Limited palette experimentsPosted: May 29, 2019
If you’re up for a challenge and enjoy experimenting with colour, here’s an idea for a rainy day. Try painting the same scene several times with different triads of colour. The experiments below are ones that I prepared for my workshop this weekend at the Chicago Sketch Seminar. My palette is filled with 12 Daniel Smith Colours that I’ll be using for my session titled Bare Bones: Working with Limited Palettes in Watercolour. For these experiments I worked in a Hahnemuhle Zigzag Accordion book, so that I could have all the samples on a single surface.
I was pretty methodical about the process, first painting each triad of colour as swatches first, and you might have seen a preview of this a few days ago. After painting all the swatches I did a pencil sketch of a little scene from Kamouraska, Quebec, from a photo I took a few years ago. I chose the scene because it had sky, water, rocks, trees and a house, which gave me lots of opportunity for colour. When the pencil sketch was done, I painted the scene using only the three colours from the swatches on the left.
Although it started to get tedious by the sixth or seventh combination, it was really interesting to see them all side by side. If you check out my Instagram feed you can also see a video of one side of the book.
The combinations are titled so I can keep track of them, although they were hard to name since some are quite similar, like the Bright one and the Bold one. At the bottom of the swatch page, you can also see the beautiful neutrals and darks that you can create by mixing all three pigments together.
The Traditional palette gave me some unexpected results. I incorporated pure red into the sketch, and loved the way it contrasted with the cool greys in the sky. The name for this one comes from an article about limited palettes by Nita Leland in Watercolor Artist magazine from a few years back.
The Art History palette got its name from a similar palette in the Adobe Illustrator colour library. After years of teaching this software to my college students, these names are hard to forget.
The Opaque palette is one I love to use on cloudy or misty days to create atmosphere. With this combination it’s hard to create deep darks but the greys are luminous.
Sometimes the name doesn’t quite match the sketch. The Muted palette swatches are quite soft looking but the painted sketch is much bolder.
The Warm palette is made up of a warm yellow, a cool red and a green instead of a blue. This is one that I have never tried before but I will certainly be experimenting with it again.
As you can see from comparing all of these, using a limited palette often creates a harmonious combination of colours. Sometimes these colours are not what you might see in the scene in front of you, but they make for a more chromatically unified sketch or painting. I learned a lot from creating these samples and I know I’ll have a good time incorporating some of these combos into my sketches.
I hope this has given you some new ideas for your own sketches, and if you want to tell me about your favourite triad of colours, I’d love to hear.