What does a painter mean by the palette? Of course, it’s not just the piece of wood or other flat material on which an artist mixes colours. ‘The palette’ also refers to the range of colours a particular artist uses.
There are hundreds of colours produced by artists’ colourmen, and beginning painters can become confused over what colours to use and for what purpose. I have to agree it is confusing. It’s important to use the right colour-range for yourself, as this is a huge part of what is known as an artist’s style, and the work produced can sometimes be identified by an artist’s choice of palette.
I have settled on my list of colours now, and that list is for the most part, just 7 colours. I use them almost exclusively, plus one or two specials.
For instance, when painting in oils, I use French Ultramarine, Burnt umber, Burnt Sienna, Chrome Yellow, Naples Yellow, a bright Emerald Green and Titanium white.
These seven colours give me a good range of hues and tints for landscapes. For instance, Naples Yellow, like an unbleached, titanium white, mixed with Ultramarine produces a lovely shade of blue for skies. Depending on the amounts of each colour the range goes from greys through to the blues. You might notice I don’t exactly use the primaries (red, blue and yellow) here, but variants of them. So my colours are based on the three primaries, plus a special green, and titanium white.
When I want a harsher ‘cast’ to a picture, I keep Prussian blue, to substitute for the ultramarine. Prussian blue for instance, gives a ‘steely’ tint; and a totally different atmosphere to certain other blues.
The watercolours I use are similar, except I rely on Cobalt blue for skies, and Cerulean Blue for that evening bluish-glow. I also liked a colour called Neutral Tint, over Payne’s Grey, which of course gives my paintings a different overall mood to pictures using Payne’s grey.
So the colours I choose for a painting depend on the mood I am trying to create.
So to simplify, here are the primaries I use.
Blues: French Ultramarine, Cobalt, Cerulean and Prussian.
Yellows: Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, New Gamboge Aureolin, and Chrome Yellow.
Reds: Indian Red, (Or Burnt Sienna) Alizarin Crimson, Scarlet Lake
For emergencies and special effects: Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange and Sap Green.
Of course I don’t have all these colours on my palette at the same time. I content myself with the seven basics, made up of combinations of the three primaries as above.
So experiment. Do a simple picture using the seven colours. Then switch the primaries around and paint the same scene again. I think you’ll see what I mean about setting mood and atmosphere using colour!