Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Designing a Palette

The Zorn Palette is what I call a designed palette.  Some insight into palette construction might be useful.  I will bring back the practical colour wheel.  It is a colour wheel with pigments named and a relative value scale added.  This value scale is NOT accurate.  Handprint.com shows where the pigments fall in both value and chroma.  For teaching purposes I have simplified this model.  It is important to understand where pigments fall in chroma as well as value.  Here is my wheel showing hi intensity pigments around the circumference and a greyed or lower intensity yellow ochre inside the circumference.  You can mix something close to yellow ochre from the high intensity pigments, but the opposite is not true.

Practical Colour Wheel with Yellow Ochre Added

Using the 12 pigments suggested here allows one to mix all the colours inside the colour wheel, muted greys etc.  Many people using all these colours on their palette get confused with the infinite options.  It also lends itself to problems with colour harmony as well as colour/value difficulties.

Here is a palette sometimes used in the landscape.  It is simplified to make carrying supplies easier as well as simplifying the mixing choices.

Shorter Palette

This picture shows in white the area of colours possible with this palette.  You can see that the palette consists only of high intensity (High Chroma) pigments - Cad Yellow Light, Cad Orange, Cad Red Light, Alizarin, Ultramarine Blue, Viridian Green, and of course white.  The colours on the wheel not included on this palette can be ESTIMATED by mixing the colours on the palette.  These are ESTIMATES because they will be greyed to some degree.  This palette covers quite the gamut of potential colours.  Six tubes of paint plus white to carry.  You have to mix greys and earth tones.  The palette is a high chroma palette if no mixing is done.  Many options (Too many?) exist.  So what happens if we simplify further?

Three Pigment Palette

In this palette there is Cad Red Light (High Chroma Primary), Ultramarine Blue (High Chroma Primary), and Yellow Ochre - a dulled version of a "primary".  The white area represents the possible colours that can be mixed.  All mixtures will be greyed.  The only high chroma notes possible are Cad Red or Ultramarine.  White will give quite an array of values for the mixtures.  Now you have few colour choices to mix from and the colour will be harmonious.  Warm and cool colours exist.  Violets are not possible in mixtures.  You could alter that by adding Alizarin or Cobalt Violet.  Could work in the landscape which is quite muted most of the time save for sunsets etc.

Here is a more greyed palette.  Do you recognize it?

Cad Red Light, Yellow Ochre, Ivory Black


  1. this looks like really good information. Unfortunately I can't read it. Is that gray lettering on black? very hard for me to read. :(

  2. Yes it is on black. I'll see what I can do to brighten it up.


  3. The landscape palette is interesting, since I do lots of plein air. I usually mix my greens and don't always carry one. I agree w/ Karla about the gray on black. Love all this info.

  4. Pam and Karla,
    I edited the post to show printing white on grey. Hope that works.