One of the many concepts, techniques and strategies I teach is premixing your palette, whether working in the studio or in the field. I often encounter resistance to this idea, but more often than not, once students try it, they understand and appreciate the advantage it gives them. Why is premixing helpful?
Premixing requires the artist to think about and analyze the colors she plans to use in advance, rather than on the fly. The first way in which this is useful is in establishing a color harmony. Color, like all other aesthetic choices we make in our work, requires a considered approach. Just as we cannot rely on Nature to compose for us, we also cannot rely on it to establish a compelling color harmony. This requires thought and usually editing. Even if your desire is to create a naturalistic landscape, you will need to edit the local color you see into a more harmonious, focused statement. Premixing gives the artist an opportunity to think about what local color is wanted and what can be discarded, what colors will be ‘the star of the show’ and what colors will play a supporting role.
The second way in which premixing can assist the artist is in establishing an organized plan of execution for the painting. Mixing color with purpose and with a plan is the key. When we do this, we analyze what value, temperature and chroma we need for each hue, and we have a better chance of mixing accurately and cleanly.
The organizing principle I recommend is Carlson’s Theory of Angles. Using Carlson’s Theory we identify groups of hues within the four planes in the landscape—sky, ground, slanted planes, and uprights. The advantage of this method is that the artist begins by thinking about where these colors occur in the landscape. And of course, that affects what value, temperature and chroma they are! So organizing your mixes this way encourages exactly the kind of analysis we need to determine the correct variations of each color within our color harmony.
Also, once you have premixed, your palette will have these four distinct groups of colors organized right before you as you begin to paint.
The objection I hear most often to premixing is that taking the time to premix colors in advance will take away from painting time, or if done in the field, will take up time while conditions may be changing. Of course, neither of these objections makes much sense because in order to paint we must mix color. The question is not if we will mix, the question is when we will mix.
Although I certainly can understand the impatience to start painting, particularly when working outdoors, I know from many years of experience that the results will be better the more planning and thinking I do before putting the first stroke on my canvas. Premixing allows you to approach execution of your work in an analytical way. Once that is done, the actual painting usually proceeds more smoothly and quickly, free from trial and error and on the fly decision making. Of course, you will need to make modifications to your premixed palette as you go, but the majority of the work will be done and you will have a much clearer plan for its execution.
P.S. Our six week online class The Strong Start starts April 13th! In this class you will learn the concepts, techniques and strategies that can give you the strongest possible start to your work, both in the studio and outdoors. Strong starts make for strong finishes! Join us!