Limited Palettes

You can get along with any of the three limited palettes below, or you can get all of the colors I like to use. You’ll have to work harder using fewer colors, but either the limited OR full palettes below should allow you to mix nearly any color you see.

In creating these suggested limited palettes,  what I was after was to find the fewest tubes of paint for the greatest color range.

Every limited palette does not give a full range of color: for example the infamous limited palette touted by many, consisting of ultramarine blue, cad yellow light, and alizarin crimson. This particular palette doesn’t allow for a true lime green or chartreuse due to the reddish quality of ultramarine blue, and it doesn’t allow for clean pure purples or violets or magentas due to the brownish tint of alizarin crimson.

I believe it’s possible to come close to a full range with only 5 or 6 tubes of paint, an inexpensive way to try out acrylic without a huge dollar investment.

A limited palette is a great teaching tool. Each color takes longer to mix at first, but learning to mix with a restricted palette is a huge step toward being able to see and replicate any color swiftly and without leaning on the left-brain and its knowledge of “warm, cool, color charts, color wheels, primaries or complementaries.”

Mixing without using color names is a big part of this.

The idea is to learn to mix colors the way “Understood Betsy” learned right from left, by just jerking the rein in the direction she wanted the horse to go rather than trying to remember which was her right hand and which her left, and then transferring that knowledge to the rein and eventually to the horse.

Also a limited palette helps the painter focus on value. Since value creates the structure of a painting it’s hard to underestimate the importance of this.

I use Golden Heavy Body Acrylics, but there are many other reputable brands available. If you have a good local art store they will help you find the best quality professional acrylics, or try Dick Blick, Art Supply Warehouse, Jerry’s Artarama or other online art stores.

Add Titanium White, 8 oz or more, to all these palettes:

3-Color Palette
phthalo blue, red shade  #1260
C.P. cadmium yellow light  #1120
quinacridone red  #1310

4-Color Palette
phthalo blue, red shade  #1260
hansa yellow light  #1180
naphthol red light  #1210
quinacridone magenta  #1305

6-Color Palette (Marcia’s choice)
cobalt blue   #1140
turquois (phthalo)   #1390
C.P. cadmium yellow light  #1120
C.P. cadmium orange  #1070 or pyrrole orange  #1276
pyrrole red  #1277
primary magenta  #1510