Sunday, April 12, 2015

Limited Palettes & Color Harmony Revisited

I received a lot of questions after my previous post about using a limited palette with the three primaries, plus black and white. I hope these answers will help.

Cad yellow light, alizarin crimson and ultramarine blue, plus black and white, is a good basic palette. These colors will give you a good range of bright and intense coloration.

Yellow ochre light, Venetian red and cobalt blue, plus black and white will give you a range of softer colors.

The choices are many and I suggest that before you begin to paint, you take the time to mix up some color combinations. Try substituting different yellows, then different reds, then the blues. The combinations are endless and the results are very interesting. Soon you will be able to judge the results of the colors you choose without all the experimenting. But give yourself the benefit of doing a bit of homework.

Another version of the limited palette is using a warm and cool version of each of the primaries. The basic palette may now contain – Indian yellow and cad yellow light - cad red light and alizarin crimson - cerulean blue and ultramarine blue, plus black and white. And again, other versions of the primaries may be substituted as long as one is warm and its partner is cool.

The reason for using a limited palette is color harmony. If all the color mixtures in your painting are related because they contain a bit of each other in their mixture, color harmony is assured.

Some colors straight from the tube need a bit of “tempering”. If one of your chosen primary colors is too pure in its hue, the addition of a small amount of its analogous neighbor will be necessary.

When you look at the color wheel and choose a primary color, you will notice that both its complement and it neighboring analogous colors are secondary colors. Secondary colors are naturally harmonious because they all share the three primaries. 

 Example:  Primary red. Its complement is secondary green. Its analogous neighbors are secondary orange and purple.

This can lead to another color palette experiment. How about a limited palette of the three secondary colors – orange, purple and green with black and white? This secondary palette can then be extended by using two versions of each of the secondary colors – one warm and one cool.
The study of color is complicated but fascinating. If you are happy with your colors, that’s great. But if you are not satisfied, a little thought and study is needed. In fact, a great deal of thought and study is needed, because the more you learn, the more you realize how much more there is to learn. 

A good way to understand color harmony is to experiment with different limited palettes and color mixtures. There is no short-cut to good painting skills and no substitute for practice.

I hope this answers some of your concerns.

Your questions and comments are always welcome. Happy painting. 


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