Color is a personal choice and every artist I know has their favorite pigments, brands and go-to mixes. My own palette is based on a foundation of primary colors that are mostly Daniel Smith single pigment paints (I avoid tube colors that are already mixes, such as Daniel Smith Sap Green is which is just Quinacridone Gold mixed with Pthalo Green). I choose my paints based on their variety, lightfastness, and range in their properties of staining, opacity, and granulation. I’ve particularly enjoyed Hillary Page’s Guide to Watercolor Paints as a resource and Daniel Smith’s color map for visualizing how pigments relate to each other. While working on studio paintings, I typically use a limited palette, choosing just five or so paints for the whole piece. This helps unify the painting, and also pushes me to explore what mixes are possible. In the field, though, I indulge in bringing a greater range of colors and before an expedition I spend some time planning my palette. A huge perk of my Pocket Palette is that the pans can be rearranged on the magnetic base—I often change it up!
For my Greenland expedition this spring, I planned for two palettes, giving me a total of 28 pigments. I knew from my previous work in Greenland that I would encounter a brilliant atmosphere of big skies, and reflected light from snow and ice. With ice I also anticipated a range of deep blues, as well as textured rocks of muted brown and grey. Finally, I considered the colorful Greenlandic villages that punctuate the vast landscape! I compiled my favorite colors and added some extra yellows and reds I was curious to experiment with (Sennelier Lemon Yellow, and Daniel Smith Cadmium Yellow Deep, Quinacridone Red, and Pyrrol Red).
While in the field, I like to think about developing my “palette of place.” I sketch and paint as much as possible and also note my observations. I use my camera and audio recorder to create additional source material. Color notes are particularly invaluable and I often use them as the basis for studio paintings.
In the end, there’s just nothing like being out and about with a sketchbook! Whether you have time for to complete a full painting, a quick sketch, or just jot down some notes, the simple act of paying attention cultivates our awareness and appreciation. As my husband said in our wedding vows, “you see the world in amazing colors… ‘a pretty sunset’ becomes cadmium yellow, pyrrol orange, alizeran crimson, cerulean blue, cobalt, and indanthrone blue.” Happy painting!