My Portland Palette

When I moved to Portland, Oregon a little more than a year ago, the first thing I noticed was the color of the light. At this latitude there’s a refractory, cool lavender-blue-green-grey cast to it. Coming from the California sunshine, it is particularly noticeable.

Creating the right color combo to capture the Pacific Northwest light, has been my mission over the past year.

How to choose colors:

Anyone who has walked down the paint isle of an art supply store knows how overwhelming choosing colors can be.

The best strategy is to start as simple as possible and slowly add colors into your repertoire as you learn how they behave.

My own introduction to oils was through the earth colors. Umbers, ochres, and siennas all have low tinting strengths and a beautifully innate harmony. It’s hard to go wrong with the Classical colors (as Gamblin classifies them).

I began experimenting with the Mineral Inorganic colors after falling in love with the impressionists at the Musee d’Orsay.

For 6 years I’ve worked almost exclusively with a palette of Cadmium Red, Alizarin, Cadmium Yellow, Gold Ochre, Viridian, Ultramarine Blue, Ivory Black, and Titanium White.

But the Portland light calls for more.

What I needed was a vibrant purple-blue-green addition to my palette. Alizarin was too red to make the purple I was looking for and both Viridian and Ultramarine Blue don’t have the vibrant, chromatic punch in tints.

My first step was to select a variety of colors across the purple-blue-green spectrum and do a few color charts.

Whenever I add new colors to my palette, I always do a simple chart to learn about the colors’ tinting strengths. The top row is the color straight out of the tube and columns include additions of titanium white.

I also use these charts to observe differences between colors and brands.

After many months of experimenting, I’ve settled on Dioxazine Purple and Phthalo Turquoise as my favorite new color combo.

Incidentally (or coincidentally?) these are also the colors of my birthstone: Alexandrite.

Dioxazine Purple and Phthalo Turquoise are both Modern Organic colors that bend towards blue. They are the most bright, chromatic colors out there.

It often feels like I’m launching a bazooka at my painting when I use them! I don’t recommend them for beginners because they can be tricky to handle. But the shimmering effect they create in highlights is exquisite.

The first painting I created using Dioxazine Purple and Phthalo Turquoise (in addition to my usual palette of colors) was the painting above titled “Portland Self Portrait.” Even though I used a reference photo taken in Sacramento, the strength of these beautiful colors shifts the whole palette into the cool range I was looking for.

I’m loving this new combination of colors.

If you look at my work over the past year you can see its presence in many paintings.

As I continue to study color and its effects in certain combinations, I am constantly reminded of this Edgar Degas quote:

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

The more I learn, the more choices and options complicate the process. As an amateur artist I acted purely on impulse and instinct. As a professional artist I have accumulated knowledge and skill that give weight and intent to every mark.

I study painting everyday. Whether it’s looking at other artists’ work, observing how light and color interact , or experimenting through my own practice, I am constantly honing my eye and gaining tools for expression.

Growth takes dedication.

But it pays off.

I know for a fact that how I see color and understand light today is much more finely tuned than even a year ago.

Above is my most recent work. I’m still thinking of a title for this 8×10″ oil painting and welcome title suggestions!

Most of my original paintings are available for purchase. Please contact me for details.

Or, you can ask a question in the comment section of this blog. I enjoy sharing my knowledge and invite your participation.

I hope this post has encouraged you to experiment with some new colors too! What are some of your favorite combinations?


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