Things I Learned as an Oil Painter: Thing #17

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I have the best excuse for not posting much lately: I've been painting a huge (for me) piece. Look out for it on dA...

Thing #17 is as follows:

Less is more: try using a limited palette.

Over the last year and a half I've been using an extremely limited palette and it's been an incredible learning experience. Before I get to the "why" here's the "what".

These are the colours I've been using:
Alizarin crimson
Cadmium yellow light
Ultramarine blue
Pthalo emerald
Titanium white

...and in 2 or 3 paintings...
Cadmium red

That's it, that's all.

Why those colours? I took a series of classes back in 2011 and the teacher (Helmut Langeder - an awesome local artist and friend www.helmutlangeder.com/ ) required his students to use only these colours (except the emerald and cad red) as part of the learning experience. I enjoyed the challenge and stuck with the palette, later adding the emerald and using cad red from time to time.

Why use a limited palette? One of my big problems was my understanding of colour. I was using so many different hues, colours and tints that if I ever ran out of a colour I'd mixed I could never EVER recreate it unless I kept track of exactly what I used where and in what quantity. At that point painting felt more like accounting. By using the limited palette recreating colours is much easier - you don't have that many combinations to try. The main benefit for me, however, is the very fact that I have to go through the process of creating every colour I need and so I gain an understanding of how the different colours work together. It might slow down the process of painting, but it makes me think more - never a bad thing. Another big benefit is the fact that it makes buying paint a whole lot easier.

Why add emerald and cadmium red? Laziness. The emerald works well with the alizarin crimson to make instant black. Depending on the mix you can make the black cooler or warmer. I added the cad red because, try as I might, I cannot make a cheerful fire engine red out of what I have. Alizarin is a very cool red and the cad red adds a nice warm red to the palette.

Now I'm feeling comfortable with this palette I'll be expanding it slightly to include a warm and cool tone of each colour. I'm intrigued to find out the effect it will have on my work...

Thing #1: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #2: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #3: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #4: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #5: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #6: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #7: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #8: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #9: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #10: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #11: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #12: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #13: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #14: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing # 15: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…
Thing #16: maccski.deviantart.com/journal…

Why am I posting this stuff? maccski.deviantart.com/journal…

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secretplanet's avatar
i make black out of burnt umber & ultramarine blue. but i'm gonna try your black now, just for a change!
KanatSanat's avatar
This also helps to unify a piece, as all mixes contain the same colours and relate to each other more easily. I picked up this advice from a book and have been painting with a "neutral limited" palette of Venetian Red, Ivory Black, Yellow Ochre and Titanium White. I've used it before with a "secondary" palette where I wanted a colour bump - Cad red or yellow for example

Naturally with this palette you won't get that colour pop you have but it simplifies things for me while I break it down to work on learning other aspects of the craft
TomOliverArt's avatar
21stCenturyDamocles's avatar
good advice but i have to have a least 2 reds one cool and one warm. i find it very hard to create temperature variations without them as i work very hard to shift from warm tones to cool without the use of a good source of red. (do to there tinting strengths) i find that is true with yellow all so i use a cad Yellow and Oaker. i rarely go out side of Altra Marina its such a pure well balanced blue i use blue mainly as a drabbing agent. i do not use much black with the exception of backgrounds were i often imploy high contrast darks. i like my work to show well in low light rooms without artificial lighting.
glunac's avatar
In Oils, Have not encountered Alizarin crimson yet, usually use Cad. red. Any color palette I use would have to include Ocher. Just love the way ocher & blue set each other off.


When using acrylics I tend to use more color variants. Probably have more then I need, but it's so hard to resist the brightly colored tubes. They are like precious jewels.