M. Graham is a small manufacturer in the USA, created by artists with the intent to produce high quality paints. Their work environment is solvent free, which is the approach that I too like to take in my studio — I’m concerned about the environment for our well-being. I can add walnut oil to thin M. Graham paints, without having to add turpentine or mineral spirits, and I can even wash my brushes using a solvent free brush wash, which I make. You can read my Brush Wash blog post to learn more, if interested. But getting back to walnut oil, when added to pigment it produces a richness of color, and leaves a slight sheen over the entire surface — as long as I’m careful to add it evenly to my paint while painting — which means I don’t need to add a varnish after the paint has dried. Also, walnut oil is less likely to yellow over time, compared to linseed oil, which is a more commonly used medium. However, using walnut oil takes some extra thought when painting, because if it’s not used correctly it can cause the paint to crack over time. M. Graham shares tips on their website for solvent free painting painting, which includes ways to prevent cracking. They also offer a downloadable PDF that contains safety data, which I referred to when deciding on my new color palette, because I wanted to choose paints with the least amount of concerns. It wasn’t easy giving up my Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Cerulean Blue and some other favorites of mine, but once I got used to mixing with a different set of colors I was able to again paint with color accuracy and vibrancy. And because some of the colors in my new color palette may still hold some concerns, I try to follow safe handling practices, such as not eating or drinking when working with materials, and avoiding skin contact and washing after use.
Most artists choose a limited color palette, which means having a set of favorite colors, usually including at least the primary colors (red, yellow, and blue), or these plus the secondary colors (orange, green, and purple), and sometimes a cool and warm version of each, and then maybe a couple colors that would be good for mixing skin tones or colors found in nature, depending on the subject matter. Artists might also include one or two “extra” colors for when needed. For example, I tend to include Manganese Blue Hue only when I want my landscape painting to have a bright blue sky — rarely do I use this color in my still-life paintings. Most artists also include white, and some artists include black. I never use black straight from the tube, because I can achieve a more interesting black by mixing all three primary colors.
The color palette that I use may change in time, or from time to time, but for now and for the most part these are the colors that I use:
1. Titanium White
2. Azo Yellow
3. Indian Yellow
4. Yellow Ochre
5. Burnt Umber
6. Naphthol Red
7. Alizarin Crimson
8. Dioxazine Purple
9. Manganese Blue Hue
10. Ultramarine Blue
11. Phthalocyanine Blue
I usually purchase my M. Graham paints and walnut oil though Dick Blick. Before I begin painting I place a dollop of each paint color on my glass palette, which is simply a large piece of clear glass with smoothed edges. I place under the glass a large sheet of white paper, which helps me to better see the colors when I’m mixing paint.
I purchased a small kitchen island specifically for use in my art studio, because it has storage space for art supplies and it’s on wheels, which makes it easy to roll when I want to move it in place or out of the way. I had looked at tool cabinets and taborets designed specifically for artists, which would have worked just as well, but the island was on sale so that’s what I chose. Pretty much everything I need while painting sits on this island.
I keep walnut oil next to my glass palette, in a small glass bottle with a dropper cap, which allows me to easily add drops of oil into the paint as needed. I have on hand a palette knife to make mixing the paint a little easier, and my brushes sit in a ceramic utensil holder. Paper towels and a jar of brush wash are also right there, for when I want to clean a brush before using it again with a different color, and for when I’m done painting and need to clean any brushes that I may have left soaking in the jar. And, that’s about it! Now you know the the limited color palette that I use, plus how I organize it and use it.