Tag Archives: limited palette

Limited Palette With Red, Blue and Yellow

Sometimes when we first learn to paint, it is suggested that we use a limited palette of three primary colors—red, yellow and blue. Some teachers think that limiting oneself to just a few colors teaches us how to mix colors correctly, see value and temperature, and encourages thought and planning in our color choices.

Besides making it easier to learn about color temperatures, using a limited color palette offers more color harmony, the ability to make grays without the muddiness and less confusion because of fewer color choices. I have painted with a limited palette before and I have always liked the feeling of just using a few colors.

Colors in a limited palette can still be warmer or cooler in relation to other colors. Since the eye adjusts to what it looks at, it doesn’t feel as though any colors are missing. There are cool and warm reds, cool and warm yellows and so on. Here is the first on that I created:

Ann Hart Marquis-limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow, Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis

Last week during an artist retreat, we experimented using only red, yellow and blue and white and black. The object was to create different tints, tones and shades of the 3 colors. It was interesting and fun for me to play and to see if I could easily come up with complementary color combinations or triad color combinations.

Ann Hart Marquis-limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow #2, ,Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis

Ann Hart Marquis-Red, limited palette

Red, Blue, Yellow #3, ,Acrylic on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, Ann Hart Marquis

Adventures with a Limited Palette

For those of you who know me, you know that I usually spend a chunk of time almost every summer in southwestern France. It inspires me and I get many paintings done while I am there. For various boring reasons I was not able to go in 2012, so I am getting a little antsy about going back this year, so antsy in fact, that I just booked my airline ticket. They don’t get any cheaper after January.

Ideas of what I will paint and what supplies I will take have already started to flash into my consciousness. In 2012 I took twelve 14” x 14”, pre-cut canvases (that is the only way I can fit them in my suitcase). I also gave myself the challenge of taking only three colors of paint plus black and white, to see if I could create interesting paintings. The colors that I chose were vermillion, cerulean blue and raw sienna. Someone had given me a case of raw sienna. I did not try the colors before I left.

Well, as some of you may have guessed, this unique combination did not work. Raw sienna and cerulean blue make for an unhappy green. I needed yellow and as soon as I got it I was happy. Cadmium yellow, vermillion and raw sienna did make an interesting orange. Here are a few examples of my four-color, limited palette:


I like the idea of painting with a limited palette. There are several advantages.
• Color harmony is easier to achieve.
• Learning to mix a few colors is to achieve the desired color, value and intensity.
• You don’t have to carry numerous tubes of paint when you travel or paint outside.

Recently, I came across an article written by Adriana Guidi. She describes the palette that was made famous by Swedish painter Anders Leonard Zorn (1860-1920), which is often known as the Zorn Palette. “Zorn’s preferred palette was of four earthy colors: yellow ochre, vermilion, ivory black and white.” Here is her version of the palette:

Guidi-Zorn limited 4colorpalette

Adriana Guidi, Zorn limited 4 color palette

The top row is simply Yellow Ochre mixed with varying amounts of Titanium White, while the middle row has a little Mars Black mixed in as well. The bottom row is a blend of Cadmium Red Light and Yellow Ochre, again with varying levels of white.

I am attracted to Zorn’s palette, and am thinking about using it in France, although I may have a little trouble with having no blue.

Do you paint with a limited palette or are you attracted to limited colors?