Top 5 Ways Creating Swatches Can Up Your Artistic Game

Learning how to swatch can up your artistic game by organizing supplies and making material selection a breeze. They are little patches of play that can test how far you can take your personal supplies to create new textures or blends. Whether you grabbed a new set of pastels or have a new art piece or collection in the works, swatches are invaluable to your efforts.

#1 ~ Color Accuracy

It is so much easier to understand which colors will make which blend without having to do testing each time you paint. Those new pencils with the color on the barrel are lying to you. It is virtually impossible for a manufacturer to match the pigment to paint on the outside of the supplies.

Swatches are invaluable.

The company that breaks this mold would be Golden. They literally apply the interior paint or pigments to the outside of the tube or bottle.

I still prefer having a grid swatch page with different mixes and your colors will allow you to know exactly what you have at a glance. Stepping away from a piece of art for extended periods of time can be a beast sometimes finding the exact color match for the piece that you need to create. Picture putting a color down from a pencil that you think you used last time. It wasn’t. Now, half of your flower has a different hue.

#2 ~ Material Testing 

Have you ever gotten knee deep into a project and realized you would love to try a new material? Have you ever ruined that project because the ground didn’t work with the paper or some other issue? Enter swatches! They can be done on small pieces of the appropriate support to better test your current techniques and pigments with this new substance be it mineral spirits or matte extender.

I absolutely love to create swatches and studies inside my sketchbook but will often use the paper or support that I plan to use in the project such as cotton watercolor paper. How do I prep it, does it work with everything I use such as spray fixative, how much can it handle?

Watching the mixes work is magical. Keep these studies with notes for each one in a book to ensure you remember how to recreate an effect. I will go into that more in a future post.

#3 ~ Technique Exploration 

I’m constantly pushing my technique to see what I want and where I want to go. This is often the case with blends. I love colors and blends tend to go a certain way on one color and somewhere else on another. Going from yellow to orange will look completely different on differing backgrounds.

Speaking of backgrounds, let’s talk layers. I often use a bright underpainting. If I were to use blue like I often do, what do yellow blends become sitting on top? Green, which can be an advantage or a disadvantage depending on the goal. Swatches will show you how your underpainting will affect blends. Another layer I use quite a bit is fixative. It seals in the pigment but also darkens it in the process. It allows for multiple layers and building in such a fun way. It’s so important to understand how your pigments will be affected by the material.

Fixitive, matte medium, and clear gesso are sure fire ways of adding texture to a piece. It’s also a sure-fire way of muting your colors and stripping saturation. It’s so important to test all of these techniques on swatches before touching your fancy project.

#4 ~ Reference Guide 

I love books. I love books that help me organize my supplies. I love swatch books full of studies and supply information. Can you imagine planning a project and looking at your swatch book for inspiration based on the supplies you have and palettes you already love? I can! So, here’s the deal, I like to either create a book from scratch or utilize a different book to house my wares. Right now, it is a huge coffee table book full of architectural inspiration.

We will go into how to organize and mark swatches to know what you have as you flip through your book by adding certain information to the swatch such as pigment #, name, and set.

As you add new supplies or colors, it’s easy to add new swatches or trade out swatches from supplies you no longer use or have.

#5 ~ Decision Making 

It is so inspirational seeing everything possible before a big project. Gathering swatches and color palettes won’t be as daunting as you don’t have to start over every time.

I love to build a project swatch book for big projects. This will allow me to keep my collection or entire piece cohesive. Plus, when I need a break, I can be confident that I will know how to continue without it looking like two people painted it.

A color scheme can make or break a piece. Knowing if it works before you touch the actual Precious will not only save the day, it will allow for future decisions to be easier as you continue your swatching practice.

It is one of the most important things a visual artist can do.

I often get asked if swatches are even practical. They take extra time, pigments, supplies, and space. I feel it’s impractical not to have a healthy swatching practice. Why reinvent the wheel every time you open your supplies?

Stay tuned to part two where we will discuss who can benefit from swatching and when it’s a good idea to make one.

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