Monday, May 23, 2011

My Palette

I have been asked about the palette that I use: the nuances and secrets that are just mine.

Ever shoot a shotgun?  That describes the pattern of buy, use, buy some more and then have too many doubles and go out and buy some more.  It is a scattered approach.  I have shopped for pastels at specialty art retailers, from catalogs, off of eBay and from unusual places, such as stationary stores.  You would do well to look at your needs first, and then collect in a more goal oriented manner.

Here are some practices that pastelists follow in collecting their palette of sticks.

Collect by brand.

If you fall in love, or even like, with a particular brand, then you may acquire their color chart and begin collecting several sticks within the brand.  This is a safe choice, because the manufacturers consider the whole range of colors and values that are possible and profitable for them to make.  Dakota Pastels sells hand made color charts, which is a great investment when you are interested in a given brand and want to have a lot of them without too many duplicates, or want to be able to replace sticks within the line, and need to identify a color that has lost its label.

Collect by color wheel.

Kitty Wallis once had me make a color wheel with my sticks, and then it was easier to identify the holes in my collection.  Do this to find out what you need to have a full range of hues.  What you need to do is arrange each hue also by value in order to cover the scale of darks to lights.

Collect by trial and error.

See the above comment on shotguns.  One guaranteed way to find yourself with doubles and to get lost organizationally is to buy sets that manufacturers label as "Landscape" or "Southwest Landscape" or "Portrait" sets.  Buying any two of these sets almost guarantees you'll double up in some colors.

Collect by filling in the gaps.

As with the color wheel method, one can systematically buy either open stock, or well identified sets that cover a range within one hue.  A good example is the Diane Townsend sets of blues.  Another way to buy to fill-in your needs is to get sets of very darks, or tinted grays.  You are less likely to double-up within a brand, but you will have more of one color from different sets.  That is a good thing, since each brand behaves in unique ways - one more abrasive than another, one softer than the other, etc.

Buy the whole set.

This is the rich man's method of collecting pastels, because complete sets can run an artist around $1,500-$2,000.  

It is a yummy and rewarding way to establish a big collection, though.  Not to mention that the boxes may help with storage and organization.  I like to put all of my pastels in one big studio tray, which I made myself, so that my palette is organized my way, rather than the manufacturer's way.  Figuring out what makes a manufacturer organize their pastels in a particular way requires degrees in chemistry and engineering.  Don't even try if that's not you.

Collect by market suggestion.

No explanation required.  We are all subject to the forces of the marketplace.  Your best defense is to try pastels a few at a time before you buy deep in a brand.

Open Stock.

This is the method of choice for the well organized professional, who knows what he wants to fulfill his set, or who needs to replace sticks or improve his palette.


As mentioned above, I prefer no-nonsense sets organized around a hue or around a value set.  Blues, greens, grays, darks and such.  Dine Townsend does a fine job of this.

Make your own.

See my posts on making your own sticks.

Next post:  My secret palette.


SamArtDog said...

Another chock-full chalk post, Casey. Thanks (again).

I need some good ideas for a studio tray. I like your type of layout, organized by hue and value. I'd rather not buy a Heilman box and I can't/won't make my own. Scared to dump out my Unison boxes. Any ideas for some type of box to use instead?

Casey Klahn said...

If I posted about how to construct the tray, would that help?

Really, you want it shallow - about 1.25" or 1.5" deep. And large, but not too wide because you need to reach there.

I have an old Sennelier 100 set wooden box that fits my outdoor set. And, cigar boxes are sometimes shallow enough, but then they are only so big. Hmm.

Casey Klahn said...

I have been knocking around the idea of manufacturing these. I'd need a fine woodworker who'd be willing to make small runs.

SamArtDog said...

Hope you do... in your copious free time. Har. You'll have an interested buyer here.

Katherine Tyrrell said...

A really good post Casey

First time around I bought a basic set of Rembrandts and then after that only bought colours I liked using - from Daler Rowney and Schminke

Then I got my first set of Unisons. The next day I went back and bought several sets of Unisons and then added in the remaining sets as time went on. That's when they cost about £20 per set. Not cheap then but not out of reach either. Plus I got a complete set of values for a particular colour theme. I loved that.

Then Unison brought out the darks and the Lights - and my I was even happier.

Since then I've only ever had the urge to buy the odd one or two pastels by other manufacturers!

Astrid Volquardsen said...

Hi Casey,
thanks for this and the upcoming post. I definately need to reorganize my system, so I am curious about your solution.

I have so many pastelsticks that I think I don't need any more. In three weeks time we will be at Dakota Art and I don't know why, but I somehow have the feeling, that I will leave Amerika with even more pastel sticks for my palette:-).......

Casey Klahn said...

Katherine, thanks for the exposure at MAM on this post.

Asti, I hope you do plan on buying at the candy shop - Dakota Pastels. When I went there for a workshop, students were given the back room tour and a nice discount.

I am writing new posts now.