What is your preferred plein air color palette?

Hi there,

This summer I will be taking some plein air trips and would like to narrow down the selection of colors I take with me.

One article I came across offers these suggestions:

Harmonious Earth Plein Air Palette
Yellow ochre, Burnt sienna, Ivory black, Titanium-zinc white

High-Chroma Plein Air Palette
3 cool: Cad Yellow light, Cad red light, Utltramarine blue
3 warm: Cad yellow deep, Alizarin crimson, Phthalo blue

Primary palette
Cadmium yellow light, Cadmium red light, Ultramarine blue, titanium-zinc white

Does anyone have any suggestions for color choices they like to use when painting plein air?

Thanks so much :slight_smile:

I use the same set of colors as I do in my studio. I’d rather carry the extra weight and have the color I want, than limp along with fewer colors. But if I were recommending a limited palette, it would be these six color (a warm and cool of the primaries), plus white –

  • Cadmium Yellow Medium (warm)
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson (cool)
  • Cadmium Red Medium (warm)
  • Cadmium Lemon (cool)
  • Cerulean Blue (warm)
  • Ultramarine Blue (cool)

(I chose cadmium red medium instead of cad red light because I can mix the color cadmium red light from cad red medium and cad yellow medium, but I can’t mix cad red medium from the other colors.)

One of the advantages of a severely limited palette (3 primaries, plus white) is that you are using the same colors to mix everything, so the resulting painting is harmonious. In the harmonious earth palette, the black serves as ‘blue.’

I enjoy bright color passages in my landscapes as well as the play of warm and cool color against each other, so the colors on my palette are high-chroma. I can always make a more neutral color by mixing in the complementary color.

The best thing to do is to go outside and practice painting with the various color sets before your trip to see what you prefer.

Trisha Adams


I keep it very simple whether I am painting indoors or out when away from my studio. I only take titanium white,quinacridone red, cad lemon, ultramarine blue and a neutral medium gray. I always take pre-toned canvas panels.


I use the same palettes for plein air and studio work, I like to keep it simple! If I’m painting in oils, I use the High-Chroma palette you’ve mentioned, though sometimes the Cadmiums change depending on what’s available when I’m shopping for paint! If I’m working in acrylics I use Titanium White, Crimson, Cadmium Yellow, Lemon Yellow and Prussian Blue.

I find these palettes are really great for mixing greens and greys, which is super important to me working in England. But they can sometimes fall down a bit around browns- so you might want to throw Burnt Sienna in (or something like that, I’m not super-knowledgable about paint colours yet) if you’re travelling to a place with lots of browns. I am debating adding it to my own palette this year, as I’m planning to paint more around town and red-brick architecture is tough in these palettes, for me at least!


Depends on where I am painting.

In addition to what you mentioned, I don’t go anywhere without a lot of Viridian green because it can be used to make a nice grey for rocks as well as used for greens. It is wonderful for toning down warm colors in warm colored rocks. Cadmium orange makes a nice quick grey mixed with cobalt or cerulean. If I am painting in a garden, I would probably take magenta.

Others colors sometimes I pack: mineral violet, shadow green, Naples yellow, terra rosa, manganese blue.

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I use the ultimately pared-down primary palette: lemon yellow, magenta and cyan + white. This is the same color space as 4-color printing, so any color you can see in a 4-color print can be mixed with these.

Note that these are the primaries used in most schools in the EU. As a result, almost all suppliers of color from Europe have ‘primary yellow,’ ‘primary red (magenta)’ and ‘primary blue’ among their colors.

There is one caution: many of the EU suppliers add white to their primaries. This makes it hard to achieve a dark that’s dark enough to serve as black.

There are certain pigments that behave well with each other (this is a key consideration if you want to avoid mud). Using these pigments results in almost-automatic color harmony:

Primary yellow: Hansa yellow (PY1 or PY3) – Talens uses a mix of Bismuth Vanadate Yellow + Benzimidazolone Yellow 154 (PY184 + PY154)
Primary red (magenta) PV19 or PV19+PR122
Primary cyan, one of the phthalo blues, usually PB15:3

These avoid the cadmiums, especially the very orange-leaning cadmium red. Plus it avoids the very violet-leaning ultramarine blue. Despite the long tradition of use of both, they both contribute to many a muddy color mix.

Again, should you experiment with this, avoid tubes labeled “primary” that contain titanium or other white. The admixture of white helps school children (especially with the very powerful phthalo blue), but prevents a satisfactory “black enough” color.


Ultramarine blue. aliz, cad yellow pale and fast dry white

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I usually take Daler Rowney-Georgian paints of Scarlet Lake (red), Primary Yellow, Ultramarine Blue and underpainting white(dries quick). I’ve recently changed out the red to Gamblin Quinacridone Red. I’ve also added Transparent Red Iron Oxide for an earth hue. My extended palette has become Burnt Umber, and Georgian Coeruleum Blue, and Gamblin Transparent Earth Orange.


Hi guys, I just wanted to thank everyone for their suggestions.

I have been out a few times plein air painting this Spring.
In the end I decided on the following palette and it has worked great so far:

Cad lemon and Cad Yellow medium
Pthalo Blue and Ultramarine blue
Quinacridone magenta
Burnt Umber
Sap Green
Titanium White.

Not that minimal I admit, and honestly I could probably skip the sap green but I like the variation of greens you can get by adding the two yellows.

Keep the suggestions coming though, I’m always interested to hear about other artists color palettes
(whenever I hear an artist talk about the colour palette they use, I always keep a note of it - maybe I’m odd :smile:)

Thank you.


Hope to see your beautiful painting as soon as possible~

Not odd at all-- I LOVE to hear what palettes other artists use…that’s how you find out about colors that you want to try and who knows, end up adding to or swapping out on your palette. One of my recent loves is Indian Yellow–a transparent that Kathleen Hudson suggested. I love it for the “glow” I can create.

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Me too. Actually I’m still adapting my palette as I go, and trying out the odd new colour here and there. Since I posted in May (where did THAT time go?) I have switched over from Quinacridone Magenta to Quinacridone Red. I have been been trying Gamblin Indian Yellow - their Fastmatte to use as a ground, but not having much success with it as it doesn’t dry quickly at all! I doesn’t dry any faster than my regular oil paints, but I think I’m using the wrong medium as it says to use alkyd when I have been using my usual linseed oil medium.