Notebook, 1993-

MATERIALS & METHODS - Painting - Oil Painting

Characteristics - Painting Methods & Techniques - Materials and Equipment - Work Space & Storage - Manufacture of Pigments - Protection of the Picture

Oil Painting - Color Lists

It should be clear that there can be no universally preferred list of colors or "approved palette" for any painting technique. From the rather extensive list of pigments that, in a given medium, perform acceptably in regard to permanence and handling qualities, artists select those colors that best serve their individual needs and tastes.

The following list from which such a selection can be made for the oil technique, omits rare colors and those that have become obsolete and indicates those that can be easily obtained in good quality and satisfy the requirements for the oil technique when they are employed by a knowledgeable painter.

Flake, Cremnitz, or lead white
Titanium white
Zinc white

Cadmium yellow--light, medium, and deep
Cobalt yellow [aureolin]
Green gold
Hansa yellow
Mars yellow
Naples yellow
Ochers and siennas

Cadmium orange
Mars orange
Sienna, Burnt

Alizarin crimson
Cadmium red--light, medium, and deep
Earth reds [caput mortuum, English, Indian, light red, Mars, Spanish, Venetian, etc.]
Quinacridone reds

Artificial ultramarine blue
Cerulean blue
Cobalt blue
Manganese blue
Phthalocyanine blue

Cobalt green
Chrome oxide opaque
Green earth or terre verte
Phthalocyanine green
Viridian [chrome oxide transparent]

Cobalt violet--light and deep
Manganese violet
Mars violet
Quinacridone violet
Ultramarine red or violet

Mars brown
Sienna, burnt
Umber, burnt and raw

Ivory black
Mars black

It should be remembered that artists have produced great work with extremely simple palettes. El Greco is said to have used only four or five colors. On the other hand, very extensive palettes have ben employed by such fine colorists as Delacroix and Cé zanne.

The insistence that color orchestration is dependent upon a limited palette, or conversely upon an extensive palette, is as unreasonable as the assert ion that the string quartet has a higher or lower aesthetic potential than the full orchestra has. Obviously some artists demand a fuller instrument for the statement of some of their ideas; other are more at home with, or are more challenged by, the limitations of a sparse range of effects.

For students or beginners there may be some wisdom, at least at the outset, in limiting themselves to a few colors. They can then see how far a restricted palette can be exploited by using simple mixtures and broad harmonies, and they can become knowledgeable about the "personalityî of each of the colors that they employ. Later another group may be chosen, again limited to a few colors, and the qualities of these pigments investigated. Thus in time students will become familiar with the characteristics of each of the colors.

For example, it is interesting to see what can be done with a simple group of four ordinary colors, such as ivory black, flake white, a light yellow ocher, and an earth red, such as English red or light red. Such a palette can produce green tonalities on the olive side by mixtures of ocher and black; oranges may be obtained with the ocher and red; the cool grays obtained with ivory black and white will approximate bluish tones in contrast with earth reds; a speck of earth red plus white plus black yields dull lavender tones, and so on. Of course, the general key will be rather muted, but even with such a rigorously limited palette, a gifted colorist can discover many subtle and beautiful chromatic possibilities.

In general, the fewer colors in each mixture, the better, since the intermixing of many pigments combines their optical impurities, causing a general dullness in the painting.

[pp. 66-67]

[Kay, Reed. The Painter's Guide to Studio Methods and Materials. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1983.]



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