Get Some Skin in the Game

Fleshing it out, from traditional to transitional

Odd Nerdrum works with a very traditional limited palette. He premixes and very seldom goes back to white after he starts. There are no Cadmiums, or Lead White.

  • Sennelier Titanium white + a tiny amount of Phthalo Blue which he premixes and tubes.
  • Mars yellow + white
  • Brilliant Yellow
  • Mars Yellow
  • Vermillion + Mars Yellow
  • Sennelier Chinese vermilion
  • Mars Black + white
  • Black + yellow
  • Yellow Ochre Deep
  • Mars Black

We use Permanent rose and Naples yellow deep from Sennelier, great mixtures containing white. We recommend using pigment mixtures that already have white rather than white itself. (That is why many portrait painters like Daniel Greene premix skin tones.) But, again, the goal is to keep skin tones clean and avoid chalkiness. Here is Daniel Greene’s essential palette, only two Cadmiums and no ultramarine which is useless in portraiture.

  • Flake White
  • Ivory Black
  • Prussian Blue
  • Raw Sienna
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Naples Yellow
  • Cad. Yellow Med.
  • Cad. Red Light
  • Alizarin Crimson
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Burnt Umber
  • Raw Umber
  • Sap Green
  • Phthalo Green

We should point out that the Maestro used only Cadmium Red Light in his color strings. A-F SKIN TONES.

  • A. Raw Sienna+Cadmium Red Light+White
  • Raw Sienna is used to dull the Cadmium Red
  • B. Yellow Ochre+White
  • C. Yellow Ochre+Burnt Sienna+White
  • D. Burnt Sienna+White
  • E. Raw Umber+White
  • F. Raw Sienna+Black+White
  • S1. Alizarin Crimson+Sap Green
  • S2. Sap Green+Alizarin Crimson

One should take note that there is no Cadmium Yellow in any of the color strings, there is also no Burnt Umber which has no place in skin-tones or shadows. To avoid canard-merde, shadow tones here are made Alizarin Crimson and Sap Green not earths. It is interesting to see how his palette evolves from the portrait of Robert Beverly Hale done in the mid 1970s to the subway paintings done in this century.

We watched Daniel demo this palette array many times in person. It was a ritual for him and got his mind in the right place to paint. Today however, there are convenience mixtures that cover a lot of the same ground. Nelson Shanks and the New England School have around thirty pigments at their disposal. Nelson’s palette assortment is as follows with our recommendations for deletions, replacements, and additions. We use mostly Sennelier and Schmincke Mussini for smaller figurative traditional works, Rembrandt and M.Graham for the large abstract gallery paintings.

  1. Cad. Yellow Pale_Lemon Yellow_Rembrandt_PY184
  2. Cadmium Yellow_Cad. Yellow Medium Hue_PY3+PY83
  3. Indian Yellow_Indian Yellow Orange_PY83
  4. Cadmium Orange_Chinese Orange_PY13+PY83
  5. Cadmium Scarlet_French Vermillion_PR255+PY170
  6. *Cadmium Red Light_PR108 (Addition)
  7. Crimson Lake_Chinese Vermillion_PR48:4+PY83
  8. Perylene Red_Florentine Red_SchminckeMussini_PR179
  9. Permanent Rose_PW6+PR208+PR209
  10. Cad. Red Deep_Madder Lake Deep_PR179+PR209+PY83
  11. Anthraquinone Red_Michael Harding_PR177 (Addition)
  12. Quinacridone Magenta_PR122 (Addition)
  13. Cobalt Violet Deep_Cobalt Violet Extra_PW6+PR209+PV16
  14. Dioxazine Purple_PV23
  15. Ultramarine Blue_Ultramarine Blue Deep_PB26+PV23
  16. *Indanthrene Blue_Rembrandt_PB60
  17. Cobalt Blue_Cobalt Blue Hue_PB29+PB15:3
  18. Phthalo Blue GS_PB15:3
  19. *Manganese Blue_Mang. Hue_PW6+PB15:4
  20. Cerulean Blue_Azure Blue_PB15:4+PG7
  21. Cobalt Green_Cobalt Turq._PB15:1+PB50+PG7
  22. *Viridian_PG18 (only needed for landscapes)
  23. Phthalo Green Cool_PG7
  24. Cadmium Green_Perm. Green_PY3+PG36
  25. Cadmium Green Pale_Perm. Yellow Green_PG35+PG17
  26. Sap Green_PG36
  27. Golden Green_PY129
  2. Burnt Umber_Asphlatum_PR264+PG7+PY110 
  3. Burnt Sienna_PBk11+PR101
  4. Venetian Red_Light Ox. Red Rembrandt _PR101
  5. Raw Sienna_PBk11+PY83
  6. Yellow Ochre_Attish Ochre_Mussini_PY42
  7. Ivory Black_Mars Black_PBk11
  8. Flake White #2_Flake White Replacement/Schmincke Mussini

Nelson’s palette was Cadmium heavy but his mixtures were not, he tuned them down with the Siennas, Raw Umber and Yellow Ochre. He then used the Modern Organic Reds, Red Oranges and Maroons, to adjust the chroma. Early on the Cadmiums were used sparing in finely tuned mixtures; later he used them to model small transitional planes using stumbles and glazes. Nelson used Flake White, which is a mixture of Lead White and Zinc, the alternative is a mixture of Zinc White with a little Titanium. Straight Titanium and untuned Cadmiums are mortal enemies making everything to chalky.

This is the Bentley of high chroma palettes, replacing most of the cadmiums with high octane synthetic organics like Pyrrole’s, Naphthol’s and Hansa’s; it is Henry Hensche’s New England palette on steroids. This suggested array is made up mainly of Sennelier Extra-Fine oils with many proprietary mixtures making this palette extremely unique. However, there is a catch-22, these hybrid mixtures like Cobalt Violet hue, Cobalt Blue hue, and Cobalt Turquoise hue have far more tinting strength than their single pigment namesakes but will not mix the same. One can work around this with practice or one can choose brands like Rembrandt or Schmincke Mussini that have a more predictable mixing equation.

The bottom line depends on how the paint feels on your brush and the vibrancy one is after. If you are looking for a more traditional approach, then brands like Schmincke Mussini with Damar Resin and a little gloss would an excellent choice. If you are looking for a more traditional feel without Damar Resin then Rembrandt, M. Graham or Michael Harding are a good fit. If you want maximum vibrancy and less gloss, then Sennelier’s Safflower Oil binder and modern organic mixtures are the order of the day.

If unique is what you seek then mix and match to come up with your personal palette.

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