Painting tips: Saving paint, and color vs. mud

On saving paint Okay, you had a good day of painting outside, but you still have a good deal of paint left over on your palette. What do you do with the leftovers?  Obviously you can save your "clean" piles of pure color, either to transfer for use back in the studio, or to just leave on your palette ( if you're able) for the next day's plein air painting session.

For the mixed colors that are left at the end of a session, some artists just scrape them altogether in one big pile and use this "mud" to tone their plein air panels. Others save the "mud pile" to soften or mute their color mixtures at the next session. Good ideas, though I usually find that many are "successful" enough at mixing mud without having to keep big piles of it on hand ;-).

Here's what works for me. When I clean my palette after a session, I scrape up all of my usable color mixtures that relate to each other by color family and make piles for use in the next session. For instance, if I have piles of mixed reds, yellows, and to some extent earth colors on my palette, I'll scrape them together to make a warm orange/red/ earth pile. If I have piles of blues and violets, those would be scraped together for another use. If I have piles of greens (which I usually have aplenty when plein air painting in Virginia!) this forms another single pile. So now I have 2 or 3 piles of secondary mixed colors that I can use for another day.  These mixtures are still clean looking and, if I have enough of them, they may save me some extra elbow grease the next day.

Color vs. Mud

The "mud" occurs when you mix together two secondary colors, or a primary color with its secondary complement. For instance red mixed with greens, blues mixed with oranges, violets with yellows, etc. *Note: One man's "mud" is another man's "colored gray". In fact, some of the most beautiful paintings I've admired are those made of primarily muted, colored gray mixtures. But if your challenge is to mix clean color, the above may be a useful tip both in terms of conserving paint and keeping your colors clean in the process.