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Using Paint Chips

Has anyone ever went to the hardware store and picked up the free paint chip color samples and used them to color/design their painting??

Just curious how you can do this??

Confused on if you use different color values or stick with the same, etc, etc... Any help appreciated!


  • GaryGary -
    edited January 2013
    Hi Savanna! :)
    I have not used paint chips from a hardware. I have made my own paint chips organized in a chart form using Mark's basic palette and used them extensively when I started using his method. It gave me a place to start looking for particular colors or color families. I assume most folks who paint do this exercise....I found out since that most folks in fact do not paint them because it is tedious, time consuming and takes quite a bit of paint to do properly. I highly recommend it and have done it several times as I changed my palette a bit. I posted all my charts on the old forum. Schmid, even though a master painter, repainted his chip charts every few years and said that each time he did it he learned a bit more about how colors work.

    I don't know how Mark feels about this exercise. I was initially surprised at the large number of colors such an exercise produces and gives visual evidence in an organized format to Mark's statement about how he can mix almost any color he needs using his limited palette. The numbers of chips are large enough (depending on how many steps you paint for each paint combination) to serve the purpose of your question.

    For planning purposes I guess you could use paint chips from the hardware store but you wouldn't learn much about color mixing. Someone with your talent and experience obviously knows much about mixing colors but for most less experienced artists I think it would serve their short and long term interests to make the effort to paint their own chips.
  • I agree with Gary, make your own with your chosen palette. I have done this a couple of times and my latest version is on hard board panels 12X20 with 1 inch squares of paint. You can mix any combos that seems appropriate for your painting style and as Gary said, you will learn so much. Many of the accomplished painters over the years used this exercise for themselves and their students. I was amazed that when I first started working on the restoration I talked about in another post I had a difficult time mixing the colors that was on the painting from another person. During that process I did some color charts and it was like night and day. It seems that I have enhanced my ability to see the subtle changes in tone and value. Also, with the charts in hand I can virtually find the color I need and know exactly what I need to mix to get it. Richard Schmid's book Alla Prima describes how he goes about making the charts. A book all painters should include in their library. I hope this helps.
  • Okay guys...I'm still confused...

    So we are making our own colors charts ...sounds I make a chart with little squares..then what?? What am I actually mixing...are you saying make a color chart for each painting...on colors that I'm seeing?

    About the paint chips from the hardware...someone mentioned that they pasted them to a board in sections of color and value...for reference...but I'm not seeing how this could improve my color mixing? confusion is normal...its a way of life for me 8-|
  • Hi All,

    I know this is a great exercise, but I never found it exciting. I still have my charts from college and I never referred back to them for any reason. I own books on color, charts, light source, etc. Even though the color chart is insightful. I still don't find the use for them. I would think (and I'm always wrong:) ) if you forget on how to mix color or harmony reasons, other then that...well you know. If I'm missing something I would love to know more.

    Since I've started with this method, (my opinion) charts are not needed. The color checker Mark designed is helpful for matching, and to see the width as well length of placement value. Even if you think its wrong. Double or triple checking the color, and it matches...I'm good. Unless someone suggest differently. I'm open to another view.

    I have use paint chips for decor purposes and decorative painting. I worked as a decorative painter for a trash to treasure shop a while back. Only thing I got out of is mixing, and matching.

    Savannah you are not alone on the confusion part. We are both in the same boat.

    8-| :))
  • Savannah, Dan Edmondson has a video on making them that may be on you tube.....let me look and see if it is one of his freebies or students only and will get a link if I can.
  • Lets say you have 5 colors on your palette. Take, say cad yellow. Put it in a square. Then mix some white to make a value step. Put that in a square below the original. Then add more white for another value step and it goes to the next square down. Continue to add value steps so you have 5-6 squares in a line ranging from the original to white with a tint of color. These are large value steps. Then take another color say ultramarine blue and add just enough of that to the cad yellow to change it. Put that in a top square and then go through the step of adding white again to do the value steps. Go to another color, add that to the cad yellow just enough to change and repeat the process. Do this for each color with the cad yellow. Then start another board with one of your palette colors and go through the whole process again. If you are using ultramarine blue next when you add the cad yellow it will be different than the cad yellow board because blue is the dominate this time and you add only enough cad yellow to change the blue. You learn how the colors mix, how heavy they are for staining or changing when added to another and how they relate to each other. I found this to be a valuable exercise. To some it may be worthless. I don't know how well I explained this so if anyone can expand or clarify please do. With a limited palette I believe it is much easier to maintain color harmony. Dang, I don't know why I tried to explain this. Schmid did better. lol :)
  • Sounds right Bubba G.....I know most use canvas or canvas paper and tape off with masking tape to make the squares then you pull off the tape so you have nice neat squares.i have not done it but sure cant see where it would hurt!
  • edited January 2013
    Hi Gfish,
    You've done a great job on explaining the value of doing these charts.
    Anything that helps an artist improve on learning color or mixing is truly the exact opposite of worthless. Your work is proof.
    gfish said:

    Do this for each color with the cad yellow. Then start another board with one of your palette colors and go through the whole process again. If you are using ultramarine blue next when you add the cad yellow it will be different than the cad yellow board because blue is the dominate this time and you add only enough cad yellow to change the blue. You learn how the colors mix, how heavy they are for staining or changing when added to another and how they relate to each other. I found this to be a valuable exercise. To some it may be worthless. I don't know how well I explained this so if anyone can expand or clarify please do. With a limited palette I believe it is much easier to maintain color harmony. Dang, I don't know why I tried to explain this. Schmid did better. lol :)

    This is perfect. So my next question...when you've tried Mark's method, isn't it the same process?

    Liz you're right, it can't hurt to revisit this subject or try it again.

    Thank YOU Gfish!

  • edited January 2013
    Gary said:

    Savannah, here are some examples of my charts using Mark's colors. I'll just post a few so you get the idea. There are lots of ways to do this....this was my first set of charts. I've done several since in different ways.

    Gary, you've answered my question, and you've shown fantastic examples. Excellent charts. Perfect in fact for Marks method against the stain. Now I would refer back to those all time. Thanks for sharing.

    :) =D> =D> =D>
  • Liz...appreciate your help..your such a "sweetie"

    Gfish....thanks so much...I understand much better now...I could see where we could refer back to these charts a lot!

    Gary. your charts are beautiful....thank you for sharing this...when time permits I will be making some... but doubt if I'm can duplicate your precision...are these made on canvas board or what?
  • Thank you Savannah. They are painted on heavy canvas paper. I punch holes in them and put them in a 3-ring binder. I've done color charts for 4 different palettes - 3 of them on canvas or canvas paper and each in its own binder for quick reference. The 4th I painted on a 2' by 3' board but it's entirely to awkward to have sitting around or having to move all the time. I was going to hang it like a picture near where I painted but didn't really like that palette so eventually I threw it away when we moved.
  • I agree with using heavy canvas paper or even regular canvas and putting in a binder. I did min on Masonite panel and have a color set on each side. They were then varnished but are awkward to use and store. Looks like you did a nice job on yours Gary. What did you use to divide the squares. I used blue painters tape from the hardware store. I don't look at mine often but I learned so much doing them and if I get stuck, they work.
  • That's a bit overwhelming
  • edited January 2013
    Savannah said:

    Has anyone ever went to the hardware store and picked up the free paint chip color samples and used them to color/design their painting?

    Just curious how you can do this??

    Confused on if you use different color values or stick with the same, etc, etc... Any help appreciated!


    There seems to be the view that you should take a number of colours mix them to a system ( Munsell ?) and produce your own chips.
    Ken Davies the realist painter in his first book recommended you take some housepainter chips from a DIY store and try to match them. This is not a million miles away from what Mark is suggesting in his videos.
    I learned more about colour mixing using the Davies method than the Schmid method which I found to be a bit academic ( I still have them but never refer to them )

  • Gary I didn't use tape on these color first charts. I drew out each chart with a ruler and pencil and then just painted in the little pixels on a monitor. I did use painters blue tape on the second set to create equal sized rectangles separated by the width of the blue tape. For me, I found that the colors touching (or very near) each other is 'better'....not really sure what I mean by that except it looks better to me and I seem to see the colors better. For the last set I created a template for the format in Photoshop and printed it out on the canvas paper...lots quicker and better organized...and more readable!
  • You can get really skinny 1/4 inch. That would be best I think
  • Liz that is assuming that my old shaky hand can stay inside 1/4 inch. lol Gary, I like the printing on canvas paper. I guess you are saying the paper fed into your printer ok.
  • Yes Gary, it ran through the printer just fine. I was more than a bit skeptical but it turns out really well.
  • Thanks Vangie....I first lessons were on the Munsell this is a good refresher course for me...
  • If any of you have the Schmid videos, one of them has a section at the end explaining how he uses these color charts before starting a painting. I want to say it is on "June" video. I remember seeing it once when it was being shown at a friends studio while he was conducting a art class for a small group of people he knew. I keep thinking I should order that video, because it had some great painting tips from the small part I saw.

    Basically what he does is look at a scene, landscape, still life, maybe a figure and if he has any question to the color group he will use he uses the color panels he has made, by holding them up and comparing them to the overall scene's color. I'll try and remember to ask my friend about this video and find out which one it is one and let this group know.
  • All 4 of his videos are wonderful to watch and can be rented at
  • Thanks Azpainter & Liz...somewhere I have Schmid's book, need to read it again...and thanks Liz...didn't know you could rent videos...will check this out
  • @Gary can you explain your color charts. The first column say blue , a steps of white and black to make steps. How do you make 2nd, 3rd etc columns and then arrive at yellow or are use mixing yellow and blue? Thanks for any help.
  • Hi Susie!
    @SusieQ There is nothing exact about this process and it can be done many ways. Using the blue-yellow chart you mentioned I'll briefly describe how I did it which I think you've probably already guessed at correctly. First I should mention these are done using only the colors and brands of paint Mark recommends in the supply list. When I use the word black, it's the mixture of burnt umber and ultramarine blue and the white is the titanium white. The charts are painted on toned canvas paper.

    For the blue-yellow chart you'll see a little black horizontal arrow in the left margin and pointing to a blue in the first column. This is the blue straight from the tube. I start with a large pile of blue and separate it into 3 unequal puddles (how big these piles of paint need to be comes with practice in making the charts, how big your little boxes are for each step, etc).

    Paint the straight-out-of-the-tube pure blue near the bottom of the first column. In one of the small puddles of pure blue make a darker color, add a bit of black until you get to enough difference to paint the square under the pure blue. The amount of difference between the pure blue (base color for the first vertical column) is up to can make the difference very large or very tiny....totally up to your personal choice. In my case the difference between pure blue and black was not large enough to make a step mixed with pure blue + black, so I painted the bottom square with my black paint. Take your second little puddle of pure blue and begin to add white, paint each step you mix (by adding more white) into one of the little vertical squares above the pure blue until your last step is pure white. My bottom step in each vertical column is pure 'black' and the top step is pure white. So the first vertical column on the far left is now finished. This first vertical column has no yellow at all, only blue.

    For the second vertical column, take your base pile of pure blue, add a touch of yellow until you get a color shift that you want (large shift or small depending on how much difference you want/see). Take this pile of blue+yellow, divide it into 3 piles. For the first pile, add black making as many darker steps as you want until you get to pure black. For the second pile, add white making as many lighter steps as you want until you reach white. The second vertical column is finished.

    Take the remaining base pile of blue+ yellow you made for the second vertical column, add a bit more yellow - this becomes your base color for the third vertical column. Repeat the mixing process described above using black and white until you get your third vertical column finished. Keep going until you reach the last column which will be a yellow column with no blue.....just yellow mixed with white or black.

    Each time you mix a new base color for each new vertical column, start that vertical column by painting the base color in the box that is on horizontal line of boxes marked by the little black arrow in the left column. In other words all the base colors are in the horizontal line of boxes marked by the little black horizontal arrow on the left.

    I find this to be a great way to learn about how colors interact, how transparent colors mix with opaque colors, how much white it takes to lighten a color or how much black it takes to darken a color. You'll quickly learn, for example, how to get all sorts of greens which really helps when you do a landscape.

    Lastly, you can do the same type of exercise mixing more than two colors....for example, you could take one of the colors from the blue-yellow chart we just talked about and add various amounts of red - for each of these new 3 color mix, add white/black to make new steps of that base color, etc. I play with color mixing all the time just to see what I can come up with. Often I'll take a picture out of a magazine and see how close I can come to different colors in the pictures. The color checker is a wonderful tool to help you do this. Your color mixing skills increase rapidly as does your ability to recognize color groups. You've always got your color charts for quick reference if you get stuck. The amount of time you spend picking color groups and mixing colors/steps becomes less, you paint 'faster', etc.

    Doing charts is time consuming, can use lots of paint and requires patience. I've done this a number of times using different approaches than the way described above and have learned a great deal every time I've done it. Folks talk all the time about practicing your drawing to improve your skill which leads to better paintings....I would argue you should practice your color mixing skills for the same purpose! :)
  • @Gary. Thanks again for answering. I thought that was kinda what you did but just wanted to be sure as I think I will try doing some to try and learn my coloring mixing. I can't paint if I can't get my colors right. Thanks.
  • Gary, just two big :-* for sharing your charts
  • Gary said:

    Here are the chroma strings for yellow, red, blue and brown. These are real helpful due to the glare...lousy photos but you get the idea about how these were done. The 'x' in the first column is the tube color.

    Gary, first off, you're my hero with regard to these strings! Second, I want to do the value and chroma strings (and am now reading up on munsell theory, which sounds very much like standard color theory to me, but I only started reading about color theory recently, so maybe munsell theory was radical at some point?) anyway, the chroma strings here, are they just desaturated from left to right? If so, what method do I use to desaturate? do I just add in complementary color in steps to desaturate (reduce the chroma)?

    Thanks so much!

  • GaryGary -
    edited March 2013
    @rgr Thank you rgr and I really hope you do a color study as it really helps to better understand your colors and how they work together. For the strings you mentioned, I started with the yellow or one of its steps in the left vertical column. I mixed a series of gray puddles using black (ultramarine blue + burnt umber) and titanium white = right vertical column with black at the bottom and white at the top. Then for each horizontal line of color, I'd take the yellow in the left vertical column (for example the fourth from the top) and add enough of the corresponding gray (gray from the far right column, fourth from the top) to get a color shift, paint in the color in the box in the second column from the left, fourth down. Mix in a bit more of the same gray, paint the next box on the same horizontal row, etc, etc. This is just one way it could be done but it worked for me = using gray to desaturate. I did do a a color wheel where I used the complementary color to desaturate and I'll see if I can find it and post it here when I do. Hope this helps.
  • GaryGary -
    edited March 2013
    @rgr I found a couple pics of the color wheels I painted and mentioned in the post above. The first is just using the colors straight out of the tube to create the outside rim of the color wheel. The second pic is using the complementary colors to fill in the center. As you can imagine, the blue and red out of the tube are dark, so most of the colors are going to be dark in this particular wheel. Also, you get lots of greens in this wheel due to the blue component all the colors on the rim except the color mixes made only using yellow and red. You can make wheels using various combinations of tints or shades of colors on the outside rim and then fill in the middle. I've played with this type thing often but these are the only pics I have at the moment.
  • @Gary I did a similar wheel, but it was no where near as thorough. I had 12 colors on the outside of my wheel (3 primary, 3 secondary, 6 tertiary) and worked across to get graduated complementary mixes. The tinting strengths of the paints were new to me though and I didn't do a particularly good job, though I did learn how strong ultramarine blue is. :)

    I plan to do the value/chroma string exercise soon. Thanks again!

  • I've always made my own color charts. And I want to give a big thanks again to M.Carter for his very helpful info on using just 5 colors. Its so much easier to find the color & value that your trying to match.
  • I hope I do this right. Here is a link to a you tube video about painting a color chart.
  • Try that again. Sorry about the commercial.
  • In one of my painting books-by Patrician Moran, she describes using store paint chops as an exercise on how to mix the same color over and over. Her thought behind it being, if one ran out of paint and needed to remix their color several times, practicing it with paint chips before you needed to do it would be a good exercise.
    I love the paint chip charts shared here. I just watched Daniel's video the other day and I'm planning on doing one myself.
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