Sunday 29 December 2013

Just 5 colours? why it's not really for me...

I am often a little envious of the artists who decide to use only 5 colours. It is so simple to arrange and work with 5 colours and you can achieve wonderful colour harmony without even thinking about it if the colours are chosen carefully. Consider:
  1. Quinacridone Gold PO49 (Daniel Smith) or Raw Sienna PBr7
  2. Hansa Yellow Medium (Daniel Smith)
  3. Burnt Sienna PBr7 (Daniel Smith or Da Vinci)
  4. Carmine (Daniel Smith) or Magenta PR122 (Schmincke or W&N)
  5. Ultramarine PB29

You can make a huge range of oranges, reds, yellows, greens and purples, browns and greys, but not quite the exact hue you may be looking at. You would need a cool blue or a phthalo or viridian green as well to create brighter greens, and I'd add Buff Titanium to be able to create cerulean, and a deep cool brown would take over three colours to mix...and so on.

My smallest palette, a tiny keyring sized one I made from a lip balm container, has 7 colours, one of them a mixture. Hansa Yellow Medium, Carmine, Ultramarine, Burnt Sienna, Goethite, Jane's Grey and Buff Titanium. I can do a lot with it but feel as though I waste a lot of time mixing. I prefer my 16 colour travel palette!

Why? I am a realist. I want my colours to match what I see as precisely as possible. I am also a passionate water colourist and one of the joys of watercolour is that you can see the pigment and its characteristics - they are not hidden in an acrylic or oil binder. I don't want to be limited to the characteristics of just 5 pigments.

Furthermore, I enjoy studying pigments and seeing how they react with each other, which means trying many colours!

In all, I am not committed to a minimal palette for my own watercolour work, though I admire it in others and continue to explore options :-)

2014 update
Here is a lovely bright triad 
Here is an amazing bright quartet
Here is a lovely 6 colour set 

Happy Painting!


  1. This is so interesting! Thank you!

  2. I LOVE making old makeup palettes into watercolor palettes. I also love experimenting with limited palettes! Right now I have two Qor palettes im working on. My favorite has Prussian blue (actually this one is from an old Meiling palette), Ultramarine, Hansa, Quin Magenta, and Quin Gold. I can make bright colors and earth tones really well. I keep it in an Altoid smalls container and it goes everywhere with me!