choosing a colour palette for travelling with soft pastels

Choosing a Colour Palette for Travelling

Recently I received an email from someone going to Tuscany. Knowing I was also soon to travel to that part of Italy, she asked if I would mind making suggestions about what colours she should take, i.e. help her in choosing a colour palette for travelling. I answered her directly but thought that since it was such a great question and one I’ve been asked before, I would make a Q&A video from it.

And here is the result. 

(Remember, this is a video on YouTube so it makes references to subscribing and commenting and liking it!)

Did that make sense? I know it’s not necessarily the expected answer. Still, I think overall, it’s the easiest solution. So I suggest taking your everyday plein air palette with you.

Some pointers to remember:

1. Always make sure you have colours that run the gamut from very light to very dark. There’s nothing worse than getting to a place with your pastels only to find you have no real darks for instance!

2. Try to include a colour range that covers the three primaries (red, blue, yellow) and the three secondaries (orange, green, violet). You won’t be able to cover all the values in each colour but you can try to do this with the reds, blues, greens, and violets.

3. Although you can create less intense colours by layering complementaries, it’s easy to slip in a few neutrals. Try for some warm and cool low chroma colours.

4. Another thing to consider is to have cool and warm versions of some colours. I particularly think of yellows, greens, and blues. It’s handy to have cooler more-toward-purple blues and also more turquoise-y ones. With greens, cooler and also warm striking greens are a must. And with yellows, it’s always good to have cool yellows and also some warm options.

5. Always include colours that you love and tend to reach for. These are your friends and will comfort you as you stress over some colour choices on location!

Choosing a colour palette for travelling
My colour palette of soft pastels for travelling

You may recall that I was in Mexico recently. While there, I had to make do with the colours I had (a small set of 30-half sticks of Sennelier pastels). And from that restriction, I created paintings I may not have if it weren’t for the limited palette in some areas of colour! I wrote a blog post about each: here are the links to the first and the second.

So now it’s your turn!! I’d love to hear what you do when travelling. Do you choose specific colours for your trips and if so why? If you were pondering this question as to how to choose a colour palette for travelling, did you find the video and blog post useful? Do you have other questions? Let me know by leaving a comment below!

Until next time 🙂

~ Gail

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28 thoughts on “Choosing a Colour Palette for Travelling”

  1. I find studying photos of the area an easy way to choose a pallet. Warmer for Tuscany, lots of blues in southern Greece and plenty of warm greens and golds for home in NW lower Michigan ( home).

  2. Thank you. I tend to take the kitchen sink. Hard to soft, and light, mid range, darks. I truly wish I’d wean it a bit. It gets tiresome. I like to layer, hence I use the hard first then go to get the job done mid hard/soft, then finish with the softies. Ah well, I do love them so. Maybe I’ll learn some day.

    1. Donna, perhaps you can see which colours you never reach for and try taking some of those out. That would be a start. Then you can work from there. Slowly slowly… 🙂

  3. This is so helpful! I would also like to hear some advice about packing a portable easel. I will be flying with my pastels soon and am not sure which is best.

    1. That’s so good to hear Pamela!
      I have the Dakota easel. It works with my box. I LOVE both!! Click here to see it.
      There are a number of good options around though. I chose this because I ended up using one at IAPS to demo on.

  4. Thanks for a fun answer to the eternal question for us pastelists! Packing soon for IAPS and facing the same dilemma, this time for 3 workshops with very different artists! What fun! Hope to see you there, Gail! Look for a BIG contingent from SWFPS!

    1. Hah hah! And, Wow! three workshops and no doubt all with different supply lists. EEK!
      And yes, you’ll see me there! Hoping to spread the word at IAPS to other societies that I am available for workshops!! I may be pointing to some SWFPS members for support 😀 Can’t wait to see you ALL!!

  5. Thanks, Gail. Color . . . well color is a major hurdle for me. That’s one of the reasons I’m taking your workshop in July. This video, and seeing your travel pallet has been helpful. I’ve already selected my travel box since we’re leaving for Canada in a week. Thought I had really trimmed my colors back, but no . . . you have me beat by a mile:) Of course we’ll be there for six weeks before the workshop, so I’m not going to cut it any further. But maybe you’ll have some recommendations when you see what I have with me, or whatever is left of it after six weeks. And no, I never pick a particular pallet. We have at least that much in common.

    Have fun in Tuscany and see you in Gibsons.

    1. Ohhhh Jean, we are going to have some COLOUR FUN in Gibson’s!! Can’t wait.
      And it’s great that you took the step to trim your palette at all. So no worries. And we’ll see what we can do at the workshop.

      See you pretty darn soon!

  6. I’ve set myself the challenge of painting only with a blue palette for the rest of the year. I want to really strengthen my understanding of value and I thought this would be a good way, plus an interesting conceptual approach. A bit like cyanotypes in photography.

  7. Thank you Gail! I enjoyed this Blog and video and it has taken some stress off chosing my palette!! I also found it helpful to see your box, the empty slot and the “everything” slot. Cheers!

    1. You are welcome Barbara. Thanks for allowing me to use your question 😀
      Glad it was helpful and most of all, that’s it’s relieved your stress levels!!

  8. Haha Gail 😃! You are so cute with your outtakes! You really made me smile! Now I am so bummed out about giving up my spot in THAT workshop later this year. Would love to meet you and kick things around a bit! Great suggestions too!

    1. Hah hah thanks Catherine! It’s the real me peeking through.
      Yes, sorry you couldn’t make it for the workshop and sure hope you are feeling better now.
      Maybe one of these days we will buck up in Ontario 😀

    1. That’s great to hear Cheryl. And yes, not just for plein air work but any kind of travelling with pastels you may do. And as you say, you can even use it for your home palette!

  9. Very timely as I leave tomorrow for a painting workshop in Provence! I am taking a lot of low key greens as I was short on that last time. Otherwise, it’s pretty much what you have suggested, but I love your “go with it” attitude! Now I am not worried
    Thank you for all the great blogs!

    1. WOW talk about timing!! So glad it’s relieved your mind. And yes, you don’t know what magic will come out of your palette when you don’t stress too much about having the “right” colours. Have fun in Provence!! I think I need to put Provence on my teaching workshop agenda 🙂

  10. so good, as always …. love your energy and supportive outlook – so good. (not to mention your paintings!) excellent advice on travel palette – I was most interested having an up and coming workshop I am teaching in FIJI in a couple of months. looking forward to pastel painting whilst there and I was wondering about the colours. LOVE your advice – no palette – not every colour of the rainbow and a few logical tips to think on. fabulous. this extrapolates across media should one be taking oils or acrylics. thank you. >>>> Gina

    1. Thank you so much for your energetic and enthusiastic and very positive response Gina!! So glad the info was timely. And as you say, I think the idea works across all media. Especially when it comes to paint. Like I said in the video, with paint you have the opportunity to concoct colours by mixing!!

      And WOW! Teaching in Fiji! That sounds amazing! (Now how can I make that happen too hah hah!) And then there’s Tasmania…:-)

  11. Having taken so many pastel groups over 18 years to the best mediterranean areas – I devised my own palette for Unison. It contains 63 half sticks. It was the first half stick box Unison did (in the UK). It has all the colours you need in a cardbaord box – great for travelling too.

    1. Hi Heather, thanks for that info. I was going to link to it but can no longer see it on the Unison website (?). Looking forward to creating my own set with the wonderful Unison Colour pastels. Coming this Fall!

  12. Wonderful!! Thank you so much, Gail, for your superb video – it is exactly what I needed. The timing is perfect. Your approach is straight forward and brilliant. I will soon go to IAPS and I will be taking a workshop. It will be the first time I will travel with pastels. I now know how to set up my travel palette which I will do soon!

    I look forward to seeing you at IAPS!
    Wishing you smooth travels,

    1. Yay Paige!! I would so go light on the pastels – take just what you need for the workshop. Remember, you will probably be adding to your pastel inventory while at IAPS! Sadly though, the Trade Show opens AFTER the workshops so you’ll need to take at least some pastels!
      See you there!

  13. Dolores (Dee) Martella

    Thank you, so much! A working knowledge of layering color is important for working with a limited palette…don’t you think?

    1. You are so welcome Dee.
      And YES, you’re right. It certainly does help to understand the mechanics, techniques, and effects of layering when working with a limited palette!

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Gail Sibley

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My love of pastel and the enjoyment I receive from teaching about pastel inspired the creation of this blog. It has tips, reviews, some opinions:), and all manner of information regarding their use through the years – old and new. Please enjoy!

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