3 Color Palettes for the Serious Oil Painter

Have you ever given much thought to just how important your tools and palette really are?

Choose your color palette carefully

One of the most fun and satisfying aspects of oil painting is setting up your palette and preparing your tools.

This process really helps define who you are becoming as an artist, and what direction you will be taking.

It took me years of study, trail and error, being mentored by other artists and teachers, to finally settle on my set of artist tools and color palette.

1. Simple or Limited Palette (11 Colors or Less)

This is the palette that I use.  It consists of 11 colors or less.

The Old Masters used limited palettes.  The basic idea of this palette is to have a warm and cool of each primary, white, and a couple of earth tones.

The colors that I use in my limited palette are:

  1. Titanium white
  2. Ultramarine blue (warm blue)
  3. Cerulean blue (cool blue)
  4. Cadmium Red Light (warm red)
  5. Alizarin Crimson (cool red)
  6. Cadmium Yellow Light (warm yellow)
  7. Lemon Yellow (cool yellow)
  8. Cadmium Orange (secondary)
  9. Dioxiane Purple (secondary)
  10. Yellow orche (earth tone)
  11. Burnt umber (earth tone)

This palette gives you all the basic colors to build secondary or tertiary colors.  You need to have a good understanding of color theory to use this palette successfully.

I purchase Cadmium Orange as a secondary color in tube form because its brilliance cannot be matched by mixing red and yellow on your own.

2. Average Palette (12 to 14 Colors)

This takes the simple palette above and expands it.

The idea with this palette is to take a couple of shortcuts and rather than mixing a secondary, just go ahead and buy it in the tube.

One secondary color that you will probably want to purchase at some time will be Dioxiane Purple. This is a wonderful color that makes beautiful violets and has great tinting strength.

I always mix my own greens. So my suggestion to you is to never purchase a tube green, as you can mix all the greens you need with the colors you have.  Also, tube greens always seem a bit artificial to me.

The last category you want to add from here will be the earth tones.  Burnt sienna, raw umber or raw sienna are good choices here.

3. Elaborate Palette (15 or More Colors)

The elaborate palette takes the average palette one step further.

At this point you begin to add colors that speak to your own personal taste as a painter.  Or you could add more colors in the secondary or tertiary range that will save you color mixing time.

But be careful here and don’t go overboard.

Paint manufacturers have to constantly make a large selection of new products to stay in business.  But you really don’t need all the colors that they make.  They will be redundant in your paint box once you become highly skilled at mixing colors.

And mixing the exact color you need is half the fun.

Every time I see a painter open their box and it has 30 tubes of paint with names like Azure blue or Turquoise green, I know that I am in the presence of a novice, someone who probably just started painting.


About Gary Bolyer Fine Art

I am a New York City-based landscape artist.
This entry was posted in How to Paint in Oils and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to 3 Color Palettes for the Serious Oil Painter

  1. mazemangriot says:

    Im starting to get into painting. I think my biggest problem given my style of art is choosing colors and the more choices I have the harder it is for me to just create.

    • If you are just starting out, I recommend that you start with the Limited color palette. You can mix every color that there is from the limited palette. Learn as much as you can about color theory and color mixing. As you experiment, you will become clearer on the colors that suit you best.

  2. Katleenj says:

    I’m never organised when I’m painting, I start with some colours, than need another one and so on and on, my palette grows while painting and also the colormix on my hands and face…….
    The search for the colourfield or -variations is for me a very nice experience, but I’ll try to keep in mind what I read above.

    • Thanks so much for your comments. It sounds like you have a lot of fun when you paint. I can totally relate to what you are talking about. As you paint, the colors mix and blend and form a kind of growing presence and character of their own. And the paints always seem to find their way to your jeans and shirt and face as well. I generally start off with all my colors laid out very specfically on my palette. But it isn’t long until everything on my palette no longer is quite that organized, as I work very quickly and sometimes very chaotically.

  3. Katleenj says:

    you can have a look at the result of this fun on:

  4. Pingback: Gary Bolyer’s Top 7 How-to-Paint Blogs | Gary Bolyer Fine Art

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