A Consistent Palette: The Plein Air Artist’s Friend

My small and large plein air palettes showing the same layout.

Artists are always interested in how other artists arrange their palettes. This is a topic I have discussed many times in the pages of The Pastel Journal and on this weekly blog. Knowing the reasoning behind their layouts can provide a window into their working style and often provide tips that can make our own palettes more efficient (reference previous blogs on palettes: Aug. 6, 2007, and Aug. 11, 2008).

After spending the last couple of months busy plein air painting, I came upon another good reason to have a well-organized, consistently arranged palette—it makes color and value choices much easier when painting in difficult lighting situations.

Working en plein air is filled with challenges. One of the most difficult is learning to compensate for the lighting in which we often find ourselves painting; either our palette and painting surface are in shade or in full sunlight. You should always avoid having one in shade and the other in full sunlight, as both of these scenarios have their issues.

When we work in shade and look at a brightly illuminated scene, it’s easy to over compensate and end up with an overly light/bright painting. When we’re in full sunlight, we often end up with an overly dark/dull painting. In both of these situations, trusting our palettes can be a huge help. If we know the palette arrangement well and trust the hue, value and chroma of the pastel stick in our hand, we can better control the final appearance of the painting.

I advocate arranging a pastel palette in color families and value ranges, with grayed tones segregated to one side. Because I’m familiar with this consistent palette arrangement, I trust my selections even when they look wrong on the painting. I know from experience that they’ll appear much better and closer to what I desired when viewed under normal lighting conditions. To make this even easier, I recommend arranging all of your palettes, whether small or large, with consistency. That way there’s never any guesswork when using a different palette.

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3 thoughts on “A Consistent Palette: The Plein Air Artist’s Friend

  1. Marvyn Rivett

    I would like to know more about the pastel cases shown for plein air painting. Where are they available? Do they have to be full to keep the pastels in place?
    Thanks
    Marvyn

  2. Carolyn Schrock

    I just have to tell you how much I’ve enjoyed Richard’s blog for the past several years!! I wish they could go on forever!! Thank you, for they’ve been a great help to me in growing as a pastelist.
    Carolyn Schrock

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