A Limited Palette

Many people new to painting use a palette full of different colours. This can cause problems for mixing and the results will often be a muddy brown. It also places the emphasis on colour use, when contrast and tone are far more important for a successful painting. I would suggest starting with a palette of just three paints, a blue a yellow and an earth colour. The actual paints used can be varied for each painting. Taking things to the extreme, you can achieve a remarkably effective painting using just one colour, such as Sepia or Burnt Sienna.

When using a 3 colour palette, mix the colours as much possible to introduce graduated tones into your painting. Try to avoid mixing all the colours together, but use combinations of two colours. Remember that areas of light and dark are the most important.

The paints you use should reflect the subject of the painting. The earth colour, in particular, will vary greatly from painting to painting, Crimson Alizarin for a sunset, Burnt Sienna for beaches. I suggest choosing a blue from French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue or Cerulean Hue. Cadmium yellow is probably the most useful yellow, especially if there are to be a lot of greens in your painting, but Raw Sienna is good for beaches and autumn colours.

Unfortunately, the only way to learn is to practice and to try different combinations. Many years back, I wasted a lot of paper, and my paintings do still fail when I am in an experimental mood! But hey, I'm having fun, and that's what counts!


© Adrian James 2001

Back to Main Page