During interviews with artists, I always ask them to list the colors on their palette because I know that information can be helpful to people who read articles in our magazines. In most cases, the lists are predictable samplings of earth colors, cadmiums, white, and black. But occasionally oil painters mention colors that are unfamiliar to some because they are made from a combination of pigments, have a proprietary name, or are a variation of a standard tube color. For example, many artists use burnt umber, but Donald Demers told me about green umber—a wonderful dark, rich green that’s perfect for painting trees in shadow. Nelson Shanks introduced me to perylene red several years ago during a portrait-painting workshop, but I just talked to an artist who uses perylene green in his landscapes and explained why it is the only tube green on his palette. Ed Terpening mentioned in an American Artist April, 2009 article that he prepares a wonderful “California blue” by combining phthalocyanine blue with carbazole violet when he’s out on location.
In almost every case, the artists who introduced me to these unusual colors wanted everyone to know how surprisingly useful they are for painting specific subjects or for trying to achieve certain visual effects. In the Summer, 2008 issue of Workshop, for example, Susan Lyon strongly recommended using transparent oxide red instead of burnt sienna because the transparency of the tube color is appropriate for laying in an initial sketch of a subject on a toned canvas. In the same magazine, Max Ginsburg recommended mixing cinnabar green into flesh tones when painting a portrait.
Many of you love the challenge of using a limited palette of colors to its maximum potential, but others have fallen in love with colors that aren’t included on most artists’ palettes. Members of the American Artist online community would appreciate it if you would post a comment below recommending colors you have discovered and discussing the specific ways they have proven helpful with your painting.
M. Stephen Doherty