in his book Alla Prima. My charts are still in progress, but I thought I would publish this post in the meantime for others who may want to join me in doing this exercise.
I will run through the supplies you need, the process, and some of my observations so far. Be warned, this is a time-consuming and surprisingly challenging exercise! But, when a master like Richard Schmid recommends you do something, it is wise to do it. In his own words:
“Surprisingly, the charts only took two weeks to complete, and when I finished I knew more about my paint than I had ever thought possible.”
(If you are not familiar with this exercise, the following may sound a bit confusing. But stay with me! It is easier to understand once you see the full step-by-step process later in this post).
The idea of this exercise is to explore the different color combinations from your frequently used colors.
You start by creating a "pure" color chart. Pure colors (straight from the tube) are at the top. Each row down the colors gets lighter as more white is added. The colors on the bottom row have just a hint of color. Here is mine to give you an idea of what it looks like:
From there, you create a separate chart for each color (“color dominant charts” as Richard Schmid calls them). These involve taking the main (dominant) color and mixing it with a small amount of each other color. And again, for each row down the colors get lighter as you add more white.
Below is my color dominant chart for cadmium lemon. This shows the range of possible colors with cadmium yellow predominating.
The first column is pure cadmium lemon; the second is cadmium lemon with a touch of cadmium yellow; the third is cadmium lemon with a touch of cadmium yellow deep; the forth is cadmium lemon with a touch of yellow ochre; and so on.
You then repeat the process for all other color dominant charts. Keep in mind that the first column for these charts will be the main (dominant) color.
What You Need
Here are the supplies you need:
- Your frequently used colors. I used cadmium lemon, cadmium yellow, cadmium yellow deep, yellow ochre, cadmium red, terra rosa, permanent alizarin crimson, transparent oxide red, viridian green, cobalt blue, ultramarine blue, and titanium white. I used similar colors to the ones used by Richard Schmid as I am fascinated by his use of color and sometimes the best way to understand is to imitate.
- Brushes and palette knives. I do most of the color mixing with brushes, but you may want to use palette knives instead. I used a different brush for each color to avoid any unwanted mixing.
- A palette for mixing. You should do most of your mixing on the palette, not the canvas.
- Canvas boards. These are economical and sturdy. The size will depend on how many colors you are using and how large you want the segments.
- Paper towel, a container for holding used brushes, and solvent for cleaning up (if using oils). The paint needs to be thick and straight from the tube, so avoid adding any mediums or solvents.
- Thin tape (ideally less than a cm). After hours of searching, I managed to find 6mm tape from a local office supplies shop. It is amazing how hard it is to find thin tape!
What Medium Should You Use?
I use and recommend oils for this, as does Richard Schmid. The slow drying time gives you a chance to get the color right before you place it on the canvas. But, any other medium would be fine.
Here is my step-by-step process. If you join me in doing this exercise, you may want to vary this process to suit your own situation and preferences.
Step 1. Get your supplies in order.
Organization is key here. You do not want to be flustered or searching for supplies whilst doing the charts.
Step 2. Plan the measurements.
Your measurements depend on how many colors you use, the size of each segment, and the size of the canvas board.
Start by working out:
- How many segments you need (the number of colors multiplied by 5).
- How large you want each segment (I suggest around 1 inch in width).
- How much space you need for a border (for writing down what colors you used).
Then grab a ruler and calculate the measurements you need. To give you an idea, here are my measurements:
- 1 inch border at the top and left sides.
- 1 inch width and ¾ inch height for each segment.
- 11 colors.
- 55 segments (11 colors multiplied by 5 rows)
- 2 charts per canvas board (because the canvas boards I found are rather large).
Make sure you write down whatever measurements you use so you can stay consistent for each chart.
Step 3. Mark the canvas board and place the tape.
Use a pencil and ruler to mark the measurements on the canvas board. Then place your tape. If your measurements are correct, this should be rather easy.
Step 4. Audit yourself.
Make sure you have enough segments and that they are all roughly the same size.
Step 5. Organize the tubes of paint in the right order.
The order of colors needs to be consistent. To avoid any frustrating mix-ups, place the tubes of paint above the relevant columns (see below).
Step 6. Mix and apply the colors.
Work from column to column, from left to right.
For each column, start with the top "pure" color and work down. Start by mixing the pure color on your palette, then apply it to the top segment. Then work your way down the column, adding more and more white to the color. Aim to have even steps in value (a challenge by itself).
Keep in mind that some colors are stronger than others and you will need to use more white to make them lighter.
Step 7. Remove the tape.
Do this before the paint dries (otherwise, the tape may lift paint from the canvas).
Step 8. Place the chart in a safe place to dry.
Step 9. Take a photo for reference.
The actual charts are the best reference, but a photo is a close second.
Here are some key observations from this exercise so far:
- As colors get lighter, the contrast between them reduces (compare the top row to the bottom row).
- As colors get lighter, they get weaker and cooler in temperature.
- Some colors are MUCH stronger than others. This is referred to as tinting strength.
- It is eye-opening to see all the different colors you are able to mix (or unable to mix).
- The dark colors (such as ultramarine blue and viridian) seem to get richer with just a small amount of white.
- The charts are a valuable reference point for any “how do I mix that color?” questions.
- This is a simple exercise, but it is not easy!
(If you want to learn more about color mixing, I go into more detail in my Painting Academy course.)
To Be Continued...
I will update this post once I finish the rest of the charts. Feel free to join me in doing this exercise. I would also love to see photos of your attempts (just subscribe and send me an email).