Limited Palettes and Color Schemes

Hi! I have searched and searched and searched websites and tutorials and I just don’t seem to find the answers to my questions. I’M SO CONFUSED and hope someone from this forum can help!

What is the difference between painting with a LIMITED PALETTE and painting with a color scheme (complimentary, triadic, etc.) when it comes to the ACTUAL APPLICATION/METHODOLOGY?

  1. If you are painting with a LIMITED PALETTE, you use only those limited paint colors (tubes) and just mix other colors ONLY from those specific tubes. Is that correct? That creates color harmony, is that right?

  2. BUT if you are trying to paint, for example, a triadic color scheme of orange/violet/green:

Do you get your variations of orange, violet and green by mixing from any other tubes of colors to get those initial triadic colors that you want to use?

OR do you use a limited palette of colors to get the orange, violet and green and then mix ONLY those triadic colors together to get your variations?

  1. If you mix those colors together, then don’t you deviate from your triadic color scheme?

  2. If you do mix those triadic colors together how do you keep from getting muddy colors?

  3. If you don’t mix those triadic colors, how do you create the dark and light values AND keep the colors bright and not too muddy?

  4. If you use three triadic colors that are more on the lighter side, how do you get your darker values?

  5. I’m assuming you use white in both scenarios (limited palette and color schemes)?

Thanks so much, in advance, if anyone is able to answer these questions.

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  1. yes, correct. Limited palettes are usually, but not always one red, one blue, and one yellow, used to mix a full range of colors. A common split primary palette has 2 reds, 2 blues, and 2 yellows, one warm and one cool of each plus white.
    2, 3, & 4. A color scheme means your finished painting leans mostly in the direction of the colors you choose for your scheme, the dominant colors in your finished piece. How you get there is another question, might not have anything to do with a limited palette. You can use specific tube colors, or mix your scheme colors from primaries. If you are starting with a limited palette of secondary colors, such as orange, violet, and green, you could stay in a chosen scheme if you minimize your mixing + white to keep your colors in the orange, violet, and green scheme. If you use them to mix all other colors, this is no longer a scheme. You would get a lot of browns and neutrals that would push you out of your color scheme, but still be a very limited palette. 5. The only way to get dark and light values without getting mud is to use mostly white to lighten, and accept your darkest base color as the darkest value. 6. If you start on the lighter side, you could not mix dark colors. Your piece would be high key.

Check out “Dramatic Colour in the Landscape” by Brian Keeler

I think you will find it very helpul and informative.

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Thank you so much…can’t wait to check out the site for even more clarity and inspiration!

Its a book. You might find it at the library or you can buy it on Amazon.

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Color and Light - A Guide for the Realist Painter by James Gurney covers all these questions and demonstrates various colour combos and is completely brilliant. I bought my copy in 2013 and still refer to it all the time. James Gurney also has excellent YouTube videos demonstrating colour and a blog called GurneyJourney with a subject index down the side to help you navigate to what you want.
I cannot recommend this artist/teacher highly enough. He is so helpful, reassuring and down to earth. He demystifies everything.
I wrote to him once, all those years ago, wailing that I was so worried I’d fail or make a mess I hardly knew where to start. He wrote back - hey, give it a go - it’s just painting. It’s not wing-suit diving.
For some reason I have never looked back from that reassurance.


That is awesome!!! And that is what I’m looking for: “to demystify” this process!!! Thank you so much! I’m ordering the book today!!!:grin::grin::grin:

I’m not sure if my last reply ended up going through so, I’m sorry if this is a repeat—but is the book by Gurney that you are referring to this book (volume 2 with a dinosaur on it…not sure if screen shot is showing up)?

Thank you!

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Yes, that’s it. He paints a lot of dinosaurs! eg for National Geographic - but don’t worry about that - this is the ONE book you need. Truly :muscle:.

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This is a great book! I read and re-read and refer to it weekly!! Bought my copy on eBay! His videos are wonderful. He has a gentle voice and an inspirational way of teaching. He got me trying gouache, one of my favorite mediums now.

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