How to Choose a Color Palette

When it comes to painting, no two artists seem to agree on how to choose a color palette. After all, painting is subjective as it reflects the temperament of the artist and his or her own color sense. A student or newcomer to painting is often left scratching their head as to what colors are best. It’s then compounded by so many choices as to brands of paint. This post hopefully will adequately address both issues.

how to choose a color palette

COLOR SELECTION

When choosing a palette it should be capable of producing vivid mixtures of all 12 hues on the color wheel.
Basic color theory states that the 3 primaries of yellow, red and blue when intermixed will produce all other colors. Then along with white and black to produce tints and shades of those color is all that’s needed. In reality that’s not the case. What we often think of as being a primary yellow, red and blue from our childhood school days will not produce all the hues on a color wheel to their full spectrum of intensity.

A BETTER CHOICE ON HOW TO CHOOSE A COLOR PALETTE

In printing, inks used to reproduce a color image are yellow, cyan and magenta. Just like your printer at home. Paints closely matching this would be Cadmium Yellow Light or Pale, Permanent Rose or Quinacridone Rose and Phthalo Blue. The intensity of the secondary colors when mixing any two of these primary colors is much improved.

So are these 3 colors enough to produce a full spectrum range? Not really. It can further be improved by adding a purchased premixed color corresponding to one of the secondary colors in the green, violet and orange range. Which ones? The colors of choice are: Ultramarine Blue (For blue violet), Phthalo Green or Winsor Green (For blue green) and Cadmium Scarlet Red. (For Red orange) Alternatively you could use Cadmium Red Light. Adding Titanium White and either Ivory or Oxide black and you have a basic set of 6 colors plus white and black.

To get the most intensity, mix your primary with one of these tubed colors to get your remaining secondary and intermediate colors which are often referred to as tertiary colors. For example to get green you normally mix yellow and blue. In this set up you mix the yellow with the Phthalo Green. Cadmium Yellow Light added to Scarlet Red will produce vivid oranges. Permanent Rose added to ultramarine blue will produce vivid violets.

The List of Basics

  • Cadmium Yellow Light or Pale (yellow)
  • Permanent Rose or Quinacridone Rose (red)
  • Phthalo Blue (Blue)
  • Cadmium Scarlet Red (Red Orange)
  • Ultramarine Blue (Blue Violet)
  • Phthalo Green or Winsor Green (Blue Green)
  • Titanium White
  • Ivory or Oxide Black

Likely you will not be painting with such vivid colors. To dull the intensity you mix their compliments. In theory those colors are opposite on the color wheel. Sometimes when working with these pigments a compliment that is not directly across may produce a more pleasing result. This is where actually taking your paint and mixing colors is beneficial. If you were a hair stylist you couldn’t call yourself one if you never cut hair. You can’t rely on the work of others. You have to do the work yourself. Mix your own colors. Learn how they interact as you mix. Stop relying on all those printed color wheels and charts. Make your own.

In time, you can add other colors to this basic set. I like having a variety such as the various earth tones in the dull orange and brown ranges such as Burnt Sienna or Transparent Oxide Red and Burnt Umber. Some colors have unique pigments and the way they behave in a mixture can’t be duplicated with this basic set. So having some optional colors expands your color range. In time you will find which colors fit your own aesthetics.

Brands of Paint

Just as deciding on which colors to buy, choosing within what brands can also be daunting from the amount of choices. In my opinion, buy the best you can afford. Price is a pretty good indicator as to quality. Good paints produce better color mixtures. I enjoy some colors in one brand as opposed to the same in another.

In the following link a rather extensive review is given regarding many of the popular brands of paint with pros and cons. I agree (for the most part) with statements on this site. Again it boils down to a personal choice. I hope this will give you a good starting point when it comes to choosing your palette of colors and the available brands of paint that are out there. Happy color mixing!

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2 thoughts on “How to Choose a Color Palette

  1. Shanker Nair

    Thank you for the detailed post and your insights on the color palette.This article breaks things down beautifully and helps build a stronger foundation on color theory.
    Thank you!

    Reply

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