Thursday, October 31, 2013


In my previous blog MY PALETTE I talked about my physical palette, and the choice of pigments that I lay out on that palette.   There is one other way we can define this word palette:  the color scheme chosen for an individual piece or book.  It's important to remember that a limited number of colors on the physical palette does not mean a limited number of color schemes available for one's art.  In fact, I myself start with a limited choice of colors on my palette, and then focus on an even smaller selection of colors out of that palette from which to create a color scheme for a project.  The illustration above, from my book LITTLE BROWN BEAR, was created from the list of colors I gave in that earlier blog   (  For this image, I used all of the earth colors from my palette, plus a green, and a couple of reds. But I hardly touched my purple, blues, and blacks.
In contrast, for this illustration, from my book JAMIE'S STORY, I avoided the earth colors almost completely.  Instead, I focused on my purple, rose, cerulean blue, and cadmium yellows.  Greens were created from the blue and the yellow, keeping all the colors cool, clear, and vibrant. 
In this illustration, from WENDY WATSON'S FROG WENT A-COURTING, I also stayed away from the earth colors, but concentrated this time on all the variations of blues, greens, and yellows that I could come up with.  Touches of pinks and reds warmed the image, and the color scheme overall is one of pastels---very suitable for this spring-time tale of love.
In this illustration from FOX WENT OUT ON A CHILLY NIGHT, I've gone back to my earth colors, but have also relied heavily on reds and yellows.  And the color itself is strong, deep, sturdy, and vigorous---no pastels here.  A very appropriate approach for this old American folk song.
In this illustration from John Bierhorst's IS MY FRIEND AT HOME, I relied very heavily on all of my earth colors, especially yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and light red, to reflect the Southwestern locale, but I also incorporated a strong element of darkened blues, purples, and greens.  These acted as a cool counter-balance and framing device for all the warm earth colors, and also echoed that cold, dark aspect of the desert.  

Several examples of what can be done with the same limited palette---and I've barely scratched the surface.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


Robert Lawson was born  on October 4, 1892.  He was a gifted author and illustrator---in fact he is the only person, so far, to have received both the Caldecott and the Newbery medals.  I first discovered his work when I was given, as a child, his book "Rabbit Hill."  I read that book over and over.  It still entrances me, both text and illustrations.

Many people today may know of him only for his illustrations for "The Story of Ferdinand," written by Munro Leaf.

But in fact he produced a huge body of work:  books he illustrated for other authors, as well as books he wrote and illustrated himself.  One of the most striking aspect of Robert Lawson's visual work, and the work of other accomplished illustrators of his time, was his stunning virtuosity in black and white media.  It would be difficult, I think, to find an illustrator of today who could match Lawson's elegant, masterful, and expressive black and white work.  The emphasis today in illustration is so much on full-color work; contemporary illustrators never have the chance to hone and refine their black and white techniques.  I am finding that it is difficult to find much about these earlier illustrators on the internet; but this link will tell you a bit more about Lawson, as well as give a bibliography of his work.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


The artist's palette:  whatever working surface or object might be chosen as a support for squirting out paints.  I use a "butcher's tray"---the metal enameled meat tray used, yes, by butchers---as my watercolor palette.  It's perfectly smooth, it never stains, it's easy to wash off in the sink whenever necessary.  And it's basically indestructible.  My first butcher tray palette was smaller and a bit simpler in shape than the one I show here, with a nice black rim around the upper edge.  I still have that tray-palette, and use it for projects that require only a few colors.  The tray I show in the photo is a later model---larger, giving more room for mixing.
The artist's palette is also the actual array of paints used in painting.  For watercolors, I use only Winsor & Newton Artist Water Colours.  As with my brushes ( these watercolors are among the most expensive one can buy.  But they are worth the cost.  A tiny bit goes a long, long way---one small tube lasts me for years, if I am careful to keep it tightly capped so it doesn't dry out.  (And actually even if it has dried out, it can still be resuscitated and used normally with a wet brush.)  The quality of the paints, their handling, the intensity of their colors, are always the superb.  My palette---array of colors---is relatively small.  Many years ago my publisher very graciously made me a series of proofs of all the colors that I had then in my palette---far more than those above.  The proof demonstrated to me which colors reproduced faithfully to the original, and which did not.  And it explained why some of the reproductions of my illustrations were not satisfying.  As a result of this experiment, I very sadly eliminated some of my favorites from my palette because they reproduced so differently from the original: Cadmium Red, Prussian Blue, and others.  But the palette with which I was left---the palette which I still use today---is one that I know will consistently reproduce my work and be faithful to it: yellow ochre, raw sienna, cadmium yellow pale, cadmium lemon, brown madder alizarin, light red, burnt sienna, permanent rose, cobalt green, olive green, terre verte, hooker's green, winsor green, cerulean blue, antwerp blue, winsor blue, winsor violet, alizarin crimson, neutral tint, sepia, and black.  Unfortunately, some of these colors are no longer manufactured.  Fortunately, I stocked up on all of them some time ago, and have enough on hand for years to come.