Limited Palette

Oil painting of Camargue horses in sunset light.
Oil painting of horses in the Camargue, lit by a glowing sunset. Size 31″ x 16″. Price £249. Contact me for postage to your location.

Limited Palette – what can it do for you?

Whether you are painting in watercolours, oils, acrylics or pastels, one of the best ways to produce a harmonious painting – and  make your life SO much easier – is to limit the number of paint colours which you use in any one painting.

You need to know your paint colours well – so if you don’t, first make yourself a simple colour chart and label each colour ( making sure to include full strength and dilute versions of each colour.)

This means that you can look at a sky, a flower, a table or whatever and say which paint colour is the nearest, ie the one you will start from when you mix.  You’ll find yourself wearing a cobalt blue jumper, or spotting a cadmium red car – this is good!

Then look at the photo or still life / view you are painting, and list the (paint) colours you see in it – maximum 5, 6 or 7; even 3 or 4 will do. You should be able to identify whether the red you see in those roses is a warm red ( cadmium) or a cool red ( Alizarin crimson or Permanent Rose), for example.

Clearly you need to know the basics of colour mixing – red ( warm) and yellow ( warm) make orange; red ( cool) plus blue ( cool) make purple; yellow ( cool) plus blue ( cool) make a fresh green. If you change any of these mixes, e.g use a warm blue or warm yellow to mix green, that green too will be warm – and dull – in other words, olive green.  If unsure, take your best guess, mix on your palette and see what you think of the result. Learn by your experience!

One well-known artist ( Peter Wileman, a wonderful painter in oils and former President of the Society for Painters in Oils) mixes the main colours he will need in a painting BEFORE he starts painting – clearly this means his painting can flow without the need to stop and mix. Give it a try!

By limiting the number of colours to put out on your palette, you will create a much more harmonious painting. No sudden shocks or unhappy accidents by suddenly introducing a new colour once the painting is under way – the new colour will stick out like a sore thumb!

One more tip – once you have mixed a colour you will need in one part of your painting, see if you can see it anywhere else and apply it while you have it on your brush – especially in oils or acrylics. Again this will help you to achieve harmony and continuity across the picture surface.

This doesn’t stop you having exciting highlights or lowlights – it’s just that they will sit well with the rest of your painting. So limit your palette! Your painting will improve tremendously.  Have fun! Happy painting.

Camargue Sunset – the painting seen here : colours used: Cerulean, Ultramarine, Cadmium Red, Permanent Rose, Light Red, Cadmium Yellow, Yellow Ochre. Plus white, not counted as a colour as it is a  mixer ( like water in watercolour, to make the colour lighter.)

Even the horses harmonise with the rest of the painting – as they should because they are subject to the same lighting effect ( sunset.)

Can you see how painting them bright white would have looked wrong? or dark brown?

( though in this case they are Camargue white horses.) Even their young black foals I would have painted in a very dark greyed purple.

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