Week 38 - Choosing your Palette

When it comes to creating a painting, the choice of colour palette plays a crucial role in conveying emotions and setting the overall mood. But is there a subconscious reason behind why artists pick certain colours? I'd like to talk about colour psychology and explore the factors that influence an artist's colour choices.

Why do artists choose specific color palettes?

Artists often rely on their intuition and personal preferences when selecting a colour palette. However, there are also subconscious factors at play. One such factor is the emotional response that colours evoke. Different colours have been associated with specific emotions throughout history. For example, warm colours like red and orange are often linked to passion and energy, while cool colours like blue and green are associated with calmness and tranquility.

Moreover, cultural and societal influences can shape an artist's colour choices. Certain colours may hold symbolic meanings or cultural significance in different parts of the world. Artists may draw inspiration from their surroundings, traditions, or even political and social movements.

Native colour or a more creative palette?

While sticking to a native, or local colour palette can create a sense of familiarity and realism, using a more creative palette allows artists to experiment and evoke specific moods. By deviating from the expected colours, artists can challenge the viewer's perception and create a unique visual experience.

Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

For instance, Vincent van Gogh's famous painting "Starry Night" features a vibrant and expressive colour palette that deviates from reality. The swirling blues and yellows create a dreamlike atmosphere, reflecting the artist's emotional state rather than adhering to the natural colours of the night sky.

Famous color palettes over the years

Throughout history, numerous artists have employed distinctive colour palettes that have become iconic. A few notable examples:


Femme aux Bras Croisés by Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso's Blue Period: During this phase, Picasso predominantly used shades of blue to convey a sense of melancholy and introspection in his artworks.

Woman with Hat by Henri Matisse

Henri Matisse's Fauvism: Matisse and the Fauvist movement embraced bold and vibrant colours, often using non-naturalistic palettes to express intense emotions and energy.

Limited palette or a more comprehensive one?

The choice between a limited or comprehensive colour palette depends on the artist's intentions and desired outcome. A limited palette can create harmony and unity within a painting, as the colours are carefully selected to work together. This approach is often used in traditional techniques such as the "mother colours" method, where a limited set of colours is mixed to create a wide range of hues.

On the other hand, a more comprehensive palette offers artists a broader range of colours to work with, allowing for greater flexibility and experimentation. Artists can explore complex colour relationships and create dynamic visual effects.

Ultimately, the decision between a limited or comprehensive palette is a matter of artistic preference and the message the artist wishes to convey through their work.

The choice of colour palette in a painting is influenced by a combination of conscious and subconscious factors. Artists draw inspiration from emotions, cultural influences, and personal preferences. Whether sticking to native colors or exploring a more creative palette, artists have the power to evoke emotions, challenge perceptions, and create visually captivating artworks.

What is the Zorn palette?

The Zorn palette - Ivory black Titanium white, yellow ochre and cadmium red

The Zorn palette is a limited colour palette used by many artists to achieve a harmonious and realistic look in their paintings. It consists of just four colours: yellow ochre, ivory black, cadmium red, and titanium white. This palette was popularized by the Swedish painter Anders Zorn in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Why you should consider using the Zorn palette

A small landscape painted using the Zorn palette in Oil and Cold Wax.

The Zorn palette offers several advantages for artists:

Simplicity: With only four colours, artists can focus on mastering the use of these limited pigments.

Harmony: The colours in the Zorn palette work well together, creating a sense of unity and coherence in the painting.

Realism: The limited colour range of the Zorn palette can help artists achieve a natural and realistic look in their paintings.

Cost-effectiveness: By using just a few colours, artists can save money on their paint supplies.

    How to use the Zorn palette effectively?

    Here are some tips for using the Zorn palette:

    Experiment with colour mixing: Since the Zorn palette has limited colours, artists need to become proficient in colour mixing to achieve a wide range of hues.

    Master the values: Understanding the value range of each colour in the Zorn palette is crucial for creating depth and dimension in the painting.

    Use the colours selectively: The Zorn palette is not suitable for every subject or style of painting. Artists should consider the subject matter and desired mood before deciding to use this limited palette.

    Examples of paintings created with the Zorn palette

    Many renowned artists have used the Zorn palette to create stunning works of art. Here are a few examples:

    The Daughters by John Singer Sargent

    "Sargent's Daughters" by John Singer Sargent: This portrait showcases the mastery of the Zorn palette in capturing the skin tones and subtle nuances of the subjects.

    The Letter by Anders Zorn

    "The Letter" by Anders Zorn: The artist himself demonstrated the power of the Zorn palette in this captivating painting, where the limited colours create a sense of intimacy and warmth.

    Whether you're a beginner or an experienced artist, experimenting with the Zorn palette can expand your understanding of colour.

    Until next week...



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