The PALETTE Colour Dynamics: a 7-step method to build up your painting from blank canvas to finished work
P: Plan and Prepare
Before you ever touch paper or canvas, you need to know what you want to do. What is the subject? Will it need a large or smaller canvas? Portrait or landscape oriented? What is the focal point? Will you include the whole wide world or just a section, a crop? What building blocks, what colours, what contrasts will serve your purpose?
The more you know where you are heading, the easier the painting process, and usually the better the painting. Not to mention time. SO time spent planning (often staring at a blank canvas or two, seemingly lost at sea) is never lost: I find it comes back threefold during the actual painting.
Allocate your elements on the canvas, making a very quick map for yourself to follow. You might have heard of this as sketching: I had to fit in with the acronym PALETTE, and found a word that also prevents people from going down the wrong road, towards unnecessary tedium. Too early for that, even if you intend to create a classic, realistic work. Use a pencil if you must, though I can’t see why: a diluted gentle colour (of the same medium you are working in later) can do the same, applied with a brush or a sponge. The point here is truly only to place marks to show how large the elements of your composition are, where they go, what space they take up. A few strokes signalling top and bottom of a tree, house, or face, will do. Do not worry about exact outlines or details. You will cover all these marks in the next few stages, so don’t waste your time. Just mark the space, allocate.
L: Lay out the Bulk
This is when you place larger chunks on the canvas, still without worrying about outlines and details. Big blocks of your composition, the main areas of light and dark, and starting to use colours (to be adjusted later if they are slightly off).
Now you can take a break, have a coffee or tea, and come back with a critical eye: are you going in the right direction? Sure it looks like a mess, that’s not the question. But is it a riveting, balanced composition? Are the proportions all right? You should see it at a glance. This is the time to go back over the first three steps and correct any placement or sizing issues. You will save yourself from frustration by making the necessary correcions now, instead of at the end, having laboured over the wrong base…
Once you have the right balance of shapes and proportions, you begin developing your picture. Light and dark tones are a key, the strongest contrast being capturing the viewer’s gaze. Adjust the tone of your building blocks, lighten them or darken them as needed. Adjust the hues (colour) also, if required. In acrylics this will mean a layering process, adding interest to vast areas of single colour. Enjoy!
This is another element, closely connected to the layering process above: if you work with an impasto technique, with heavy paint applied with the brush or knife, automatically you end up with a textured surface. You can choose to develop the whole painting with the same technique, making it coherent throughout, or pick certain areas and lift them with textured application.
Now you earned the right to fiddle: focal point and finishing details are the last bits. Done your work well, this is fairly quick. Last details can be any highlights, and smaller marks to bring into focus some elements. Don’t overdo it: leave some head space for the viewer to finish the painting, to become part of the creative process!
You can harness the power of colours and learn to paint expressively. Keep it up!
If you are interested in learning more, I hold short courses and one-off workshops to help people get a strong grasp on the creative process, no prior experience needed.