Color Coding: Three Ways to Organize Your Paints

When you finally get a chance to steal away to your studio, the last thing you probably want to think about is coordinating and codifying your materials, but a few minutes spent getting organized now can save you a lot of time and aggravation in the long run. Here, three thorough readers share their best tips for staying on top of your paint supply, as well as for making quick work of determining the important characteristics of each color.

1. Make Your Own Color Wheels

When I?m painting I want to see at a glance all of the paint colors I have available, as well as all of my favorite mixtures. That?s why I created my own color wheels. First, I made circles on a sheet of 300-lb. watercolor paper (I traced lids from tubs of whipped topping). I cut these large circles out, then traced smaller circles around the perimeter of the wheels by using nickels and dimes as patterns.

On one wheel I put all my reds?if I?m painting roses I can see exactly what color I want to use and how it will look on my watercolor paper. On other wheels I put the mixtures I like to use to make black, fleshtones, greens, etc. Around each small circle I wrote the colors I used to get that mixture.

Finally, I punched a hole in the top of each wheel and using a book ring, I hooked all the wheels together. The book ring opens and allows me to add more wheels.

Making the color wheels was a fun project, but also a great learning experience. In the end, I had the perfect color reference.

Axie L. Frey
Lafayette, IN

2. Chart Your Paint Supply

While rifling through my cache of paints, I discovered that I had three half-used tubes of ultramarine blue (each one a different brand) and that when placed side by side, permanent blue looked suspiciously like ultramarine. I realized the only way to see how these colors differed was to pull out my brush and start making swatches.

To start, I cut two-inch squares of watercolor paper and drew a line one-half inch up from the bottom of each square. Using one color per square, I then painted a graded wash, starting at the top with very saturated color and gradually thinning the wash until I met the pencil line. In the bottom section of each square, I listed the paint color, brand and pigment.

When I completed painting the squares with all the paints I had, I stored them in plastic slide sheets. I used separate slide sheets for each color category, inserting the paint squares according to color temperature (warm to cool). By storing the color swatches this way, I?m able to move them around easily to accommodate new paints.

This process taught me a lot about the paints I already have, especially how they differ from brand to brand and which ones really are duplicates. Now, when I begin a painting I just whip out my paint sheets to see which colors would work best.

Mary Anne Durnin
Plano, TX

3. Create Color Cards

To keep track of different paints? characteristics such as granulation, transparency and intensity, I used to make a chart with the qualities of each of the colors on my palette. But every time my palette changed, I had to make a new chart.

Recently, I came up with a better idea. Using scrap pieces of watercolor paper and a paper cutter, I made a bunch of 2? x 3?-inch cards, one for each of the colors I typically use. On the front of each card, I wrote the name of the color and the initials of the brand with a permanent black marker. I then painted over the front of the card using that color. On the back of the card, I wrote all of the information that I had about the color, such as lightfastness, whether it was a staining color or a liftable one, etc. I also made a color card for each of the colors that I had mixed myself and listed the colors used in the mix.

When I begin a painting, I “deal my cards” and choose the colors I want to use. Then I slip the color cards, which are about the same size as baseball cards, into plastic sleeves designed to protect sports cards. These sleeves keep my color cards clean and organized while I paint.

In addition to my standard set of color cards, I create cards for each of my paintings, detailing what colors and mixtures of colors I used. I keep these painting cards along with my color cards in an old coupon box.

Nancy Mobley
San Angelo, TX

Port Angeles, Washington, artist Butch Krieger is a contributing editor to The Artist?s Magazine. He teaches at Peninsula College.

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