How To Paint With A Limited Palette

Expand your painting skills by limiting the paint colors you typically use.

Sound counter intuitive? I’m going to show you why limiting your palette for a time can expand your skill set as an artist.

paint palette

Painting Outside of Your Comfort Zone

Hey Fellow Artists! I would like to challenge you to try something a little different than what you would normally do. As artists we are used to celebrating color and expanding the limits of expression through it. But I want to show you how to paint with a limited palette, while still achieving a rich color payoff.

By painting with a limited color range you force yourself to rely on other avenues to achieve the desired results. Such as:

  • Use of light and shadows
  • Use of texture and technique
  • Exploring depths of individual color and how far you can push that color
  • Expands your imagination as an artist

Painting With A Full Color Range

Look at this painting titled Favorite End. It is one of my paintings that is the normal, full color range approach. It is exciting, vibrant, and celebrates all the visual richness a full color palette offers.

Golden Gate Bridge Painting

However, I like to push myself once in a while to do more of a limited palette, using two to four colors at most, and seeing what I’m able to achieve with that. This requires me to imagine how to utilize color for an emotional expression which I’ll talk about in a future blog post. You can learn a lot by approaching the painting that way.

This requires me to imagine how to utilize color for an emotional expression. . .

Examples of Limited Palette Paintings

Let’s take a look at a few paintings where I utilized a limited color palette with great results.

Here is a painting that leans more in the green tones; this is titled Reflection Falls.

It is helpful to determine the main color you want to utilize, to set your overall mood. Based on the mood you want to create, determine your secondary or third color to help support it. You can see I’m playing off some of the orange-peachy feel as my secondary colors to create the effect I was hoping for.

waterfall painting

Here’s another one that’s even more limited. The title is Hanging Brass.

This one almost becomes monochromatic, which requires me to become more deliberate in the use of my values. It calls for me to be more intentional about how I accent my brighter lights. This one has brassy tones because the subject matter I was painting was brass. So doing a limited palette with this made it even more interesting.

brass dishes wall art

Go ahead, play around with the color wheel. Try one area of color one day, a different area of color another time. The color wheel is a useful tool in helping you determine what colors you can used from one painting to the next.

Hopefully, over time you’ll complete the wheel and broaden your color experience. You’ll be surprise at how much you can learn through that process.

Next, you’ll want to read my article about how to use Analogous Colors on a color wheel. This is important information when painting with a limited palette!