Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Painting with a Limited Palette

Posted by Maggie

One of the things I find intriguing about working in oils is the ability to carry a small set-up for painting outdoors. When I paint in pastel, my small set-up is a wooden Heilman box with 200-240 pieces of pastel (see this blog for information on how the box is organized):
My pastel set, arranged by value and temperature
When I paint outdoors in oils, I have generally worked with a limited palette so as to keep the number of tubes of paint down to 5 or 6. Last summer, I carried a few tubes of Cobra water-mixable oils for some plein-air painting in Colorado. My palette consisted of cadmium yellow light, cadmium red medium, ultramarine blue, sap green, titanium white and black. Here's an example of a painting done with that palette:

Colorado Colors, 8x10 oil, plein air, ©Maggie Price
A couple of months ago, another artist started a Limited Palette Challenge on Facebook. I thought it sounded interesting, and decided to participate. The challenge was based on artist Ken Auster's limited palette, which was cadmium yellow medium, alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, white and black. I found that using cad yellow medium rather than cad yellow light was a challenge. It was hard to get a light enough yellow, and also hard to get a rich light green. However, I painted three pieces for the challenge, with the goal of learning something from using a different palette. Here's my favorite of the three:

Val di- Chiana, 12x16 oil, ©Maggie Price
One of the things I learned from this painting was something that I already knew in relation to pastel, and that is when you have trouble getting a feeling of light, it may work to darken adjacent colors. And to increase the feeling of warmth, it may work to cool other colors. These ideas helped me get the effect of late afternoon sun that I recall so clearly from the Italian countryside. And while the palette was a bit of a struggle, when I compare this painting with the one above it, I prefer the richness of color evident in the second one.

After a few of the entries were in, the organizer (artist Candy Crawford Day) asked Ken Auster to review the entries following a deadline and select a winner. He offered one of his DVDs as a prize to the winner. To my great surprise, this painting was selected. Ken's comment was: "After a weekend of continual review of images--and keeping in mind that it is a limited pallete challenge--the painting that I believe did the most with the least is Maggie Price #1--the best use of warmer and cooler and color harmony and light." 

I was especially pleased by Ken's comments as they focused on exactly what I had worked with in the creation of this painting. Color harmony is almost a given when you work with a limited palette, but getting the feeling of the light and balancing warm and cool colors was a challenge! 

Italy is a wonderful place to paint, rich in subjects and with a beautiful quality of light. I'm looking forward to some more limited-palette work during our October workshop there, and also in the workshop in Puerto Vallarta next January. I'll post paintings after we return!