The Very Best Color Palette

Do you feel like a kid in a candy store when you gaze upon the seemingly endless options of paint colors at the art store? Sooo many beautiful colors, but alas—so little room on one's palette (and often, so few bucks in the art budget). And to make things even more difficult, each time you take a workshop with someone new, you're required to buy several new colors. That was fun in the beginning, but now you have a "31-flavor" palette with no room left to actually mix paint. You're left wondering, "which colors do I really need? What is the very best color palette?"

To start answering these questions, I'll share which colors I typically have on my palette.

Note: All paints are the Rembrandt brand unless
otherwise noted. My wife, Andrea, and I like Rembrandt
paints because of their high quality and affordable prices.
 However, we continually try and experiment
with various brands and colors

My Essential Palette

If I had to choose only 4 MVP's (Most Valuable Paints), they would probably be these.

(L to R):
  1. Cadmium (or permanent) lemon yellow
  2. Cadmium (or permanent) red medium
  3. Ultramarine blue deep
  4. Titanium-zinc white (Gamblin)

These 4 colors provide a huge range of color that I find more than sufficient for most subjects. Many artists use some variation of the 3 primary colors (yellow, red, blue) plus white, because these colors can be mixed to represent every other basic color. The moral of the story? You don't need many colors on your palette.

That being said, I admit I usually have quite a few colors squeezed out…

My "Convenience" Palette

(L to R):
  1. Cadmium (or permanent) lemon yellow
  2. Cadmium (or permanent) yellow medium
  3. Yellow Ocre
  4. Cadmium (or permanent) orange (Rembrandt or Utrecht)
  5. Cadmium (or permanent) red medium
  6. Permanent Alizarin Crimson (Gamblin)
  7. Transparent Orange (Gamblin)
  8. Transparent Oxide Red
  9. Viridian
  10. Cerulean blue (Utrecht)
  11. Cobalt blue (Lukas)
  12. Ultramarine blue deep
  13. Ivory black
  14. Titanium-zinc white (Gamblin)  

Note: I only use cerulean and cobalt blue occasionally,
as I usually find ultramarine sufficient for representing
most blues I encounter in nature.

Although my Essential Palette provides a huge range of color that I find more than sufficient for most subjects, my Convenience Palette often makes color mixing more convenient. Here's an example:
Let's say I need to make a color greener.
With my Essential Palette, I would need to add both yellow and blue.
But with my Convenience Palette, I might only need to add viridian.
Reaching for one color instead of two can save time.

Furthermore, my Convenience Palette allows me to reach some highly saturated (intense) colors that are beyond the range of my Essential Palette. Having these colors can be helpful, but only if my subject calls for them. Otherwise, they tend to take up space and make color mixing more complicated than necessary.

Learn to Paint Dynamic
Portraits & Figures In Oil

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Choosing the perfect color palette one thing. Creating a compelling painting is quite another! In my online video course, I'll show you how I communicate the beauty of portraits and figures from start to finish.

Access to the course will become available for purchase on October 7, 2019, but you can start the course today for FREE! For more information, please click the button below.

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So what is the very best color palette? Well, it may or may not be one of the palettes I mentioned above. 

Like I said, the very best color palette is not necessarily one with many colors. Rather, the very best color palette is the one that will help you mix the colors in your subject most efficiently. How do you determine which colors these would be? That's what I'll share next time in A Limited Palette That Won't Cramp Your Style.

See you then!


  1. Thanks for taking the time to post/share! good stuff! :)

  2. I've always admired the colour in your portraits

  3. The only color I wonder about is that titanium and zinc white. Zinc has been shown to cause problems many years down the line. Delamination, saponification).


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