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Simplified Color Palette

Sometimes as a beginner or even as an experienced artist, a wide rage of color palettes can be somewhat overwhelming at times. I like to challenge students to eliminate all but three colors from their palette and to create their next painting with only these three colors. This can be a real challenge and produce some remarkable results. Just take a deep breath and simplify things by reducing the number of colors you will use in a painting. Choosing the three tubes of paint that best suits your subject is what you need to consider. You want to be able to produce the widest range of value for each color. Select a subject such as a still life or landscape and decide which three paints will best depict the subject.

For this lesson use a small starched canvas 18" x 24" or 16" x 18". Using one of your selected colors and a number 3 round brush, sketch in your forms and composition. Use the paint very diluted (turpentine for oils or water for acrylics) so that you are sketching with very thin paint. It is always important to paint from "lean to fat." You do not have to use a pencil to draw the compositional elements on the canvas; you can use paint and a rag to correct by wiping off sections and redrawing with the thinned paint. Once you have the drawing correctly composed, start blocking in the large forms paying attention to the forms, negative spaces, and the dark and light values of the subject. Once you have the forms and their values correct, you can add somewhat thicker paint for more details. In this lesson detail is not important. It is more important that the drawing of the forms and negative spaces are correct than to add detail to poor drawing.

Below is an example of a former student's painting using three colors: Burnt Umber, Yellow Ochre, and White.


Study of Tappan Zee Bridge by Kent Patterson former student.

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