Artworx Gallery | Contemporary Art & Gifts | Goolwa SA

Artworx Gallery - currently celebrating its 10th anniversary - is a regular award winner and the finest contemporary art gallery on South Australia's Fleurieu Peninsula.


The Overloaded Palette

I noted online recently an artist starting off painting demo with a palette full of colours. There were 21 colours in all – a formidable array for painting a landscape and the finished product told the story. The landscape in question turned out to be quite detailed but the overall colour scheme was jarring. The overloaded palette was the downfall of an otherwise competent work.

It may be assumed that the more colours we have at our disposal, the easier it is to find what we want and the better the painting will be. The opposite is true.

An overloaded palette can be impressive and even dazzling to an onlooker but for an artist it can be an un-needed complication.

Having a base of six or so colours and some other highlight colours will serve us well. 

Firstly, having a family of colours on our palette that we come to know as good friends will result in us being competent in colour mixing – no colour charts needed.  Over time we will become masters of the palette instead of servants of a colour chart.

If you have a core of colours that you always use, you will find that works will become unified in colour. A green made up from the blue you have in the sky is more likely to look like it belongs rather than one that was squeezed out of tube.

A lot of colours on the palette almost always mean a lot of colour on the canvas. While many artists mean to do this particularly with décor art, it tends to produce work that competes with the décor rather than compliment it. It’s something to think about.

If we paint in a traditional manner and haven’t tried a limited palette yet – it’s worth a go.

It’s amazing what can be produced with white, ultramarine, alizarin and yellow ochre. Some added colours such as viridian, cad yellow, cad orange and black will complete the palette for almost any subject.

If we need any convincing about the effectiveness of a limited palette, I refer you to artists like Zorn who often used just four colours to produce stunning portraits. The colours white, black, yellow ochre and vermillion were all he needed his amazing work. Please look him up on Google and marvel at what he did.

Some artists like Zin Lim can produce masterpiece with just one colour and white and it is well worth your time to look him up on YouTube to watch his monotone portraits. It’s an education and I think most of us would be happy to produce his quality of paintings with just a few colours rather than what we can achieve with an overloaded palette.

Enjoy the paint in 2019!

Mike Barr

One of Zin Lim’s monochrome portraits on YouTube -

One of Zin Lim’s monochrome portraits on YouTube -


Liz and John Francis

12 Hays Street
Goolwa, South Australia

Phone: (08) 8555 0949


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