Experiments with Colour

Sunshine in the Lairig Ghru
25 x 36 cm

One thing I've been experimenting with recently is choice of colours. I've always used a palette built around a selection of earth colours, but I was wondering whether I was getting a bit lazy with colour-mixing. It's all too easy to find yourself using a few favourite mixes and not exploring the full range of your palette.

I decided to try using a primary colour palette of just six colours, which would force me to mix them together for the secondaries and tertiaries. I already had most of the colours I needed except for a red-orange. As I have also been trying out Rembrandt watercolours, I chose Permanent Orange from that range. Unfortunately that wasn't quite red enough and made greenish mixes with Ultramarine, whereas Burnt Sienna makes warm greys. I think Vermilion might have been a better choice. My palette of six colours was as follows:-

Winsor Yellow - Winsor and Newton
Permanent Orange - Rembrandt
Quinacridone Rose - Rembrandt
Ultramarine Deep - Rembrandt
Pthalo Blue (Green) - Rembrandt
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade) - Winsor and Newton

Looking at the painting I don't think the different palette made much difference. I found that I was just mixing the primaries to make the same earth colours, which also made the process slower. I think it shows that it's not the palette that's important, but the way that you use it. I suppose I'm more of a tonal painter than a colourist and maybe it's too late to change now.

I found that the Rembrandt watercolours were good quality and nice to use. They are significantly cheaper than Winsor and Newton, so I will continue to try them for a while.


  1. Hi Keith,
    I'm wondering about something. by far most of the time I don't stand outside and start painting something. My tendency would be to take a photo and then work form there. Now the question is what about using carbon paper and tracing the picture to begin with. Do you know how far back that kind of thing goes? Or let's say sketching and then painting. I wonder if the old painters like Leonardo da Vinci sketched before he painted and if he ever traced anything?

  2. Hi Keith, interesting to read about your use of the new Rembrandt watercolours. Looking at your painting I can honestly say I can't notice a difference from the colours you have used in the past. If it saves you some money then that is worth doing. How are you finding the Quinacridone rose compared to the permanent rose you usually use? I ordered some W&N Quinacridone magentia last week but have to wait as it is a popular colour, for my order to arrive for another week. It is amazing how many colours can be created by mixing primary colours using the colour wheel and also colours that are perhaps not pure primary colours such as Quinacridone magentia but in watercolour I don't think it matters. I have discovered some wonderful earth tones and pinks, violets from just using three primaries. Perhaps it is easier to grap a ready mixed colour from a tube when working, though we do often tend to stick to the old favourites. I think you have been very successful in your painting, capturing light and shade and those nice cloud shapes above the distant left hills. Very nice painting and good to see the sunshine!

    1. Hi Caroline, I haven't noticed any difference between the Rembrandt Quinacridone Rose and the Permanent Rose from Winsor and Newton. I haven't tried the Magenta shade yet, but I probably will at some point. I think it might lean too much towards blue for me though. In my usual limited palette the rose is my only bright red colour.

  3. Hi Larry. Tracing goes back a long way. Renaissance artists certainly used 'pouncing' as it was known, especially for frescoes. A full-sized drawing, or 'cartoon', was pricked around the outlines, with a metal point, to leave a series of holes. Soot or coloured chalk ('pounce') was then rubbed over the drawing to leave a series of dots on the surface to be painted.

    I think it's very likely that Leonardo would have used those methods sometimes. He would probably have worked from sketches as well.

    Incidentally, I often make a sketch from a photograph and then paint from the sketch. It helps in concentrating on the essentials and ignoring unnecessary details.

  4. Hi keith,
    I have done some painting of photo. A recent one was of my mother when she was younger than I am. I had made several previous attempts tp paint her; In the original picture she is just standing in a room. In my copy I had her standing in a field with a forest in the distance and mountains further back, I like mountains becasue it's hard to make a mistake. Thank you for your reply
    Best Regards

  5. I found it very interesting reading about your palette Keith. I tend to use what I have available at the time and I guess that shows my inexperience. I think this is something I should give much more thought to. Thank you.

  6. Actually, John, I don't think it's a bad idea to use whatever you have to hand. It means that you have to learn how to mix colours and that there is more than one way to get the same result.

  7. Interior Painting
    In this painting you use the colors very carefully that's why this is looking so nice.


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