Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why Limit Your Palette?

The new issue of International Artist magazine (#106, December/January) has a four-page feature that I wrote on extreme limited palettes—palettes that have four or fewer colors plus white.

One rhetorical question I pose is: Why limit your palette?
1. Paintings from limited palettes are automatically harmonious, but they’re very often eye-catching and memorable too. 
2. Old masters used limited palettes by default because they just couldn’t get the range of pigments we have now. Using older, quieter colors can give a much wanted mellowness. 
3. A limited palette forces you out of color-mixing habits. If you don’t have that standard “grass green” color, you’ll have to mix it from scratch, and you’re more likely to get the right green that way. 
4. Limited palettes are compact, portable, and sufficient for almost any subject. In fact you can paint almost anything in nature with just four or five colors.

In case you missed it, here's a recent video showing a painting made with just two colors plus white (Link to YouTube video):

International Artist magazine has been successfully using the cross-media strategy of printing QR codes next to paintings for which there is an accompanying YouTube video.
Previously on GJ: Limited Palettes 
"Gouache in the Wild"
• HD MP4 Download at Gumroad $14.95
• or HD MP4 Download at Sellfy (for Paypal customers) $14.95
• DVD at Purchase at (Region 1 encoded NTSC video) $24.50


A Colonel of Truth said...

I've visited the Zorn Museum in Mora, Sweden, a handful of times over the past 25 years. Studied his paintings closely (in Mora, in Stockholm museums, and in the U. S.). He, on occasion, certainly stepped outside the bounds of his typical restricted palette. But my goodness what he could do with just a handful of colors mind-numbing - reproductions are one thing while standing mere inches from the originals jaw-dropping. Speechless! Good post, James.

Karen Eade said...

I have loved all your posts on this subject, thank you. My limited colour palette of choice is Transparent Oxide Red, Cad Yellow Light, Black and white. It is a sort of warm Zorn. I found it by experiment after reading your books + the various posts on colour gamuts. You can get olive greens just great with it, but have to rely on b&w to create a sort of blue which is believable in the context of the painting. Sometimes I have to sneak in a bit of ultramarine, though. I love it for all the reasons you give + it has forced me to get better at judging value. I felt I often got colour and value mixed up to the detriment of my work. Now I am doing much better.

Charley parker said...

One of the nice things about color mixing with a limited palette is a kind of efficiency — if I need to mix a blue and red, I don't have to stop to think about which blue and which red. Color mixing becomes more of an unconscious process, a bit like having your colors arranged on the pallet in the same order so you automatically reach for them where they usually are.

landscape painter said...

I also love your posts on this subject. Several prominent landscape artists believe it is necessary to have a warm and cool of each primary on their palette. Obviously your landscapes are beautiful with a limited palette. Could you comment on how the results will vary from a fuller palette of colors.

Mark Martel said...

And they're faster, especially if you start on a colored ground.