On a Spanish Path


Dear Artist,

There’s a hilly path through chestnut plantations and bosky woods for six kilometers between Galaroza and Fuenteheredos. I don’t expect anyone to know where that is — nor does it matter. This time of year the trees are gray and ochre — I now see there’s nothing here that requires my sizeable gob of Dioxazine Purple.

A palette orphan is unfinished business. It’s like the two of clubs; the last you want to play. But in the solitaire of art it can be a capital card.

Take a fresh canvas and energetically apply the last of your paint/film/words. You may be tired or empty from your day’s labor — but you proceed anyway with a final flourish for the sole reason that you simply use up the leftover resource. You will feel casual in your hands, your mind will relax, your imagination will refocus. You are in the land of “extra,” and the oddness of the leftover will automatically renew you. Often as not you will surprise yourself with the post-script. It doesn’t need to be finished — nothing need ever be finished right away. “Tomorrow will be another day,” said Don Quixote on just such a path.

There are trodden paths between places in the ways of our lives. We can elect to stay on them and between the lines. But we are also free to color our skies yellow or our trees purple. These purple trees of mine have now been slightly neutralized by glazing and complemented with the new morning’s palette. Back up the path the painting needs little more. It’s the only good thing I’ve done this week.


“Journey into Spain”
by Robert Henri

Best regards,


PS “An artist’s job is to surprise himself. Use all means possible.” (Robert Henri)

Esoterica: In praise of the arbitrary palette: A specific palette is not always a recipe for a successful product — as in baking. A variety of pigments, often randomly selected and augmented later, lays the ground for imaginative challenge and developmental surprise.


Unrecognized opportunity
by Eleanor Blair, Gainesville, Florida, USA

As powerful as the “palette orphan” is the “missing in action” tube of paint accidentally left behind. Out on a limb without my favorite color du jour I am forced to find a new solution to an old problem. Feel the horror; panic rising. Having driven way WAY out to a pretty place in the middle of nowhere, search the paint box. No white! NO WHITE!!!!!!! Impossible. But what can you do but just plow forward, looking for alternatives. I work on a toned canvas so transparent washes aren’t even an option. I need that opaque white. At least I think I do. Sigh. So, what have I got? Naples Yellow, Pacific Blue, Violet Grey… the painting moves forward. I don’t exactly get what I’d expected, but I do get something valuable. A chance to look at every pigment I use in a completely different context.


Fun with leftovers
by Paula Sue Butts, Folsom California, USA

I can definitely relate to the leftovers and have come up with some rather neat and off beat images. I enjoy these types of moments where your creation in color is dependent on what is left on the palette. It reminds me of being told to clean my plate at the dinner table and not waste food. So, to make this same principle work I end up painting something interesting and enjoyable and I don’t feel like I am throwing money out the window. You are so on target about being renewed in this type of scrap painting. Its great and these are wonderful ways to learn how to use a limited palette and to mix some rather interesting combinations.

(RG note) Monet used to make tiny paintings with the leftover paint on his palette. The amount of leftovers determined how big the miniature was to be.


Writer’s bits
by Bonnie Simpson

Further to your suggestion of using the last of your resources. While writing I’m constantly tossing out unusable sentences or little bits of prose that conflict with the direction I’m going. Rather than delete them I move them out of sight to the bottom of my writing. Later on, these become seeds for poetry, or the germ of a new direction.


Old Master colors
by Asa Grauer, New York, NY, USA

While one can appreciate that an artist can do wonders with a casual or leftover palette—I am interested in finding a traditional oil color palette or equivalent for the purpose of painting portraits in the way of the old masters. Do you have any recommendations?

(RG note) Robert Gamblin is one paint manufacturer who has produced oil colors to replace the typical palettes of the masters. Here’s the Gamblin Old Masters Palette:

Transparent Earth Yellow — use in place of Yellow Ochre for glazing
Transparent Earth Orange — use in place of Burnt Sienna for glazing
Transparent Earth Red — use in place of Venetian Red for glazing
Asphaltum — lightfast match to popular 19th century glazing color
Terre Verte — muted earth green, great for grisaille
Naples Yellow Hue — light earthy yellow with great hiding power
Yellow Ochre — traditional earth yellow
Cerulean Blue — cool, semi-transparent blue, muted in tint
Ultramarine Blue — warm transparent blue
Cobalt Green — cool green with muted tint
Burnt Sienna — natural calcined earth color
Venetian Red — dense with great hiding power, more a brick red
Ivory Black — general mixing black with moderate tinting strength
Flake White Replacement — replicates the working properties of Flake (lead) White without the lead.

Here’s the Gamblin palette recommended for Portraiture:

Naples Yellow Hue — light earthy yellow with great hiding strength
Caucasian Flesh Tone — light pink base for mixing skin tones.
Consider mixing with Yellow Ochre, Olive Green, Venetian Red, Van Dyke Brown
Yellow Ochre — natural earthy yellow
Transparent Earth Yellow — use in place of Yellow Ochre for glazing
Transparent Earth Orange — use in place of Burnt Sienna for glazing
Transparent Earth Red — use in place of Venetian Red for glazing
Terre Verte — muted earth green, great for grisaille
Ultramarine Blue — warm (toward red) transparent blue
Cobalt Green — cool green with neutral tint
Van Dyke Brown — brownish transparent black
Flake White Replacement — replicates the working properties of Flake (lead) White without the lead.


Master’s palettes
by Heather Richmond, UK

I’m interested in using similar colours as masters such as Tintoretto and Rubens. Any suggestions?

(RG note) Rubens’ palette is one that has been systematically researched. I’ve tried a few figurative works using approximations of his palette. Rich reds and warm shadows are particularly good. Perhaps the Flake White replacement mentioned above will suit you. I like to sort of make it by taking titanium white and adding a bit of modeling paste (in acrylic) and yellow ochre. Rubens’ basic palette probably consisted at minimum of Lead (Flake) white, Madder, Malachite green, Orpiment, Ivory black, Yellow lake, Vermilion, Ultramarine blue made with Lapis Lazuli, Burnt sienna, Yellow ochre, Red ochre, Cobalt blue, Tere verte, and Verte ajur.

A note on glazing. A great deal of my glazing is done with Quinacridone Gold and Phthalo blue. You might notice that there’s not much of a Prussian type blue in a lot of early palettes. Too many glazes bring out the mud and these blues can be tricky.

Here are some recommended addresses where you can get information about paint:



Comfortable colors
by Henry Hyde, UK

Getting together with a palette that is comfortable and then letting it take you where it may has been my system. While happenstance is fun I think you will have to admit that using the right palette is important.

(RG note) Right up there with a good walk and a gallon of water every day.


The muscle of intuition
by Andrew Pears

These creative acts we aspire to are part recipe and part intuition. One drops either at his or her peril. The redundant resource — as in the gob of violet — helps to flex the muscle of intuition.


Investigating fractals
by Michael Aronoff, Saltspring Island, BC, Canada

My interest has been in the creative process; what sets it in motion, what feeds it, how to link it to life experience. I see by your writing that you are involved in a similar focus. For me, working in abstract allows a free flow of exploration re color and form, but there needs to be a grounding somewhere to some aesthetic principal that makes a piece work. In the last few years I have been looking at fractals. There is a video narrated by Arthur C. Clark, with explanations by mathematicians about this modern discovery of a new geometry or mathematics or paradigm. It includes Dr. Mandelbrot who first discovered one of these ‘sets’ on a computer. This, I believe is a new way of seeing the world around us. When people look at the fractal images they tell me they had seen this before, in dreams, first acid trip, concussion, etc. I have watched this video now over 28 times with different people, mostly artists. I am interested in their response to the ideas and images. What brings me to this is that there is a different aesthetics developing from this new understanding. In the past, composition was complete and orderly within the frame. It might have inferred a bigger picture beyond the frame but the eye could comfortably rest within the frame. It viewed objects as tangible and fixed structures. This fractal perspective suggests that what is seen is a snapshot of an ongoing process that expands into infinity with no ultimate focal point or visible order. In order to look at the constantly moving image, one has to develop a ‘soft focus’ otherwise your eye follows some part of the image as it slides off the screen. Some older people find it hard to look at it because they cannot get the hang of letting the forms wash over them. What makes each ‘snapshot coherent is that every part of the small picture is a reference to the larger, more infinite picture. In this way, an essence well caught can give some sense however finite or tiny, to the texture of the infinite picture which is impossible to grasp, has an infinite number of reference points, no up or down inside or out, etc. Why do I want to catch this kind of imagery? I would like to make images that have a stronger connection to the universal. Even an abstract (or maybe especially, I don’t know) can inspire a resonance with the viewer that may set a seed for a better understanding of the universe and nature. I think we have come of age for this different world view. As a parallel, my thought on cubism is that our culture needed to help the individual see himself as a composite of multiple roles and personas, especially when people moved to the city, worked in a different place from home, did different jobs in a lifetime including being a family member, community member, citizen, etc. There was a need to justify one’s self as a complete integrity despite the faceting and overlapping that their roles demanded of them (and still do). So how do you catch that on canvass? I’m working on it and my approach includes music, sounds, movement, dance, and looking at nature with a different eye.

(RG note) Wondering about fractals? Here’s a place to start:



You may be interested to know that artists from 74 countries have visited these sites since June 1, 2000.

That includes William P Brown who writes, “Life is a series of leftover gobs which must sooner or later be dealt with.”

And Jesus Martin who says, “I wait until my gobs are dry, then I pick them off the palette and stick them here and there on my paintings.”

And Hector Choder who says, “My gob’s always the most expensive cinnabar.”

And Ann Burgess who says, “I never have any left over — I keep using my paint on my painting until it’s all used up.”

And Z. Boyce who asks, “What can a sculptor do with those little chips that fly off?” And Francie Mary who says, “In life, simply be audacious.”



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