Use “Color Charts” To Stay In The Moment & Enjoy Your Materials

It’s a challenge to stay in the moment. We tend to worry about both the future and the past. Stress. Worry. “What if’s…”

Twisting your stomach in knots in worry is not helpful. As we know, the next moment is not guaranteed. And, the previous moment is just an elusive memory. So the NOW is what we have to live. The truly liberated, fully actualized person can stay in the moment AND live a life in the moment.

Michael J. Fox, who had an early and terrifying diagnosis of Parkinson’s, has said,

“My happiness grows in direct proportion to my acceptance, and in inverse proportion to my expectations.”

This reminds us, acceptance is a state of grace. It is a calming word to “let go of the struggle.”

An art technique I use to help calm me and to “force” me to stay in the moment is the creation of color charts.

There is no one description or definition of color charts or tint charts. Basically, they are created through a process of arranging a set of various paints on a paper in a grid or a circle (like a color wheel) or a less formal structure.

Going through the process of painting in each shape, I find calming, like working with a coloring book. Your thoughts are focused, but the activity is not all-consuming mentally. It is not a heavy cognitively challenge. It’s relaxing.

Through the process, I discover new attributes about my paint and how they work with the others on my palette.

The process is also helpful in refining your fine motor skills. Like a vocalist doing warmups, or an orchestra tuning up, the process of thinking through the color chart and completing each shape is a thoughtful, contemplative activity.

I’ll admit, some people do not find it relaxing. It it’s “not working” for you, then skip it. No one needs to torture themselves for art!

There are no rules. You can do a color chart however you want.

Many manufacturers offer color charts of their paints. Whenever these are available, especially online, I grab them. They give you a great deal of information about the paint and point out qualities that are intentionally included in the paint, like transparency.

Here is a chart from one of my favorite watercolor manufacturers, schmincke color chart

Generally, I start by creating a grid with narrow rows in between the squares. Sometimes I take every color in a set and fill in one square of my chart box with each color.

This grid is laid out to do a color chart on my Schmincke Field Box of watercolor paint.

As you may be able to see from the shadows in this photo, I often paint outside. I try to find light shade. Usually, I don’t want dappled light if I am doing an actual painting, but it was what I happened to get in this set up!

I start with 100% concentration from the tube and then keep watering it down until I get to the lightest-light. This allows me to compare how many tints I can get from each color.

Not all paint with the same name from various manufacturers handles itself the same. In this photo I squeezed a bit of paint from each tube. The first two are American Journey and they are not exactly the same. Tube 2, 3, and 4 are different manufacturers and they are different and act differently on your paper even though theoretically they have the same chemical formula.

Sometimes I take similarly named hues, or hues with the same name by different manufacturers, and compare them. In this chart, I actually used a fresh squeeze from each of the tubes of paint. In my example above, if you follow horizontally across a line, you will see that each line is primarily one “hue.” By applying the actual paint to the paper, using a squeeze from the tube, I can grab a bit of the paint with a wet brush and compare colors. (It is a fun exercise, but it is unnecessary unless you have lots and lots of paints — as I do.)

Here’s about one-third of my paint collection to give you an idea. Take it from me, try not to buy this much paint! 🙂

Sometimes I take each color and mix it with every other color on the chart. It’s quite a bit more complicated, but you can then perceive how colors layer over other colors and either work in a pleasing way, or not.

I suggest using color charts as a warm-up to a painting session, as a way to calm yourself, and to stay in the moment. Enjoy!

You can create your chart in any way you want. I think it’s always helpful to:

  • Include the name of the paint and the manufacturer.
  • Include any notes about the mixtures, like, “this is a gorgeous blend.”
  • Include any observations about the aspects of the paint, such as, “granulating,” or “dries flat and dull.”
  • Consider aspects such as the opaqueness or transparency, colorfastness or fugitive quality.
  • A date when you made the color chart.

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