Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tuesday Tip: Color Palette

It's Tuesday Tips! A collection of tips I've gained through experience or learned from other artists.

Color Temperature

There are as many ways to lay out paint on the palette as there are artists. Some painters work with a very limited palette of five or six colors. That's a great way to learn to focus on value—you can't get too distracted with all the color choices.

I find I don't like a complex palette. I work with three primaries (yellow, red, blue), plus white. But I use a warm and a cool version of each primary (see the second image below for the specific paints).

One outlier I frequently use is Magenta. It's neither cool nor warm; and makes an excellent underpainting color for turquoise skies.

My choices for each are evolving. It depends on the subject—sometimes I want the flat purity of cobalt blue, sometimes I want a bit more vibrance with a phthalo blue. The photo shows my palette (and all the other mess on the table...). I put Titanium white along the top, usually in a longish line, so that I can pull out a clean bit when I need it. On my left I arrange the warm colors, on the right the cool colors. Occasionally I'll use green, and put those along the bottom. Another sometimes-visitor is purple or violet. But generally it's just the three primaries. White is actually a little on the cool side. It seems neutral out of the tube, but when mixed with another color, it makes that color duller and cooler. So I use white in shadows much more than in sunlit colors.

I'm using such tiny dabs of paint because I was painting a 4"x4" at the time.

My general technique is to paint objects in sunlight from the warm side of the palette and objects in shadow from the cool side. You almost can't go wrong that way, as long as you pay attention to values first. It's not an absolute—some greens are cooler than others even when both are in sunlight, for instance. But if I start from the appropriate side of the palette, I get close to the right color right off the bat, instead of futilely mixing everything I have trying to capture it. 

The next image is from the Lukas catalog, so you can get a better idea of the colors. I use the Lukas 1862 oils, and really like them—silky smooth but plenty of pigment. They make similarly-priced paints feel like spreading oatmeal mixed with glue. No, they're not compensating me for my endorsement, but I wish they would :-)  I often use both Naples Yellow and Yellow Ochre on the cool side. And I haven't quite found a warm red that I absolutely love yet. They all tend to go a little too pink when thinned. And I ping-pong between Cobalt Blue and Phthalo Blue.

Funny how Phthalo Blue is definitely warm, but Phthalo Green is very cool.

Another common landscape palette is: alizarin crimson, cadmium red, cadmium orange, cadmium yellow, pthalo green, and ultramarine blue. 


  1. Thank you Marla! This is how I like to work also. Thanks for tips on your warm and cool. It's so hard to find information on the temperature of a color. You made my day! Margie

  2. I love a good instructional blog! You are so organized and clever, it makes me feel like anyone could paint with those instructions.

    Sadly, I did not inherit the gene.....tried to get it though marriage, but it did not rub off!

    I will give your way a try today.

  3. Hi Marla, I love your comment about my painting of a female actress getting into character! Thank you. I'm glad this lead me to your blog about your own art and techniques. You have a keen understanding of color - I look forward to studying what you say here and to seeing more of your artwork.

  4. Thanks, Marla, for your comment about my painted woman getting into character. I'm also pleased to see your colorful well-designed paintings and to read about your technique!


I love to read your comments - thanks for your feedback!

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