"Open yourself up both to new possibilities and to change." Roger von Oech

Using a Basic Palette
© 2000 Nita Leland

basic palettes
First of all, what is a basic palette? I think of it as a selection of workhorse colors that form the foundation of your color thinking when you're planning a painting. There are numerous ways to expand your palette with exciting, vibrant special-use colors, but now we're talking about those you have on your palette for daily use.

Oops. I was afraid of that. You've got a palette with forty colors on it and you tend to use thirty-eight of them in every painting. Now what?

Well, first, clean that palette. (I know, I know!) Then start fresh by setting up a basic palette that you can depend on.

A good basic palette should consist of eight to ten colors--an absolute maximum of twenty for more experienced painters. Everything else should go down the drain. Which colors to choose? Those that will give you maximum mixing capabilities, such as the split-primary colors, plus several of your all-time favorites. Work with your basic palette over a period of several months till you are really familiar with all of its possibilities before you add and subtract colors. In the meantime keep a second palette for the special-use colors and use them whenever you feel like it--just don't let them creep back onto your basic palette unless they are really important to your color expression. And remember, you don't have to use all your colors in every painting.

Try out your palette by doing a sheet of four pictures based on the four seasons. You will be able to see how flexible your palette is in expressing very different ideas. In the demo shown here I used no more than three colors for each picture--a different set in each one. Here is the basic palette I worked with: Alizarin Crimson, Winsor Red, Indian Yellow, Winsor Lemon, Cobalt Blue, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), French Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.

painting the four seasons

For more on basic palettes see Exploring Color Revised and Confident Color.

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