Swatches or colour charts have been used by artists and artisans for a very long time.
Every process that requires adding or changing colour needs to work with samples to measure quantities and produce a desired result. From hair dying to denim, pottery, software and even food colorants, swatches are everywhere.
They serve as measuring schedule, helping to understand the pigment’s capacities and possibilities. Different amounts, combinations and time of exposure can create different tonalities.
Much more than a palette of variations, Colour Swatches are fundamental for Professional Artists because they demonstrate how a certain medium behaves on a chosen support.
When an Artist purchases new pencils or paints, they need to create a swatch. It’s common to create the samples in the same support used for artwork, like paper or canvas. This way it’s possible to clearly see how the new medium will perform.
When attending my classes in University, I was fascinated by the large amount of colour swatches in the pottery studio – those little squares of ceramic were carefully glazed and heated, creating lovely variations of greens, blues and every other colour possible. Under each square, hand noted names and proportions. The Pottery studio was in the underground of an old building and certainly had a “special” atmosphere, some kind of Alchemy vibe going on: bottles filled with unrecognizable materials, half done sculptures, ovens and people transforming clay and dull powders into colourful objects. Maybe some kind of magic really happens inside the kiln, when clay heats and pigment melts, covering the surface with a shinny new colour.
It turns out that for pottery, swatches are nothing but fundamental. Pigments used for glazing and enamel do not have the same colour as after heated. Some disappointing greyish powder suddenly wakes up with fire and becomes a deep blue shinny surface. There is no way to know exactly what colour they will turn out, unless you have pre-made samples with notes on combinations and proportions.
Which Swatch to use?
There are so many swatches available, in all shapes and forms you can imagine: tables full of information, blank charts to be filled by you with names and numbers, big swatches that become posters, small swatches like paint samples, triangles, rectangles, large, small… Which is the best?
The best is always the one that works well for you. I certainly recognize the value of a swatch as a poster, easy to find and super visible – however I don’t have the wall space, so it would not be effective for my work.
Swatches that give a Quickview in only one page are the most functional.
I use them to find the perfect colour quickly. Also to find effective combinations, opposites, complementaries or gradient effects. A Colour swatch gives a full view of the set, allowing to identify possibilities right away.
Different mediums or larger sets may need more pages or another format. A second chart, with wider spaces to colour, can be really useful to display more information. Watercolour pencils need wet and dry samples, consequently they also need more space.
Considering shapes and spaces for colour, circles are great: very quick and fun to colour. Other shapes with angles, like squares, may take longer to complete. This depends on the purpose of the sample and designer choices.
Effective swatches display clear information, like names and numbers. Info must be visible, easy to read. In this case, less is more! When charts have too much written in tiny spaces they become a challenge to decipher.
I like charts that are easy to use and fun to colour.
When completed, swatches become a helpful colour guide that are also pleasant looking!
Free Printable: Swatch – Quick Guide from The Colouring Times
Click to download