Creating a color chart sounds like a boring and un-glamorous task, but it’s one that can really help you in your painting.
Commercially prepared color charts give you the basics, but they are not necessarily using the colors you have in your tabouret.
By using your own personal palette, you’re turning all those pretty color patches from theory to something you can use in your daily painting life.
Types Of Color Charts
There are a number of color chart variations, and you should take the time to develop your own series of reference sheets. You can personalize your charts to reflect the type of color mixing you do and use the paints you own to make a custom chart.
Watercolorists, acrylic and oil painters have different needs, so create charts based not only on the colors you own, but also on the type of paint used. If you’re a mixed media artist, you’ll need to create charts for all the types of paints in your tabouret, so you may have quite a task ahead of you.
Dominant Color Chart
A tint is a mixture of a hue with white, while a shade is the mixture of a hue with black. You can create a tinted or shaded dominant color chart, but unless you specialize in Goth paintings, a tint color chart will probably be most useful to you.
Pick a color and build a chart based on the interaction of that color with white and other colors on your palette. The chart will contain five horizontal squares and as many vertical rows as you have color choices. Use the paper or canvas surface that you normally use in your paintings, and create the columns and rows with one-inch squares. The dominant color is first mixed with white in a series gradation from pure color to lightly tinged white. Next, mix the dominant color with another hue and continue the white gradations. Repeat this procedure with all the colors you wish to use in this chart. A variation on this chart is to use gradations of the secondary colors in place of the white.
Full Spectrum Color Chart
Another popular chart uses all the colors on your palette. You can use as many or as few colors as you wish, but remember that the more colors you use, the larger the chart becomes. If you own lots of paints, you may wish to do sub-sets of color charts based on your favorite go-to palettes. Using sub-sets keeps your charts from winding up as wall-sized murals.
Divide your painting surface into a grid of one-inch squares as wide and as deep as the number of colors you wish to include in the chart.
In each of the top squares, fill in a color, the name and the corresponding number beginning with one. Start with yellow and continue through the spectrum of your colors, adding browns at the right.
For example, let’s make three rows and three columns. The first square in the first column is marked Cadmium Yellow 1. The first square in the second column is marked Alizarin Crimson 2. The first square in the third column is Cobalt Blue 3.
The first column only contains the first color. In this case, that’s Cadmium Yellow 1. In the second column, the square in the second row is painted a combination of Cadmium Yellow 1 and Alizarin Crimson 2. In the third column, the square in the second row is painted a combination of Cadmium Yellow 1 and Cobalt Blue 3. The square in the third row is painted with a combination of Alizarin Crimson 2 and Cobalt blue 3.
You will repeat this sequence with as many columns and rows as you have colors and wind up with a stair-step representation of all your colors mixed with one another.
Glazing Color Chart
If you like to build up colors using the glazing technique, a representation of how layers of color affect each other is another useful chart.
In this chart, you’ll paint vertical stripes of each of color and allow them to dry. Label each vertical stripe with its name. Using the paints in the same order as the vertical stripes, paint a horizontal stripe of each color across the width of the vertical stripes. Allow these to dry and label them. Now, you can see how a color is altered by the application of a second color glaze.
Make sure to allow the vertical paint stripes to dry thoroughly before painting the horizontal stripes so the paints do not bleed into each other.
Since water plays such a big role in the way your watercolors appear, use it to create a watercolor color chart. Simply begin a sample swatch using a very concentrated hue and add water to dilute the paint as you move away from the starting point. When the paint dries, you’ll be able to see the resulting tonal gradation, as well as graininess or other pigment oddities.
Chart Painting Surface
Use a painting surface that is similar to the support you normally use in your painting. By using similar products, you’ll get a real feel for how the paint will look on your support in actual use.
You can create a large chart to hang in your studio adjacent to your painting space, or you can create small portable pages. These small pages are easy to place in a binder or folder, so they’re easy to take to classes or when plein air painting.
If you’ve wall space for all your charts, it’s nice to have the reference material always available with just a glance in the right direction. If you’re tight on space or move around a lot, the binder or the folder method will probably be your best bet. However, if you’re really bored or uninspired, you can make a set of both, so you’ll have the convenience of both.
Regardless of your skill level or years of experience, color charts are useful tools. With unlimited color combinations and countless variations of tint, shade and tone, a color chart can be an artist’s secret weapon for finding just the right hues to take a so-so painting and turn it into an eye-catching show-stopper.