An Artist's six-colour limited palette.

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What is a six colour palette?

It will help to read the article and watch the video on three colour mixing first. Once you understand the basics about the colour circle, and the versatility of three primary colours, then it's an easy step to entertain the idea of a six colour palette.

It's easy to sum up.

No pigment is a pure primary colour.

Therefore there are limitations. Very often, you can work within these limitations, but let's understand the ramifications.

Although the cleanest green is made by using a green shade blue and a green shade yellow, If your primary blue and primary yellow are cool it could be tricky to make a warm green by adding a red which could also have a bias. The result might be muted or muddy.

For Windsor and Newton paints, Ultramarine is a red shade blue (warm) whilst Prussian blue is a green shade blue (cool). You will notice that I qualified this by quoting the manufacturer along with a claim about the warmth or coolness of the colour. This is because you can't really classify warmness and coolness by the name of the colour alone. See 'warning' below.

Each tube pigment is produced in a different way by each manufacturer, and these variations are likely to sometimes affect what happens to the colours as you mix them with others. It's also possible to grab a cool white or a warm white which will affect the paler mix and its warmness or otherwise. You could find inconsistent results from two manufacturers that produce the same colour by name.

Therefore, my advice is this:

Experiment! I can't tell you what colours to pick for your palette - not exactly anyway because it depends on the availability of your local suppliers, your budget, and what kind of painting you are doing. However, by understanding paint better, you will be able to get more from your experiments and home in on a palette that works for you.

Make yourself some colour charts with a selection of primaries or near-primaries and tint them with your chosen black (or blacks) and chosen white (or whites). Thereafter, stick with those manufacturer's colours. I suggest to to choose a brand that is easy to find in your area. The quality of artist quality paints these days are generally very good -- especially compared to say, 50 years ago and more. You will also find that certain colours cost a huge amount. So if you are on a budget, try to find the purest colours (highest chroma) that are well separated on the colour wheel and are also cost effective. This will give you a lot of versatility.

Having done that, there are more considerations. Paint consistency (how it holds a brush mark, or how smooth it is to use), how permanent is the colour, how transparent is it, how quickly it dries, whether it is toxic or not...

Warning: * * * * * * DO NOT SPRAY TOXIC PIGMENTS! Some contain lead and Chromium for example.

If you want to mix slow drying colours into fast or medium, consider adding a little alkyd like liquin to unify the drying time. But note: this affects the consistency and may not be required if the bulk of the paint is fast drying anyway. Use common sense. As long as you are sure to follow the fat-over-lean and thick over thin principle, then long term results will be good. If not, without specialist formulated paint, thin layers on thick or fat will crack.

Six colours therefore give more scope:

Six colours

Primary
Bias
Result
RED
ORANGE
Warm
RED
PURPLE
Cool
BLUE
PURPLE
Cool
BLUE
GREEN
Warm
YELLOW
ORANGE
Warm
YELLOW
GREEN
Cool
This reads: "RED with an ORANGE bias results in a Warm RED" etc...

I Highly recommend having a play with this click-able colour chart. In particular, you will be able to get some idea where your chosen colours are on the wheel.

Now. Another way to choose six colours, which is something I've arrived at independently, is to choose three primaries, and make sure you can also obtain their complementaries.

Six colours using three complimentary pairs.

Primary
Compliment
When mixed
Cadmium Yellow
Ultramarine Blue
Dark Green
Cadmium Red Light
Thalo Blue
Very dark Purple, near black.
Thalo Green
Quinacridone Magenta
Almost perfect black

A word of warning.

... or should I say, "a word of warming"?

Paint has three main characteristics that you can use to describe it. Hue, Chroma and Value. Hue is dependent on the wavelengths of light that are absorbed and reflected. Chroma is how efficiently and selectively it reflects light, while value is an averaged out number that indicates how much light overall a pigment reflects. You don't really need something called 'warm' or 'cool' in an absolute description of paint.

So the terms 'warm' and 'cool' should only be used in relation to another colour, and also state the manufacturer and colour name. Use it for a relative description.

You can say 'cool shadow' in comparison to an adjacent object but that actual shadow might be considered warm under different conditions.

Another thing that strongly affects colour is the light in the room. Sunlight will provide a wide spectrum of frequencies. Tungsten lighting tends towards yellow while many fluorescents are greenish. Obviously, if you view a painting under a narrow band of red light, it will look very different to doing the same under blue light. In each case the 'warmness' or 'coolness' of a colour will dramatically change. In fact a high chroma red will look black under a strong green light because there is no red light to reflect, and all the green light is absorbed. If you extrapolate this extreme case to a situation where the colour of a wall near a painting reflects a non-ideal spectrum of light, then it's easy to see how the warmness or coolness of a given colour is really dependent on environment as well as personal subjective judgement and context.

Here are a collections of 'opinions' made by various people. Take from it what you will, and bear in mind the warning above.

  • Azo yellow - cool.
  • Cadmium yellow light / lemon - opaque cool.
  • Hansa / arylide yellow - transparent neutral.
  • Cadmium yellow medium - warm
  • Cadmium red light / medium - opaque warm
  • Naphthol / Pyrrol red - transparent warm
  • Alizarin crimson - transparent cool. ( Not a permanent colour unless you find a permanent hue)
  • Quinacridone red / rose / violet - transparent cool.
  • Ultramarine / French ultramarine blue - transparent blue cool
  • Cobalt blue - transparent neutral
  • Phthalo blue - transparent cool blue - very strong
  • Prussian blue - transparent greenish, coppery [ i.e. undecided as green is cool, copper is warm! ]
  • Cerulean - opaque,cool
  • Viridian - deep, transparent cool
  • Phthalo green - transparent cool
  • Sap green - warm


Earth tones. These tend to be opaque. Consider them as additions to the limited six-colour palette. You won't need all of them except for white. You can make a convincing black.

  • Naples yellow - very light, dull possibly a substitute for white. A convenience colour.
  • Yellow ochre - dull mustard yellow. Mixed with white, this is quite useful at times.
  • Burnt sienna / red oxide - reddish brown.
  • Burnt umber - dull brownish grey.
  • Payne's grey.
  • Black -
  • White -

There are several choices of black and white. Black is sometimes used in a palette devoid of blue because it's often really a very deep dark blue anyway.

Ref: http://www.outsideshore.com/school/art/oil.htm

Blues

According to http://www.gamblincolors.com/artists.grade.oils/blues/index.html

Prussian, Cobalt, and Phthalo Blue are warm and Ultramarine Blue is very warm.

But it also says Prussian is cool which has to make you think there is some subjectivity or error.

Anyway these are touted as cool:- Cerulean, Manganese Blue Hue (and is transparent).


Reds

Gamblin suggests these are warm reds:

Napthol Red, Napthol Scarlet, Perylese Red,

Cool reds would include:

The Alizarins (but consider that it might not be light-fast).

Perylene Red - transparent and has a yellow undertone.

* * *

Cadmiums will make a good pink for you.

Yellows

Hansa Yellows make intense tints and clean secondaries -- better than Cadmium. For best results, mix with Phthalo Blue and Green.

Cool yellow : Hansa Yellow Light (Semi Transparent).

Warm golden yellow : Hansa Yellow Deep (Semi Transparent). Indian Yellow (transparent - and from Gamblin at least, is lightfast)

TIPS

5000k is a nice balanced white light. Full-spectrum fluorescent lamps are used in the art studio by artists who paint pictures on canvas when they paint at night or inside

'Hue' has two meanings. It means the same as 'what colour' something is, but when used as a label on a tube of paint it just means that the paint uses a substitute of an original pigment. It may have better or specific features - like more lightfast or transparency, or be cheaper etc.

Paints always look warmer in a thin layer and always go cooler as soon as you add white.

Adding white make pastels - not brighter colours. It seems like you should add white to make something brighter - but that's because we are thinking about light, not pigment. When you add white to a pigment, it reduces its strength. Both value and Chroma go down.

When you place complementary colours next to each other, they each appear brighter. An understanding of complimentary colours is very important to artists. When you add a little complementary colour it will dull it. In the right proportions it will tend towards a neutral, but when juxtaposed, they dance off each other and make each other seem more intense. When a spot of red is embedded in a background of green, sometimes it seems to float above the page.

Now for a really cool tip:

To make a 'super white' highlight - say on a local area of red, put a tiny tinge of the complement into it (green). This has the effect of making the white like a sparkle.

A limited palette benefits from high chroma paint because its easy to dull paint, but not possible to make it brighter.

Burnt Umber is in fact a dark Yellow hue and a dark Red hue. And a burnt umber mixed with a strong blue will make a really decent black.

Flake white dries quickly - so it's useful for underpainting.

Titanium white is good for high highlights. This is because it is opaque.

Soft edges recede, hard edges come forward. Photo-realists use this trick to great advantage. You may also hear the more traditional term: 'lost edges' which means that there is no hard delineation between a distant edge and its background. Things in the foreground benefit from harder edges where appropriate.

Transparent application recedes. Opaque comes forward. This implies you can scumble your shadows or glaze them to assist in making them go deep. Shadows that float don't look good!

Synthetic organics like Phthalocyanines and Quinacridones are transparent.

Cadmiums and Earth colours give excellent opacity.

Odourless mineral spirits is not as strong a solvent as turpentine. Both are toxic.

Paint from general to specific. This means block in big shapes first, then progressively add detail.

Chroma

If the term 'Chroma' confuses you think of it as 'how near to the circumference of the colour wheel is it?' Then it's easy to see that you can dull a colour using its complimentary which reduces its chroma.

Local colour

The local colour of, say, a banana is yellow. The local colour of a leaf might be green, but the overall impression of a painting might be something quite different. Therefore, when you read about 'local colour' and so on, it's usually talking about a specific object in the painting. This local colour will often reflect coloured light onto a nearby object. So a local colour of a yellow lemon might have an area that is red because of a nearby apple that has a local colour of red.

Vibrancy

This is another silly adjective for a single colour because it really talks of an effect that results from careful consideration of adjacent colours, and other tricks like transparent pure colours over complementary under-painting. If you can, consider using 'single pigment colours'. They are more likely to be near pure and therefore more likely to contribute to a vibrant effect.

Drying times of Winsor Oil paints

Fast dry - 2 days
Medium dry - 5 days
Slow dry > 5 days
Permanent Mauve [manganese]
Winsor Blues and greens ([phthalocyanines)
Winsor Yellows (arylide)
Cobalt Blue
Burnt Sienna
Winsor Yellows (arylide)
Prussian Blue
Cobalt Violet
Quinacridones,
Raw Sienna
Cobalt Green
Alizarin Crimson
Umber
Ultramarine Blue
 
Flake
Mars (Synthetic Iron oxides)
 
Foundation White
Sap green
 
Cremnitz White
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
 
 
Ochres
 
 
Cadmiums
 
 
Titanium White
 
 
Zinc White
 
 
Lamp Black
 
 
Ivory Black
 
 
Pyrrols
 
 
Bismuth yellow
 
 
Perylenes
 
This is from the manufacturer's web site: http://www.winsornewton.com/products/oil-colours/artists-oil-colour/

My paints

I've collected a lot of tubes over the years - some cheap stuff and some that costs a lot. What follows is a table that will help classify them because I intend to choose a palette of six colours, ignoring a lot of what I already have, and try to pick from a single brand.

AS = Art spectrum. These are nice paints. Reference: http://www.artspectrum.com.au/swatches-oils/pro-oils-chart.html

My paints - in no particular order

Brand
Colour
Colour temperature
opacity/transparency
Permanence / Lightfastness
quality (if printed)
AS
Titanium white
 
 
* * * *
Professional
Alexander
Titanium white
 
 
 
Artists
AS
Olive Green
 
 
* * *
Artists
Rowney
Permanent Mauve
 
 
* * *
Artists
Rowney
Prussian Green
 
 
* * *
Artists
Winton
Cad red hue
 
 
A / II
Artists
AS
Transparent Gold Oxide
 
 
* * * * / I
Artists
Alexander
Van Dyke Brown
 
 
 
Artists
Alexander
Indian Yellow
 
 
 
Artists
Rowney
Crimson Lake
 
 
* * *
Artists
Grumbacher
Flesh Hue
 
 
/ I
Artists
Rowney
French Ultramarine
 
 
* * *
Artists
Alexander
Phthalo Green
 
 
 
Artists
Rownie
Titanium White
 
 
* * *
Artists
Rownie
Flesh Tint
 
 
* * *
Artists
Rownie
Vermillion Hue
 
 
* *
Artists
Rownie
Chrome Green (contains Lead)
 
 
 
Artists
AS
Lemon Yellow
 
Semi Transparent
* * *
Professional
Rownie
Alizarin Crimson
 
 
* * *
Artists
Alexander
Alizarin Crimson
 
 
 
Artists
AS
Indigo
 
 
 
Artists
Rownie
Permanent Blue
 
 
 
Artists
Rownie
Chrom Yellow
 
 
* *
Artists
Rownie
Cobalt Blue (Hue)
 
 
 
Artists
Winsor & Newton
Winsor Orange
 
 
 
Artists
Alexander
Phthalo Blue
 
 
 
Artists
Archival
Cad Yellow Light
 
 
 
Artists
Alexander
Permanent Red
 
 
 
Artists
Rownie
Yellow Ochre
 
 
* * * *
Artists
Rownie
Burnt Sienna
 
 
* * * *
Artists
Alexander
Sap Green
 
 
 
Artists
Mont Marte
Yellow Ochre
 
 
* * *
Professional Series
Mont Marte
Medium Yellow
 
 
* * *
Professional Series
Mont Marte
Lemon Yellow
 
 
* * *
Professional Series
Alexander
Ivory Black
 
 
 
Artists
Winton
Cad Yellow Pale Hue
 
 
A / I
Artists
AS
Cad Red
 
 
 
Professional
Winton
Cobalt Blue Hue
 
 
A / I
Artists
Alexander
Burnt Umber
 
 
 
Artists
Alexander
Yellow Ochre
 
 
 
Artists
Archival
Permanent Alizarin
 
 
 
Artists

When my paint dries...

I'll make another article that shows some of the colours that can be created with a limited six colours chosen from my inventory above.

Be sure to subscribe and look out for it.

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Comments 2 comments

lone77star profile image

lone77star 4 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

An interesting resource and some nice tips. I've used a number of them myself, during my art career.

I started out with oils, but migrated to acrylics. Even did some matte paintings for a Hollywood film, though that was on gessoed masonite for smoothness.

My favorite tip from above is using a hint of the complement for a bright light. I loved doing that in my space landscapes with alien suns.


Manna in the wild profile image

Manna in the wild 4 years ago from Australia Author

Hi lone77star Thanks for the feedback. How do you blend acrylics after enjoying oils for so long? Do you use glycerine?

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