On Making Color Charts

In my quest for learning how to oil paint, I have come to the conclusion I know very little about color theory and usually just go on my “instinct” when painting and choosing colors. I have read some on my own, but knew all along I need to get serious if I am going to meet some of the goals I have set for myself in this painting journey.

One of the most inspiring and encouraging artists that I personally know is Lori Putnam, a Nashville artist whose work I both admire and drool over! See her website here. Her work is fresh, loose, and just absolutely beautiful. She also has a couple of small booklets (which you can purchase at her website) about oil painting, plein air painting, and color theory that I have purchased that I consider some of the best material I have read on these subjects. And believe me, I have a book addiction, and if I showed you a photo of my shelves of books relating to painting and art, you would know I know what I am talking about! Her booklets are full of little gems of information that I might have read or heard somewhere before, but her way of presentation just sticks with me. Sometimes it is like that with learning.

Lori also has a wonderful blog that includes some valuable posts on many subjects relating to painting, but some very good ones on making color charts and using a 3 color plus white palette like she does. Now I know there are probably countless posts and book chapters out there on chart making, and there is no one right way, but I decided to just go with this and do them. I was not convinced that I could possibly get this many colors with just one tube of each primary and white. However, after doing the charts with Lori’s detailed instructions, I am convinced. As most artists are, I am a visual learner for the most part and learn best by doing.

The main thing I learned after doing this exercise was this – I don’t have to have every color paint that the manufacturers make in my painting supplies to make beautiful paintings. Now, I know that sounds simplistic, but somehow before I did these charts, I thought that the people who painted with a limited palette or even an expanded limited palette were just somehow born with some sort of talent or sense of color that I was not born with and I could never learn it and would have to buy my own yellow ochre for the rest of my painting career. There is nothing wrong with using a ton of paint tubes, but if you aspire to plein air paint much, it makes it rather difficult and cumbersome to use 20 different tubes out in the field.

Will I only paint with these 3 colors from here on out? I’m not sure yet and also know that it doesn’t really matter right now. Some of the best advice that every artist that I have studied with has been something along the lines of “this is the way I do it, but you must find your own style and way of doing things.” Great advice!

9 Responses
  • Kathy Cousart on July 15, 2011

    Wonderful post. I paint with just the three primary colors and just love it. You can get the most beautiful color harmonies that way. I enjoyed reading this post- great dedication to do the color charts and huge fan of Lori's. Wonderful art world we all live in to share and learn together.

  • Lisa Whitener on July 15, 2011

    That's some really good information. Thanks for sharing!

  • suzannepaints on July 16, 2011

    Thanks for the inspiration. This is a great time for getting it done. I have heard Richard Schmid has done his charts numerous times!

  • Jerry Stocks on July 20, 2011

    Denise, I too have not been painting much this summer. I have stayed busy constantly with my grandsons which is the most important thing to me right now. Thanks for all this good info on color charts. I can't wait to get started making a set.

  • Denise Cerro on July 20, 2011

    Great painting advice, I love a limited palette and will give this a try. Making color charts seems like such a chore, until you get started on them…then is a fun exploration…and very therapeutic ! Thanks for the kick start!

  • mary maxam on July 21, 2011

    excellent information and thanks for introducing me to Lori's work. I applaud all your color charting work-so valuable!

  • cissy on July 28, 2011

    Hi Denise, just discovered your great blog! Loved seeing your work and enjoyed this blog on color charts thanks. This world of art blogs sure is wonderful. Loved hearing about Lori's work and booklets. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dana Cooper on August 11, 2011

    Good for you for taking the time to mix these color charts, the are so valuable…and pretty too!

  • Mary Sheehan Winn on August 22, 2011

    I'm really impressed with the charts. They are beautifully done and I totally get it about the lesson you learned.
    Also thanks for sharing Lori Putnam's link. Another great painter to keep me glues to the computer.
    Best wishes on your show too, Denise.

Comment on this post