Neutralizing Your Palette

When you use a brown wooden or white enameled palette, it can be hard to accurately translate your oil or acrylic color to your painting surface. For instance, when I begin painting on a blank canvas, it’s helpful to have a white palette. But as the painting progresses and the white canvas disappears, the values and chromas of the colors may become confused if I try to match them to the colors on my white palette. Likewise, a brown wooden palette and a blank canvas could lead to similar problems. To get more accurate color matches and mixtures as your painting progresses, try this technique:

If you use oil paint on a wooden palette, don’t clean your palette entirely at the end of the day. Rub all the leftover, mixed color into the mixing surface. By doing this, your palette surface will eventually develop a grayish patina that’s better for seeing hue, value and chroma.

And if you use acrylics on a glass palette, you can accomplish the same objective by placing it on top of a neutral, gray-painted board or gray paper. (For the more technically inclined, the kind of gray I’m talking about is a Munsell Value 7 Neutral Gray.)

Mark Gottsegen is an associate professor of art at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and chair of the American Society for Testing and Materials subcommittee on Artists’ Paints and Related Materials.

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