I’ve discussed some palette strategies lately, and I thought I’d go over mine. I am very comfortable working with a limited group of low-chroma paints, but I don’t always want to make low-chroma paintings. So I use what I call a core palette.
That means that I have a core group of paints that I almost always have on my palette. These include flake white, burnt sienna, raw sienna, yellow ochre, and ultramarine blue. I am very, very familiar with how these paints mix together. I’ve used them over and over; they no longer hold any mysteries for me. Lots of painting problems can be solved with just these paints, because most of the world is pretty low in chroma and is filled with hues and values that can be mixed with these paints. By using low chroma paints, rather than neutralizing intense colors as some painters prefer, it is much easier to avoid accidentally drifting the chroma too high.
When needed, I will add some other low-chroma paints, including red ochre, Studio Products’ Tuscan red, Williamsburg Italian terre verte, Doak French ochre extra pale, burnt umber, raw umber, ivory black, transparent blue oxide. When I want very bright, opaque whites, I add titanium white. When I want very subtle mixtures with white, I add zinc white. I’m pretty familiar with how all of these colors work
That’s 90% of the paint I use. But there are times when I need more chroma. If so, I pull out some of my bigger guns: viridian, Prussian blue, cadmium red, bismuth yellow, cobalt blue, genuine vermilion, pyrol ruby, Doak Florentine lake, Doak Alger blue, Indian yellow, dioxazine purple. I don’t know these colors that well, so when I use them I often need to spend time experimenting with how they mix. Often, I use them to intensify mixtures of my more standard colors. When appropriate, I use them with only slight modification, for those small areas of chromatic color that can really make a painting jump (or fall, if done badly). Lots of my paintings don’t have any of these intense colors, but I like having them there when I need them.