Watercolor painting with a limited palette

Since May I have been participating in Xanadu Gallery’s Art Business Academy. We have been talking a lot about making a consistent body of work, and one of the things instructor Jason Horejs recommended is using a limited palette so all the work will be related by color and tone even if the subjects are different.

I thought that using a limited color palette would be a good way to bring unity in my watercolors, so I have been experimenting to create a palette as minimal as possible to meet my needs. I started with the colors I use the most often:
1 Alizarin crimson (Qor)
2 Ultramarine blue (Qor)
3 Viridian (Qor)
4 Sap green (WN)
5 Cadmium yellow deep (Qor) (Use cad med yellow if you use Windsor-Newton))
6 Burnt sienna (WN)
7 Sepia (WN)

Here is an interactive chart of those colors:

Limited palette test 1

Limited palette test 1

I did a small test painting:

Limited watercolor palette test painting - Waterlily

Limited watercolor palette test painting - Waterlily

Blues, purples and greens were fine. I realized I didn’t need the viridian in this painting, I was able to get darker greens I liked better than the viridian by mixing sap green and ultramarine. I wasn’t happy with the pinks from the crimson – it has some brown in it so the pinks were not that “clean.”

I experimented with pinks and added a bright, crisp one — Holbein bright rose. It added a lovely range of light to dark pinks, and mixed well with the other colors to make reds, purples and neutrals.

Limited palette test 2

Limited palette test 2

I made a color wheel using the revised palette. It was a little challenging to get a good medium red, so if I need to paint something with a lot of warm or bright reds I would probably add cad red medium. But here’s a chart with the primaries just to see the range - I left the browns out of this chart:
• Ultramarine blue
• Sap green
• Cadmium medium yellow
• Bright pink

Limited palette color wheel

Limited palette color wheel

The only area I thought was lacking was the blue-greens, so I would probably add turquoise if painting surf or other water.

I usually blend my own neutrals, but did a test of some straight-from-the-tube just to see which were warmer and which were cooler:

Watercolor neutrals from the tube

Watercolor neutrals from the tube

So my final palette colors from this test are:

• Ultramarine blue (Qor)
• Sap green (WN)
• Cadmium medium deep (Qor)
• Bright Rose (Holbein)
• Burnt sienna (WN)
• Sepia (WN)

Limited use:
• Cadmium red medium
• Turquoise or manganese blue

Below are two paintings I did using this limited palette. I will paint several more with this palette to see if it does unify the work, and if I am able to get a full range of colors. It has been a fun experiment!

Peonies, 24x18", watercolor on hot press Arches paper

Peonies, 24x18", watercolor on hot press Arches paper

Nest, 20x16", watercolor on hot press Arches paper

Nest, 20x16", watercolor on hot press Arches paper

A note on brands: I have been a longtime Windsor + Newton user, but have been experimenting with Golden’s Qor watercolors. I will write another blog post on that topic soon.