Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Growing--Painting Process--Using a Limited Palette

When I first started painting, I used whatever paint colors I thought would best mimic the actual landscape that was my subject or sometimes used my "artistic license" to attempt to improve on nature, choosing whatever colors I wanted. Although this approach can work, and some of those pieces turned out well, I have been more pleased with the results of using a so-called "limited palette" approach. That means using just certain selected paint colors throughout one painting. Two happy results of this change were that the pieces seemed to have better internal unity and were more pleasing to the eye (in my opinion) and secondly, that I discovered a tremendous power and range in color blends. Even a limited palette can produce amazing variety in color and tone. Rich neutrals result from combinations of opposites on the color wheel, like producing an earthy, warm brown from mixing red and green (which can be varied with different reds or greens from the tube) or like the range of lively greys emerging from purple/yellow or blue/orange combos. Alternatively, one can use the opposite (complementary) color in small amounts to soften a tube color. For example, a too-strong blue for painting a realistic sky color can be knocked back with the right orange, or even with a few drops of burnt sienna.
The painting in today's photo shows early spring wildflowers at Jacksonville Beach against a white fence, photographed near an oceanfront home. A dear friend purchased the painting at my Open Studio Reception this past November, so I visit it often. The other photo shows some of the palette experimentation and notes that led to the palette used for the piece. Other color combos I tried and rejected for this particular painting are saved in a file for possible future use. The colors used here are cerulean blue, paynes grey (which is also bluish), sap green, cadmium red deep, burnt sienna, Naples yellow, buff, black, and white, with a touch of orange added later for bright highlights in the flowers. This May, I started a second painting from the same set of beach photos, one which includes a nearby bridge over the protected dunes down to the beach, and am using this identical palette again. If some of you are interested in this topic, I will include palette details in an occasional future post showing paintings. Please let me know what you think.
Question of the day: I think I have asked this before, but can't resist again--where would be without color in our world?


  1. What a beautiful painting! I also enjoy mixing and blending colors. I'm trying to get an old brass color look right now on a piece. Where would we be without colors? I don't know...color gives this world...well...color! LOL

  2. This is true. Some of my favorite paintings were ones I did using only red, yellow, and blue (and white) as my basic colors and mixing everything from that. Although I don't think the paint companies would like this to be known!!


  3. Blending a good old brass color sounds really challenging, Sherry--hope it comes out well. Thanks for your kind words and fun comment about color.

    I have worked on paintings with only the primaries, too, Lisa, and the results can be quite lovely. Thanks for the compliment--glad you like the painting.

  4. Sad. This might seem a little strange but I recall, years ago, seeing the Holocaust documentary Shoah. It was hours long in black and white.... except for one little girl wearing a red coat on her way in a crowd of people to the death camp.

  5. What a powerful comment and association, TB! It is insightful on many levels--as a depiction of the human spirit in the Holocaust most of all. But it also speaks to the power of spare use of color and the drama of contrast in the film you saw. Thank you, thank you.