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Colour palettes form an obvious and critical part of an artist’s approach to their art. The selection of a basic range should to be well reasoned and developed over time to suit the works that are planned. An artists attitude and choice of subject matter or even kind of works may change over time and so can a palette.

The photograph above is of my basic range of colours set out on a palette manufactured by Michael Wilcox. Find out more about this magnificent palette here:

I have used this palette for over 30 years and worn one out in that time about 4-5 years ago- so they are a great investment. The heavy duty melamine cleans really well which for me is critical as I am a little OCD and could not tolerate messy or stained mixing in the paint wells: I want colour reliability and consistency without any unwanted form of contamination. I don’t use the layout of colour wells as suggested by Wilcox as I like to do things my way. The up-side of individuality is that you do use what becomes your own unique and recognisable palette.

I use about twenty-two basic colours whether I am painting a bird, landscape or human portrait. In cleaning the palette for this Blog, I have left four wells empty: there is a need now and then to add a unique colour or two to a painting and that’s when these wells do get used. Starting from the bottom and going anti-clockwise my basic palette comprises:

Cobalt Blue (W&N)

Ultramarine Blue (W&N) Indispensible.

Permanent Mauve (Windsor and Newton) The subtle lining in just about every cloud on a sunny day.

Permanent Crimson (W&N)

Scarlet (W&N)

Warm Sepia (Art Spectrum) – mix with Ultramarine Blue for “false black”

Burnt Umber (Graham)

Burnt Sienna Hue (Art Spectrum) Does amazing things when mixed with Permanent Mauve and Ultramarine Blue and drops of clean water on Arches Hot Pressed paper.

Raw Siena (W&N)

Yellow Ochre (W&N) Nice as a glazing colour

Cadmium Orange (W&N)

Cadmium Yellow (W&N)

Cadmium Lemon & Cadmium Lemon Pale (W&N)

Chromium Dioxide (DaVinci or W&N) perfect mix with appropriate blues and turquoises for Australian leaves.

Permanent Sap Green (W&N, Da Vinci, Grumbacher) I hunted around for a long time to find just which brands I liked.

Olive Green (W&N, Smith, and others are mostly OK)

Australian Dark Leaf Green (Art Spectrum) Magnificent for watery washes as it provides a granular finish when clean drops of water are added as wsell as some other colours Very suitable for finishing mosses and other plants of the deep dark places under an old stump- if you get my drift.

Turquoise (W&N)

Turquoise Light (W&N) these two colours may be a surprise but these colours often occur in Australian Parrots.

Cerulean Blue (Daniel Smith or W&N)- Take care when painting a plain blue sky as you can encounter a fast drying paint if not careful which leads to a streaky image which can be off putting.

Titanium White (only W&N) Critically important for nature work. Seldom used as a straight “colour” but more to give a colour some density or opacity. A common use is when I finish the feather vein and the barbs using different base colours. The reason I avoid using it straight is because you can end up with an unwanted contrasting textural tone with other colours- not a good look.

Lamp Black (only W&N) A most versatile “colour” that I have always relied on to deliver true black when I need it. The wing of Black Cockatoos are multi-layered- Ulramarine Blue; some Purple, Warm Sepia all individually mixed with Lamp Black to varying degrees- then detail finishing with the addition of Titanium White to suit each predominant colour.

Other colours that I encounter include: Indigo; Thalo Blue; Luminescent colours from Daniel Smith (excellent and you can mix other colours as per normal to shift the colour a bit) Rose Pink; Cobalt Blue Deep and whatever crops up from time to time. Lightfastness is the most significant issue with watercolour paints and those I use are determined under strict testing to be colour fast.

I hope this helps you in choosing your own range of colours.

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