Painting with a Limited Palette

Many painters paint with what is called a limited palette, which consists of a small selection of primary colors. Vincent Van Gogh proclaimed that all he needed was red, blue, yellow, white and black. This really is a limited palette. Some feel that you don’t even need black. Using these basic colors, Van Gogh believed that he could mix more than 70 colors, which was all that he needed. 

The modern “expanded” limited palette is typically comprised of a few additional colors. This expanded version includes warmer and cooler versions of the primaries. One such limited palette is listed below.

Cadmium Red
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Ultramarine Blue
Phthalo Blue
Cadmium Yellow
Cadmium Yellow Light
Titanium White
Ivory Black

Having a color wheel handy helps in mixing additional colors. Think of the traditional color wheel as the spectrum of colors arranged in a circle. The value of a color wheel as a tool is to aid you in mixing of colors. 

The three primary colors on wheel are red, yellow and blue. By mixing two adjacent colors on the wheel, you create a secondary color. Mixing red and yellow produces orange. Yellow and blue creates green. And, red and blue yields purple. By combining a primary and an adjacent secondary color on the color wheel, you produce a tertiary color. For example, mixing red and orange produces red orange. In naming the tertiary colors, the primary color is always given first, and then the secondary color.

The theory involved in mixing colors is very simple. The reality of color mixing can be a little trickier. Here’s why. A rose is a rose is a rose. But not all blues look the same. And neither do reds and yellows. That’s why when you mix colors, you can get some funky results.

Getting the exact color that you want will take a little time and patience. Your reward is that you will gain a better knowledge of color basics including color saturationhue and color temperature.