Archive for February, 2010

Paint colors for new artists

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Which colors to buy when beginning to paint?(obsolete)

The completed and illustrated new version of this article can now be found on the main site.

Ok, you want to make painting your hobby.You walk into a store and see a whole lot of different colors.With a limited budget, you cannot afford to buy them all.

So what limited selection would be a good choice to start with?

Basic palette:

Cadmium Yellow Lemon

A yellow with a green component

Cadmium Yellow Medium

A yellow with an orange component

Cadmium Red Light

A red with an orange component


A red with a violet component

Ultramarine Blue

A blue with a violet component

Phtalo Blue

A blue with a greenish component.


Titanium White

To make colors lighter. Buy a large tube.

Burnt Umber

Makes an excellent black when mixed with Ultramarine blue.
Very useful for under-painting, tonal sketches and can be used for darkening colors.

With these 8 colors above you can mix most colors.

A note on Phtalo blue

It is very strong in color, you only need very small amounts, so buy the smallest tube to begin with. Some people don’t like Phtalo blue because of this strength. Prussian blue is an alternative.

Recommended additions:

If you have extra money to spend on paints, I would recommend these colors.

If pressed for money, work from the top down.

Yellow Ochre

Can be used for skin colors, and in landscapes

Burnt sienna

A great dark orange mixing color to warm up cool colors. Very hard to mix from other pigments because it is a transparent color.


Don’t buy a big tube at first Black mixed with colors tends to make those colors appear lifeless. It can be useful for mixing grays.

Notes on pigments:

Single pigment paints have the brightest colors.
Plenty of commercial paints are premixed with different pigments.
You can mix them yourself on the palette.
This is especially true of those mixed paints who add nothing to a color other then white pigment (PW4 or PW6)

Premixed paints can be very useful if you have to mix them quite often.
You can save time by using premixed paints.
As a beginner you don’t know yet, which paints you are going to mix the most on the palette.

As a beginner you learn the most if you mix the colors your self on the palette.

The questions:

Why 2 reds, 2 yellows and 2 blues?

There are 3 primary colors, but with paint it is impossible to get a pure primary color.
There is always a tendency toward a secondary color:
orange, green, violet.

Some mixing examples with the full palette:

Bright orange mix cadmium red light and cadmium yellow.
Bright green mix Phtalo blue and lemon yellow.
Bright violet mix ultramarine with carmine.

To get a very dull orange mix Lemon Yellow with Carmine
To get a very dull green mix Cadmium Yellow with Ultramarine
To get a very dull violet mix Phtalo Blue with Cadmium Red light

To get a medium green mix Lemon Yellow and Ultramarine
or mix Cadmium yellow and Phtalo blue.

These medium mixes are also possible for orange and violet.I suggest you try them out:)

Lets see what happens if you would choose for example this limited palette:
cadmium red, cadmium yellow and ultramarine blue.

You can mix a bright orange, a dull green and a medium violet with only 2 colors.
No bright green or violet would be possible.
You could dull the orange with it’s complentarycolor ultramarine blue.

But the problem is the bright secondary colors, so that’s why you need 2 versions of the secondairy colors

Why not use black to darken colors?

Black is a very lifeless color. It also makes other pigments lose their edge.
To darken a color, try mixing in it’s complementarity color.

If you want to darken a color with black, consider using Burnt Umber.

Is this list for Oil paint or Acrylic paint?

You can use this list for any type of paint: Oil, Acrylic and Gouache.

Only for watercolors you could skip the white color.
But even then, most watercolor painters have chinese white to make corrections.

My recommendation:

First buy those 8 colors and maybe those 3 recommended colors.
Start to paint with them. Get experience with colormixing.
Everyone will get his/her own preferences for additional colors
that they want to use and buy.