I'm constantly tweaking my palette. I'll add a new color that gives me a hue I couldn't mix before or delete something I'm no longer using, but I've kept the same general palette for years.
However, a while ago I replaced almost all of my colors at the same time. This allowed me to change the look of my paintings and more easily mix a wide range of lighter values Here's what happened.
My First Palette of Colors
When I began painting I focused on portraits. The traditional portrait palette is composed of mineral pigments (see explanation below), with colors primarily selected to be able to mix skin tones and include a wide range of reds, yellows, and browns, along with a few blues.
You'll notice that there are no secondary colors on this palette; no oranges, violets, or greens. In order to have more control I tend to mix those colors from my primary colors (red, yellow and blue) instead of buying secondary tube paints.
I used the above palette for many years, making slight variations when I began to paint landscapes and genre paintings.
The Big Switch
Then I heard about a new line of colors offered by Gamblin, my favorite brand of paints. Gamblin assembled a range of their modern organic pigments (see explanation below). These pigments are much more intense than what I had been working with and they retain their intensity when mixed with white.
For each color, Gamblin created a new companion tint, which they call Radiant Colors. Which just means they offered a tube of that color mixed with a lot of white.
What's on My New Palette
Look to the bottom left of the above palette. The dark pile is Phalo Turquoise, and to the right of it is a puddle with some added white to better show the hue. Above it is a pile of Radient Turquoise, which is simply tinted Phalo Turquoise, meaning it has a lot of added white. Moving clockwise from through to the yellows, you can see all my paints and their corresponding tints. On the right side are greys and Titanium White.
What's so exciting about mixing a paint with white?
Well, these modern colors are so strong its difficult to make a light color without overshooting the mark and wasting paint. Having the tints of each color already mixed allows me to make light colors more precisely and is a big time and paint saver.
Mineral vs. Modern colors
Mineral paints (on left) are inorganic, in that that they are made from earth and metals. They are typically opaque and have low tinting strength. When mixed with white they lose their intensity and become dull.
Modern paints (on right) are organic (with a carbon base) and are made in a laboratory. They are translucent and have a very high tinting strength. When mixed with white they get lighter, but keep their intensity and stay bright. See how much brighter the pink on the right is than the one one the left?
What This Means For My Paintings
You can see the difference between the two palettes in the paintings above. The old palette, at left, has more earth tones, the brightest colors aren't very bright, and the neutrals tend to be muted.
With the new palette, on right, I can make very bright brights along with neutrals, like in the building and sidewalk, with a subtle range of colors. Even with only small touches of color, the painting feels very bright because of the intensity of the colors. Of course, neither one is better than the other. It's just a question of style and intent.
Changing an entire palette does take some getting used to. The new colors are really strong and can easily take over my painting, so I don't recommend them for beginners. While I'm still learning about what I can do with these new tools, I'm very pleased with the results so far and I'm having fun with it.
By the way, Gamblin Paint Company has lots of useful information on their website about paints and colors, including information on mineral and modern colors, and their line of Radiant Paints.
I'd love to hear from you. Please drop me a note below to let me know your thoughts on my new palette and if this post was useful.