May 8, 2011

Painting Basics: Limited Palette

In the previous post about color palettes, I showed examples of a basic or limited palette. I thought I would continue this topic by demonstrating how to create a wide range of colors using a palette of just a few colors. This can help us gain a better understanding of mixing color and how the pigments work together.

Today, I will use a limited color palette I teach my students to show that most colors can be mixed from just four paints.

The Color Palette

Here is the color palette. It is based on the primary colors and white.

Red: Alizarin Crimson
Yellow: Cadmium Yellow (hue)
Blue: Ultramarine Blue
White: Flake White (or Titanium White) 

Mixing Secondaries 

We can start creating some colors by mixing green, violet, and orange.  Below you will find examples mixing the paints to get the desired color. The specific properties of the final result will depend on how much of each paint we combine.

Green: Mix Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow together.

Violet: Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue

Orange: Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Yellow

Mixing Tertiaries

Browns:  We can create a brown using these paint colors. Using the information from the color wheel I can see that I can mix a brown using a blue and an orange.  Since we can make an orange from Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Yellow, we can make a brown.  I could mix an orange first then add blue to the mixture or I can start from the three colors I have set out on the palette and mix the color directly.

Brown: Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, and Ultramarine Blue

To get different versions of brown I can vary the amounts of Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, and Ultramarine Blue I add to the mix.

Brown mixed with more Cadmium Yellow

Mixing Black

Since we are using a palette with a limited range in paint choices the colors we use to make black will be the same colors we use to make brown. Like creating the different browns making black depends on how much of each color we add.

Black: Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, and Ultramarine Blue

Browns will have more Alizarin Crimson and Cadmium Yellow than Ultramarine Blue. Black will have a higher ratio of blue as compared to red and yellow.

Mixing Grays

To mix a gray, just add a little white to the black we just mixed up. 

Gray: Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, and Flake White 

Mixing Tints

Just like the grays, we can create a tint by adding white to the color we created.

Pink: Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, and Flake White

Tan: Alizarin Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, and Flake White

Sometimes we want a color to be less saturated and more subtle. To do this we can just mute the color.  Since this is a limited palette our choices of paint color are again Aliziran Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, and Ultramarine Blue.

One way of muting a color is to add a complement to it. Since this palette is based on the primary colors if we mix two paints together, the third color will be the complement.

Muting a green:  Cadmium Yellow, Ultramarine Blue, Flake White to get green

Add Alizarin Crimson to mute


We can see that with this palette we can mix a wide variety of colors. One advantage of mixing these colors from the four paint choices is that these colors will remain harmonious with each other.

Try mixing some flesh tones if you are interested in painting portraits or the figure.

Try mixing some greens that you might use in a landscape.

When practicing this be aware of how much paint you are adding to the mix each time. After enough practice, your ability to gauge how much paint is need for the color you want will improve.