What is a color palette in painting?
A color palette is a thin plate on which the artist-painter prepares his colors. The most classic palette for tube paints is ovoid and made of wood, but they are available commercially in different shapes (rectangle, round) and materials (plastic, glass, porcelain, ceramic, disposable paper pad). By extension, the color palette also designates the colors chosen by the painter for his canvas and the way of combining them. Let's find out why the color palette has become an essential element in painting, both literally and figuratively.
A tool that has become the painter's attribute
It seems that the very first color palettes were for body use, often made of stone in order to easily grind the pigments. Animal bones have also long served as palettes, with a concavity and a hole to slide the thumb in. Wooden palettes as we know them today first appeared in painted artworks in Flanders and the Netherlands at the start of the Renaissance. “Tempera” paint (with emulsion, often with egg) dried quickly and required painting in very small areas. The advent of oil paint that was much more fluid and had a longer drying time changed the way of painting. Even if it was then more a question of superpositions than of mixtures, this evolution favored the emergence of a new tool, the palette. In the 16th century, the use of the palette to mix colors was so well developed that it became the attribute of the painter. In the workshops, apprentices learn to arrange colors on their master's palette. Although no clear organizational rule emerges, it would seem that it was customary to arrange white and black at each end. In the 19th century, palettes included up to twenty colors. Here is a non-exhaustive list of colors with names evocative of the shade or components used for their manufacture: ivory black, emerald green, cobalt blue, cadmium red, burnt sienna, yellow ocher, titanium white. The study of palettes can shed light on the style and personality of painters. It reveals to us, for example, that El Greco had chosen a simple and restrained color palette, very original for a 16th century artist. The study of the palette of the impressionist artist Renoir teaches us that he knew how to do without black (you can't make this up! - "noir" means black in French). The palette of the pointillist painter Seurat was very ordered, unlike the "furious" palette of Van Gogh. A palette was often used for several years, with layers of paint superimposed, which is why painters can be very attached to it. Some paint palettes are so beautiful that they find a second life as decorative objects.
The choice of colors and their arrangementThe color palette of a canvas also designates, by extension, all the colors chosen by the painter and the way of arranging them in relation to each other (surface area, arrangement, encounters, repetition and relationships). The choice of colors can depend on the subject and the inspiration, but not only that. Some painters think about their color palette before starting their canvas, with an idea of the desired result based on the emotion they want to convey. Sometimes, the intention will be defined during creation and the colors with it. The painter Claude Monet was a great “experimenter” with color and liked to create Artworks with identical compositions with different color palettes, like his series “Les nymphéas”. Impressionist artists overturned the rules of Academic Art by using colors freely, in small touches, to capture a moment, a sensation. “Fauve” artists will go even further by translating their emotions through the use of bright colors. Artists can also be sensitive to the symbolism of colors, which varies according to times and cultures, or to the ideas they have about the nature of hues and their meaning. Kandinsky thus perceived colors as "vibrations of the soul" rather than simple effects of light. Some artists are fascinated by a color, like the famous blue of painter Yves Klein. Others let themselves be carried away by their mood, the seasons, real or imaginary trips, encounters. Image and color professionals (creators, decorators, advertisers, etc.) sometimes use tools such as the color wheel to develop a color palette by following a few association principles. Complementary colors located opposite each other can be chosen to create contrast, for example red and green. Conversely, similar colors located next to each other could be a guarantee of harmony. Graphic palettes are now available on computers through software that transposes a virtual palette onto the screen from which the user chooses their colors. Paper color charts and trend books made from cutouts are not outdated and continue to inspire creative people around the world.
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