Updated: Oct 18, 2019
There are so many delicious oil colours to choose from it’s easy to get carried away. But, as with so many things, less is more. Here are a few suggestions starting with a popular palette for beginners:
1. A starter for 12: Choose a warm and cool hue for each primary colour; add white and black (though black is often best made by mixing burnt sienna and ultramarine blue). This palette also gives a mix of transparent colours (needed for glazes) and opaque colours (useful for underpainting and toning your support).
ultramarine blue (warm, transparent)
cerulean blue or turquoise (cool, opaque)
cadmium yellow medium (warm, opaque)
cadmium yellow light or lemon yellow (cool, semi transparent)
sap green (warm, transparent)
viridian (cool, transparent)
cadmium red (warm, opaque)
alizarin crimson (cool, semi transparent)
burnt sienna (warm, semi transparent)
dioxine purple or ultramarine violet (cool, transparent)
ivory black (opaque)
titanium white (opaque)
Popular additions to this basic palette are yellow ochre (warm, opaque), raw sienna (warm, semi opaque); burnt umber (warm, semi opaque or transparent).
2. Restricted palettes:
Two colours can be enough for an entire painting. Choose a hue and its complement (i.e., the opposite colour on the colour wheel) and then extend light to dark.
A variety of coloured greys can be made by mixing the two complementary colours together in different ratios. Place these alongside touches of the two colours in their unmixed form.
Use tints, shades and tones together: tints are made by adding white; shades are made by adding the complementary colour; tones are shades that are lightened with white.
Three to four colours gives an enormous range but beyond that you risk losing control and colour harmony.
It’s fun to experiment with opaque-only or transparent-only palettes; warm-only or cool-only palettes.
3. Specialist palettes: Different painting styles and subject matter call for specialist palettes, e.g.: impressionist, old masters, high key (with bright tints), transparent glaze (with intense pigments), landscape and floral still life. Dedicated oil colour manufacturers, Gamblin, offer a range of specialist palettes and excellent colour advice. Go to https://gamblincolors.com.