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-   -   A question for Marvin about his palette of limited color (http://portraitartistforum.com/showthread.php?t=5935)

Richard Budig 06-10-2005 11:27 AM

A question for Marvin about his palette of limited color

Let me make bold and ask a question regarding your palette.

Did I have an epiphany, or am I a slow-starter who is stuck in neutral gear? Isn't your basic palette directly related to those very simple, very limited palettes of many years ago?

Your palette (as I understand it from reading, here) consists of two reds (one warmer, one cooler), a yellow, and black (with a little warming agent to make it come out neutral).

Isn't this the basic "very limited palette" we keep bumping into in discussions of learning color by the use of red, yellow, black and white?

Mind you, I'm not knocking this palette, or you. Personally, I think these very few colors serve portraiture extremely well. If a guy was in a real pinch, he could get by with only these four tubes of paint.

A bit of raw umber, a bit of blue, a bit of green would help, of course, but this palette could make almost any color you need.

Or, am I like the old, slow-paced snapping turtle who gets hold of something, and won't let go until it thunders?

Mike McCarty 06-10-2005 03:00 PM

3 Attachment(s)
Recently Marvin posted these pictures along with the two following posts regarding his palette. I throw in another related post by Jon De La Vega:

The palette you are using is very hard to control and I would suggest a more traditional palette for flesh painting. Yellow ochre pale, yellow ochre, terra rosa, sinopia (or indian red), raw umber and ivory black will deliver an extraordinary range of human tones that are both beautiful and quite lively. This served artists such as Van Dyke, Rembrandt, Titian and Paxton. 1-20-03

Per Marvin Mattelson

I mix each color on my painting. They are as follows. For flesh:Light Red, Indian Red, Yellow Ochre, Titanium and Flake Whites, Ivory Black and Raw Umber. These are the colors that Paxton used. This pretty much covers the entire gamut of skin tones that appear in natural daylight. For more chromatic skin genuine Blockx Naples Yellow and Vermilion can be added modestly. 3-2-03

Jon De La Vega, copied from forum

My suggestion is that you do another portrait, in which you could also add a bit more contrast, with brighter lights (start with, say, a Naples yellow light or deep -Old Holland Naples Yellow Deep Extra is a fabulous basic flesh tone- mixed with another Old Holland, Brilliant Pink, both great hues that keep you from having to use too much white, thus avoiding the 'chalky' look. Keep the non-light area clean (don't use browns or greys, just mix the shadows from deep rose and a bit or raw sienna, adding maybe a smidget of 'darker' yellow-green).

Ngaire Winwood 06-27-2005 05:22 AM

I just caught onto this thread but need clarification Marvin or Mike, please explain what is in the rows and why are the rows set out like this?

Mike McCarty 06-27-2005 08:55 AM


Marvin is on sabbatical, and I'm afraid that if I took a shot at explaining this I would just butcher it up. Maybe someone more familiar with Marvin's palette would like to offer an explanation.

Richard Budig 06-27-2005 12:55 PM

Here, from one of Marvin's previous posts, is a short, but cogent paragraph that explains those rows of paint:

The top row is mixed from white, raw umber and ivory black. The next row is yellow ocher lowered with raw umber. The Yellow ocher is lightened with yellow ocher pale which is, in turn, lightened with white. The third row down is terra rosa lightened with white and lowered with black. The bottom row is Indian red lightened with white, and lowered with black. I call it the Mattelson Palette. I named it after my dad.

This is brief, but clear and explanetory.

Patricia Joyce 06-27-2005 01:10 PM

Mattelson Student Palettes

I'll take a stab at it since I have taken one workshop with Marvin and will be back with him for two weeks in July. Forst, this is the complexion palette arrangment based on William McGregor Paxton's flesh tone color choices. The main colors in his palette for flesh tones are:
Flake White #2 (Michael Harding best brand for student)
Raw Umber
Ivory Black
Yellow Ochre and Yellow Ochre Pale
Terra Rosa
Indian Red
The brand I use are Window and Newton

What you are seeing on his palette is an arrangement of four rows
Grey string
Yellow String
Warm Red String
Cool Red String

Each string is mixed in nine values labeled from 9 to 1 (1 being the darkest- think of wattage in light bulbs, higher wattage is brighter color). To quote Marvin, "this palette is designed to achieve cleaner color notes with a purer hue. All colors are mixed within their own value row to avoid muddiness). I use thirty-six brushes four in each value and NEVER use the brush in one value or mix a color from one value to another, to keep your colors clean.

While this sounds cumbersome, once you have established the palette which takes less and less time to mix the more you do it, the easier it is to attain the chroma, hue, and values in your painting.

I would strongly recommend you visit Marvin's website (here through SOG) and email Marvin. He will most likely be happy to respond to your inquiry. I hesitate to explain the palette further since I am a novice myself.

Good luck. I believe you would find this very easy to work with, as it is designed to aid his students in New York and in his workshops.

Ngaire Winwood 07-03-2005 07:00 AM

Thanks guys for the responses. Sorry I didn't reply earlier, I have been a little busy.

It looks a very interesting way to set out a pallete. Have you found any disadvantages to it yet Patricia.

Did you find it an easier way to use Patricia than the old 'around the outside type setup'?

I will re do this in my sketch book and have a play with it.

Thanks heaps Richard, please explain the reference more?

Would you like to go into more detail?

Richard Budig 07-03-2005 08:12 AM


Not having studied with Marvin, I would be presumptious trying to explain his system. That said, the pictures, above, seem pretty clear as to how he lays out his palette.

If my limited knowledge of art history counts for anything, I see his palette as one version of those early-on very simple palettes you will hear and read about as you go on studying art. Anders Zorn, for one, used a very simple palette such as this, and produced exceedingly beautiful art, as did quite a few other very well known artists from times past.

Since the basis of this palette has been used by such well known artists and has stood the test of time, I doubt that there will be many "drawbacks" to it. I find none. In fact, I would say my work has improved since I began using Indian Red, Venetian or English red, black and yellow.

Marvin, it seems to me, goes to a bit more effort by setting out his grays, reds and yellow in value steps that make value selection easier. Go up to the top of this page, find Search, and type in Marvin Mattelson. A lot of posts will come up, several of which will be copies of Marvin's work. If you look at his art, you will see the terrific results that can be obtained from this palette.

Ngaire Winwood 07-05-2005 07:01 AM

Thanks Richard for your take on Marvin's pallete. I will also do as you suggested and do a decent search to learn more as I am becoming more interested in this pallete the more I learn about it.

I ended up emailing Marvin with the same question, but although he is very busy and didn't go into real detail, he did clarify my question.

Patricia Joyce 07-05-2005 10:25 AM

I cannot compare Marvin's palette to any other because my experience is so limited. But I will be back in three weeks, after a workshop with Marvin and will give you any insight I may gain, for what it will be worth :exclamati

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