Week 11 - Is Less More?

Anything simple always interests me.”

— David Hockney


One way an artist can develop "their look" is with a signature colour palette. A paint range an artist tends to use as their "go to" colours.

I considered myself a colourist, and although my palette is colourful, it tends to lean towards warm natural colours, with very little green. I don't like green. Which is an interesting situation considering I'm mostly a landscape painter. Minimal green please.

This week I've been experimenting with a limited palette. I'm loving it so much, even shades of green are sneaking onto my canvas. I'm a convert. This week I tried out two different limited palettes. A limited palette in this case being, three different colours, plus white and black for creating tints.

A limited palette is anything but. The sophisticated range of values and tones is never ending. It was fun experimenting to see how many colours I could mix. The limited palette helped to produced a profound harmony within the paintings. No more colour oops.

The King of limited palettes, Anders Zorn, (1860-1920), a Swedish artist best known for his portraiture, developed his own "Zorn palette", which consists of Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black, and Cadmium Red Medium plus white. This palette is still popular with many portrait, figurative and outdoor artists today.

Maybe you should give a limited palette a try, pick three colours and let the magic happen.

The colours I used for the first limited palette painting.
Napthanol Red Light, Teal, and Yellow Oxide, plus white and black.

Some of my colour mixtures from this limited palette.

An underpainting of orange/gold was applied prior to painting.
Note the green tones coming into the mix...

Natural Patterns, acrylic on canvas, 10" x 14"


The second limited palette painting was a demo I hadn't worked on for months. Since it had been such a long time since I'd worked on the painting, I wasn't sure what colours I'd originally used in my palette. The underpainting was a magenta-ish pinky colour. So to keep things simple I used a limited palette of Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, and Dairylide Yellow, plus white and black to go back in and finish up the work.

The harmony of colour from the limited palette helped to pull the painting together.

Ebb of the Tide, acrylic on canvas, 14" x 10"

Ask the Artists

Artist colour palettes can be as distinctive as the individual artists themselves. The colours we use can define our work, our "look". I asked some artist friends what their "go-to" colour palettes were, and this is what they had to say...

Sharon Fox Cranston: My usual go-to palette is Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Sienna, Alizarin Crimson, Hansa Yellow and Teal, plus Titanium White and Carbon Black. Instagram link.

Brian Buckrell: My palette is split primary - warm and cool of primaries - plus black and white and a selection of fun colours - usually opaque grays. Instagram link.

Wendy Birmingham: I set up my colours from warm to cool. Cad Lemon, Cad Yellow Med., Yellow Ochre, Cad Orange, Transparent Oxide Red, Alizerin Crimson, Quinacidine Magenta, Ultramarine Blue, Turquoise Blue Light, Besner Blue, Somnor Blue and Titanium White. Instagram link.

Sheila Davis: Hard question. I think we all fall in a rut when it comes to colour. But I generally use a cooler palette. All my greens lead toward blue. But I love a rich transparent coral to add pop. I don’t use much yellow. We don’t play well together. Instagram link.

Jen Lawton: My most favourite colours are: Aussie Red-Gold, Tasman Blue, Flinders Blue-Violet, Flinders Red Violet, Aussie Leaf Green Deep.  Added to these special colours, I am partial to Cobalt Teal, Turquoise, Cad. Yellow Med., Napthol Scarlet or Cad. Red Light, Asphaltum (a lovely brown) and a blue-violet or violet-grey.  My go-to neutrals are Titanium White, Cool White and Payne’s Grey.  I never use black from a tube, but rather mix my own. Instagram link.

Aili Kurtis: My preferred palette: Titanium White; Paynes Grey, Cadmium Yellow Light and Deep; Diarylide Yellow; Yellow Ochre; Nickel Azo Yellow; Burnt Sienna; Cadmium Red Light and Medium; Anthraquinone Blue; Phthalo Blue; Permanent Green Light. Instagram link.

Ed Parmiter: Blues..reds...and yellows using white as a medium. Instagram link.

 So, as you can see, there are similarities in the artists chosen colour palettes, but each is, in the end, unique as the artist themselves.


New Summer, Week-long Acrylic Workshop at the Lunenburg School of the Arts!

The Lunenburg School of the Arts has just posted my summer workshop here in beautiful Lunenburg. There is no better time than July to enjoy everything the South Shore of Nova Scotia has to offer. So come for the art, come for the beaches, come for the fun! These workshops fill quickly! I hope to see you in July.

'Til next week...


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