Sunday, September 22, 2013

Limited Palette & Demonstration

Homemade Glass Palette with primaries and secondaries
For quite a long time, I've been using a color palette of between eight and twelve colors of paint, plus titanium white. I used the frequently-used warm and cool version of each primary color, a couple of earth colors, occasionally black, and viridian or pthalo blue when needed. I bought other colors of paint of course, including a couple of the quinacridone colors such as magenta or rose and played with them, and also tried a couple of the transparent oxides. These other colors usually went back into the spare paint container and only came out if I really wanted a specific color I couldn't get otherwise. I did find that Richeson Shiva Ice Blue mixes wonderful foggy or overcast skies, and that Viridian was useful in getting that deep turquoise blue I needed while painting in Laguna Beach.

I've been putting together a painting kit for traveling, where I need to fit everything into a smallish backpack. I bought a cigar box pochade on eBay, and took it for a spin (literally, on my back while riding my bike to the beach). It worked great, but the paint is just heavy and I started thinking what I could leave behind. 

I've been reading about a few artists who use a truly limited palette, consisting of three or four colors, and found it interesting but a bit intimidating. I found Lori Putnam's blog post about her three-color palette, and decided to try it. I still have all my other paints, and can easily add in as necessary.

Go ahead and read Lori's post — it's really worthwhile — but basically, she decided to try using this very limited palette for a year. Lori uses Cadmium Yellow, Pyrrol Red and Ultramarine Blue, along with Titanium White. She said it worked so well for her, that she hasn't gone back, and still uses it. She can mix 99% of the colors she needs from these colors.

I've used Lori's palette now for a week or so, and am really enjoying it. I was mostly concerned with giving up Alizarin Crimson, since it made a lot of the mixes I liked. But the Pyrrol Red makes a beautiful purple, and I haven't missed the alizarin at all. I'm using Winsor & Newton's Winsor Red, which is the same as pyrrol (also spelled pyrrole or pyrol). As Lori suggested, I mix up the secondaries on my palette (orange, green, purple). I also save the palette scrapings, mixed together to make a neutral "mud" color, which is always slightly different, but is usually a warm grey. This is a great aid to getting beautiful neutrals and greys. Honestly, I am loving the results and highly recommend it!

Read Lori's blog article, as she explains her reasons for choosing the limited palette much better than I can, and she has a great color chart showing some of the colors she mixes.

"Up A Creek" Demo....

I posted these photos on my FaceBook Cindy Greene Studio page, but it's a little harder to find there and thought I'd cross-post them here. I snapped some photos of my painting "Up A Creek" while in process. This was painted using only Cadmium Yellow, Pyrrol Red and Ultramarine Blue, along with Titanium White.

On Ampersand Gessobord, a very smooth panel, I sketched in the composition
with a diluted mixture of grey "mud."

I laid in the dark shapes, to get the darks where they need to be. I had mixed
a nice large pile of blue and red, and modified that purple as needed.

I added some of the middle values, going cooler in the background, as well as laying in
the light sand color on the right. Also put in the light gold bluff area and its reflection.

Started putting in greens, especially the trees up on the bluff.
I also put in the sky to get the lightest light in place.

I put in the greens of the marsh grass, trying to get the pattern in of lights and darks.

Water! There are some cloud reflections, but not enough to make distinct shapes.
The gessobord is a bit slick for big strokes.

I painted the right side bank, with its grasses and shrubs. I also worked on the left bank a bit.

Finally, the reflections of the bluffs and trees go in the water.

More details now, darkening a few areas and developing some of the marsh.
I also corrected a bit of the reflections.

I thought it was finished here, but as usual it needed to "steep" overnight.

I made a couple of miniscule corrections on the bluff areas.
This is the final, and the colors are more true to the original.

"Up A Creek", 6"x6"
©2013 Cindy Greene


  1. I love seeing the step-by-step photos! Great job with the colors :)

  2. Great painting, and thanks for the step by step!

    1. Thank you Jane! Glad you enjoyed the step photos.


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