Last weekend, I purchased a set of Holbein Acryla Gouache paints in the hopes that I would start doing some color plein air sketches again (I have a watercolor sketchbook that doesn't get nearly enough love). I immediately cracked them open and began painting the first thing I saw out my window that evening. And what I ended up with was........well it was complete garbage. I realized afterward that I hadn't spent enough time actually reacquainting myself with the medium and its properties.
Now a lot of people think of artists as these flighty, feelings-driven people who just have some mystical perception and creativity that other people don't. And while some of that certainly is true, I am the type of artist that needs boundaries and rules. I like to think outside the box, but I have to know all the dimensions of the box before I do it.
I decided I needed to understand the "box" that was my new set of paints before I started painting with them again. So, based on a study model proposed by Richard Schmid's fantastic book, "Alla Prima - Everything I Know About Painting ", and with the spirit of self torture in my heart, I created these color swatch charts.
Basically, the way it works is that you make a complete chart for each tube of paint in your palette, excluding white (in this case I had twelve). Each chart represents one tube color mixed with all of the other tube colors across the horizontal, and then 5 separate tints (mixtures with white) of each going down the vertical.
The goal in doing this is essentially to try and map the entire range (or "gamut") of colors possible with the tubes of paint you're using. Better yet, when you're painting out in the field, it can help you not only figure out what color you need to mix for a particular object, but also the exact tube colors required to mix it!
When working with a limited palette of just a few colors, you can do this same exercise to determine the limitations and color possibilities of that particular palette. It's a very similar (if not basically the same) method shared by James Gurney on his blog, here.