I'm constantly refining the colors I use; as my work changes so do my paints. Here's my current palatte, with colors in the order I place them, left to right.
- Ivory Black
- Portland Grey, great for making neutral colors
- Alizarin Permanent, a violet-red
- Perylene Red, a cool red
- Cadmium Red, a warm red, good for skin
- Burnt Sienna, a red brown
- Raw Sienna, a golden medium neutral
- Yellow Ochre, a golden medium light, good for skin mixtures
- Cadmium Yellow Deep, a warm yellow, good for skin mixtures
- Cadmium Yellow Light, a cool yellow
- Cobalt Blue, a warmer blue, good for use in skin and skies
- Ultramarine Blue, a workhorse cool blue
- Titanium White, the ubiquitous white for oil painters
As you can see from the photo above, I'm partial to Gamblin colors. I like their heavy, soft consistency, their high quality colors, and their price tag.
My color advice for beginning oil painters
Buy good paint, never student grade. You can't learn to paint well with poor quality paint. Utrecht makes good quality paints that are a great value.
Start with a limited palatte and really learn to use those hues. I recommend the above list, initially eliminating Perylene Red, and Raw Sienna. Resist the temptation to buy other exotic hues until you are really comfortable with these, and you will save yourself a lot of money in unnecessary tubes of paint.
My color advice for intermediate oil painters
Take time to practice mixing secondary hues (oranges, greens, and violets) from your basic palate of colors. Learn why mixing a cool red and a cool blue makes a beautiful violet, but a warm red and a warm blue makes ugly violet mud. (It's because the warm colors also have some yellow in them, which dulls the violet.) This concept is true for all secondary colors.
Then learn to make neutrals using Portland Grey with a little color mixed in. You can make beautiful blue greys, violet greys, and orange greys that will make brighter colors pop when put next to them.
Also, I highly recommend the book Color: A Course In Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors by Betty Edwards. This book does a beautiful job of explaining color in terms of hue, value, intensity, and harmony.
Lessons I wish I had learned earlier
Here are a few quick tips that I learned the hard way.
- When mixing a light value, start with the lightest color and then mix a little of the darker. For example to mix a light green, start with the yellow and then add a bit of blue. When mixing a dark value, do the opposite. Otherwise you'll mix a huge pile of paint before you finally get the value you need.
- Know that paint always looks different on the palate than it does on the canvas. Mix, try, adjust, try, adjust, etc. Be patient.
- It does help, however, to compare the hue you're mixing to the other hues on your palate, to see if it's lighter or darker, cooler or warmer, etc.
- I work on a neutral grey palate and I tone my canvases a neutral grey. This helps me judge colors better than if I worked on stark white.
- I save unused paint from each day in the freezer overnight. To do this, I scrape each blob of paint from my palatte onto a piece of waxed paper. I put this into an airtight plastic container. (Photo above.) Then I clean my palatte with solvent so it's ready for the next day.
There's always more to learn! What questions do you have? What tips can you add? Please write to me in the section below.