limited palette paintings
are fun and easy, plus they
create harmony and cohesiveness
- Why should we be painting with a limited palette?
There are so many gorgeous paint colors available. Why not just squeeze the beautiful colors out of a tube instead of mixing them?
In centuries past many artists were known for using a limited palette.
Many times they did it out of necessity because they had to grind
pigments and make their own paint colors.
history of limited palettes
old masters palettes
Old masters during the renaissance used a four
color palette; yellow red, blue and green.
Then in the 1800s synthetic colors came
into use for the printing process; red (magenta), yellow and blue (cyan).
painters use the same color theory based on the color wheel to select colors for their limited palettes.
the Zorn palette
Anders Zorn, an artist from the late 1800s is well known for painting with a limited palette; yellow ochre, vermilion, ivory
black, with white.
black contains blue, mixed with yellow ochre makes muted greens. Most of his paintings were indoor scenes, so he
had no need for landscape greens.
Monet also used a limited palette. He was noted for doing his paintings on location, outside. The use of a brighter green enhanced his
He said he used flake white,
cadmium yellow, vermilion, deep madder, cobalt blue and emerald green for many
of his paintings.
why use a limited palette today?
- Today many modern artist still are painting with a limited palette. Why?
Painting with a limited palette is excellent
for budding artists who are learning how to use colors.
Today many professional
artists use a limited palette. They only have to be concerned about keeping a
small number of paint colors in stock.
Also, it's very handy when you are going to a paint
workshop or painting outside on location. You only have pack a few tubes to carry with you.
Painting a "Fun Fish" from a limited palette
what colors do you use?
A limited palette does not mean boring! It does not mean your paintings will have only a few colors.
You can get many additional colors from your limited palette by mixing. The colors will always harmonize and give you a cohesive color scheme because they based on just a few original colors.
It's easy to learn how to mix colors.
primary limited palette
- Cadmium Yellow Light
- Cadmium Red
- Ultramarine Blue
This palette with the addition of white will give you a wide
range of mixed colors. The secondary colors are easy to mix; yellow and red for orange, yellow and blue for green and blue and red for purple. The purple however is a bit muddy, not a real clean color.
There is a simple solution, double your primary palette.
double primary palette
Use a double primary palette that includes a warm and cool version of each of the primary colors.
- Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Yellow Medium
- Cadmium Red and Alizarin Crimson
- Ultramarine Blue
and Phthalocyanine Blue GS
This still is only six tubes of paint. Mixing the colors and the addition of white will give the artist all the colors they could ever want or need.
painting with a limited palette
Let's paint a quick, colorful, fun and easy painting with a limited palette.
- 8x8 canvas
- Cadmium Yellow
- Cadmium Red and Permanent Alizarin Crimson
- Phthalo blue
- #10 round brush
You will find the basics of oil painting here.
Underpaint the background
Casually lay in the background colors individually using all of your palette colors. Paint them thinned with your solvent, so the colors will dry fast. Don't blend the colors.
This painting is done with alkyds paints. They dry fairly fast, so in about an hour we will soften and blend them. If they are blended now, it will make mud.
When you are painting with a limited palette, you don't have to be concerned about which colors to use. Any and all of the colors will harmonize and work well with each other.
Paint the orange spot
Paint the orange part of the fish with cadmium red and cadmium yellow mixed. On the bottom part away from the light, blend in the darker, cooler permanent alizarin crimson.
Please note, cadmium colors are associated with a health hazard. I use Winsor Newton colors and their Winsor reds and yellows are made without the use of cadmium.
My favorite palette colors
Continue painting the red areas
While you are painting, add yellow to the red on the top of the fish where the light is hitting.
Carry some of the red color out into the fins.
Underpaint the shadow areas
Paint the shadow areas of the fish with blue that has been softened a bit with red.
It is difficult to paint dark oil colors into white. So we paint the dark shadow color first before we add white.
Paint the white parts of the goldfish
Now paint the white areas of the body. Gently blend the white into the shadow paint. Add yellow to the top of the fish toward the light.
Paint the dark eye mixed with a combination of red and blue. More blue makes it darker. Paint a red ring around the eye. Add blue on the shadow side the eye ring.
Blend the background colors
Use a soft, dry brush to blend the background colors. Then we can pull the fin colors out over the background. The blending was done with about a 1/2" flat brush.
It you are painting with oils, just pull a soft, dry brush gently over the background colors to blend them.
Since this is a small canvas, I like to pick it up and turn it when I am painting. So I left one corner unpainted to keep my hands clean. It will be filled in later.
Paint the fins
Using white, paint the fin colors out into the background. It is your option, you may want to add a bit of yellow or blue to the white.
Blend the white into the red of the fins.
Oops, I forgot to make the fins darker where they attach to body. So I added a bit of blue. (Next image) Either blue or alizarin crimson would be fine to darken the fins where they attach to the body.
Have some fun!
The thinly painted background is fairly dry now. So here comes some fun!
Dab on colors that are thinned down with your mineral spirits. Then blow the thin colors with a soda straw to make them look like sea grasses.
Since we are painting with a limited palette, any of your colors will harmonize well with the painting.
Finish the details
Finish the background around the goldfish. Use any of the colors from your limited palette. They will all harmonize.
Paint a light highlight on the eye with a tiny touch.
Pull a clean, dry brush along the outer edges of the fins to soften them into the surrounding water.
Up to the finished "Fun Fish"
painting with a limited palette is fun and easy!