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Creating Custom Tube Colors for Plein Air Travel

Creating Custom Tube Colors

for Plein Air Travel

Colors of Abiquiu © J. Hulsey


   As we embark on a new plein air oil painting workshop in Abiquiu, New Mexico, one of our final tasks has been to create custom tube colors which reflect some of the main mass tones we will encounter in the area. Artists who love to travel and paint en plein air may have to deal with landscape color palettes very different from their usual home colors. We want our students to be able to make good progress when they arrive, so we are supplying some custom tube colors to help them begin the challenge.

   We pre-mixed in advance some of the landscape mass-tones that we will likely encounter and loaded them into empty tubes, ready to use. (Empty tubes are available from large art suppliers in both 37 ml. and 150 ml. sizes.) We discovered years ago that it was easier to mix these in the slower pace of our studio environment rather than rushing the process on location under the pressure of the clock ticking. This can jump-start our painting when we finally arrive and make the workshop experience so much more interesting. These five pre-mixed mass-tone colors are just a beginning and can quickly be modified to match variations in temperature and value on site. A few of the mixes are a bit tricky to figure out and so take some time to get right.

Custom Colors for Abiquiu

   For the high desert of Abiquiu, I decided to mix some of the colors we will see in the rock formations and soils which will predominate our views, along with two of the greens we will find in the trees there.

   The five main colors I call: Adobe, Stone, Sandstone, Light Cedar and Juniper. They were all made with Jack Richeson and Co., oils. Filling even a 37 ml. tube requires quite a pile of paint. The best way to begin is to create a small amount of your mix first, get it perfect, and then duplicate the recipe with larger quantities—just like in cooking for a crowd. Then take a deep breath and dive in. At first you may not mix up enough to fill the tube, but with practice you will be able to measure by eye.

Mixing Custom Color Adobe

Adobe Mix

   This color was the most involved to mix. There may be a simpler method, but for my color I used Light Red cross-mixed with Ultramarine Blue to make a warm brown violet. That was then mixed with Transparent Oxide Red and Yellow Ochre to get a nice brick color. It was then lightened and cooled with Titanium White.

Mixing Custom Color Stone
Stone Mix

   This was a very straightforward mix of Cadmium Red Light, Cadmium Yellow Medium and Unbleached Titanium. The resultant color was then lightened and cooled a bit with Titanium White.

Mixing Custom Color Juniper.

Juniper Mix

   This is an interesting mix of Cadmium Yellow Medium and Ivory Black. Did you know that black and yellow makes lovely warm greens? See:  Mixing Beautiful Greens from Black. I started with those two principal colors and then modified that mix to suit with some Transparent Oxide Red. The red served to further gray down the green and add an interesting reddish cast often seen in the trees.

Mixing Custom Color Light Cedar

Light Cedar Mix

   This one used the largest number of colors in the mix, although in small amounts. I started with Cadmium Yellow Medium mixed to a dull green with Ultramarine. The red components in both those colors served to keep the resulting green mix dulled down from the kind of green obtained with Cadmium Lemon and Cobalt. I think of Ultramarine as one blue and one red, and Cadmium Yellow Medium as one yellow and one red. Red and green mixed together tend toward a grayer color. Perfect for a start to a cedar color. Then I added some Yellow Ochre to get an olive tone, followed by a touch of Transparent Oxide Red and Ivory Black to further gray down and deepen the color.  

Loading Custom Color Stone into Tube

Crimping Tube Bottoms

   I load the tubes with a palette knife, scooping up a big dollop of paint and gently scraping it off into the tube. Then, I tap the tube on its cap to make the paint sink down and drive air gaps out. Repeat this process until there is only about an inch of empty tube left. Hand flatten the end of the tube, squeezing the edges together and wiping off the excess. With a pair of pliers, carefully create an even crimp of about 3/16”, and fold that  into the tube. Continue to crimp and fold two more times and you will have it. Don’t forget to label the tube color and put a dab of color on top of the cap. That’s all there is to it. Happy painting!




Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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