A book I enjoyed recently is Local Color: Seeing Place Through Watercolor by Mimi Robinson. Wherever Mimi travels, she makes “palettes” of local color. I don’t mean palette-building the way I normally do it, where I choose paints to add to my travel palette for a particular season or trip; this is more of a swatching practice, making arrangements of mixed colors on the page that reflect the colors of a real-life scene. This can be a warm-up for doing a plein air painting, or a meditative practice on its own that connects you to the local landscape.
Funnily enough, I landed on a similar practice to Mimi’s myself, out of Lisa Spangler’s Nature Spot practice. While the Nature Spot Challenge had me mixing one color from life per day, in some inspiring places, I’ve mixed a group or page of colors that reflects various aspects of landscape.
Reading the book in that sense was validating (this is a legitimate thing that people do!), and also gave me some ideas for how to expand the practice, such as:
- Naming the colors! Not necessarily just notes about what they’re “the color of,” but a cute/poetic name such as a paintmaker might give it.
- Combining palettes with landscapitos and/or notes about the surroundings.
- Comparing palettes of the same place at different times of day, seasons, or weather conditions.
My Local Color Examples
Most of the book was examples (palettes Mimi has made in different places). In that spirit, here are some examples of Local Color palettes I’ve made!
Nova Scotia, October 2022
I had not yet read Local Color or done the Nature Spot challenge, so I don’t recall if I’d seen another artist do this or if I just spontaneously decided to try it, but this set of swatches was definitely inspired by my wonder of the colors – and my frustration at being unable to capture a sketch to my liking – of this wild bottom-of-the-sea landscape at low tide in the site of the highest tides in the world. See also Travel Sketches: Nova Scotia.
Massachusetts, January 2023
These were done as part of the Nature Spot Challenge.
Maine, March 2023
These were done just after reading Local Color.
What I love about this practice as a progression of nature spots is that it allows for a more complex picture of a scene: not just one color, but how multiple colors interact with each other, and how harmonious a set of colors can look, and the general feel of a landscape based on which colors dominate and which are absent.
What I love about this practice and Nature Spots is that is that it can feel a lot less intimidating than setting out to paint. Often I want to paint a landscapito after I’ve swatched the colors, but I don’t have to! I can just swatch colors and that’s okay. Even though it seems so easy and simple on location, I really appreciate having done it when I get home! The colors I swatch from location can just seem so much more real than the photos of the place.