View Full Version : If you could only choose 5 colours...

12-03-2009, 06:28 PM
Hi everyone!

My New Year's resolution is going to be to paint more as I've been far too long away from the easel! I've got a little belated-birthday-money, and am thinking about treating myself to some WN Finity acrylics (I usually use Galleria). I don't have a huge amount of cash though, so a limited palette is called for.

So my question to you all is, if you could only have 5 tubes of paint, which colours would you choose to give you the greatest flexibility for mixing?

Thank you! Take care.

12-03-2009, 06:51 PM
Hi Abbi,
W&N Finity is now called Artists Acrylic, the Finity is still available(normally at big discounts as it's remaining stock only). The new paint is brilliant and costs about the same as the Finity used to.

I'm currently using a limited palette with the W&N paints, my colours are: Cadmium Red Deep, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue, Burnt Umber and Titanium White. With these colours I find I can get most colours for portraits, I occasionally use a few other colours but the these are the bare minimum I use.

This is the place I get my W&N Artist Acrylic paints from.

Hope this helps you :)

12-03-2009, 06:53 PM
I would take the three primary colors, plus Titanium and Zinc Whites if you are working in oil or acrylic. The Pigments that I would use are, for yellow, Hansa Yellow Light or Azo Yellow, for magenta, Permanent Alizarin Crimson or Quinacridone Crimson, and for Blue, Phthalocyanine Blue. With these three pigments you can mix virtually any color in the rainbow. The whites, opaque and transparent in order, allow you to lighten the mix but are not necessary if you are working in watercolor or acrylics with water.

Richard Nelson, Maui, Hawaii, has taught for a long time using the "tri-hue" pallet and has a lot of information on color mixing on his web site at http://dimensionsofcolor.com/about.html. Once you get onto mixing colors you can eliminate a lot of pigments in your palette and travel light.

Good luck...

12-03-2009, 07:39 PM
What I normally use is (I paint western, so lots of boots, blue jeans, animals):

Payne's gray
Titanium White
Raw Umber
Cobalt Blue
Yellow Ochre

I have a variety of other colors I have gotten over the years so have a dab of reds and browns, greens and such.

When choosing a red, you will need to think about if you want a cool red (blue) or a warm red (orange). This will make a HUGE difference when mixing to achieve other colors.

12-03-2009, 07:56 PM
Thanks all for tips, most helpful :)
And Andy, thank you for letting me know about "Artists" vs "Finity" - told you I'd been away from the easel a while hehe!

12-04-2009, 09:11 AM
So my question to you all is, if you could only have 5 tubes of paint, which colours would you choose to give you the greatest flexibility for mixing?
Nice to see this question put this way Abbi.

Many times when people talk about restricted palettes it's about personal preferences rather than gamut (the mixing range for a set of colours) and this really could be considered to be the primary concern. However, that said how you get on with a colour can have a lot to do with how well you paint with it!

Anyway, obviously white to begin with*.

The main thing to consider is the primaries, since with a palette this small you need to choose good ones that are spaced well. Unfortunately many colours that are good choices in this regard are transparent or relatively so but there have to be compromises with a limited palette.

The best three to get - purely in terms of mixing range - are the closest equivalents to CMY inks, as used in desktop colour printers. A green-shade phthalo blue, PB15:3, Quinacridone Magenta, PR122, and any of a number of bright, vivid yellows.

In the Artists' Acrylics these would be Phthalo Blue Green Shade. Quinacridone Violet and Lemon Yellow.

But there are a few problems with these choices. The Quin Magenta is a bit 'strident' for some people and you might prefer Quinacridone Rose (Permanent Rose in the W&N range) instead as it's a little more natural looking and also gives slightly better mixed oranges. A yellow that's more mid-yellow in hue can be a better choice for practical reasons, including that it will also yield better oranges.

W&N themselves recommend Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Permanent Rose and Azo Yellow Medium as the ideal set of primaries.

Because you're getting more than three colours, an option is to use French Ultramarine as your blue, adding Phthalo Green Blue Shade to help with mixed blues and greens. The French Ultramarine will also give superior mixed violets with the Permanent Rose than with a phthalo blue.

*If you really want to save money you don't have to buy white in the artists' acrylics, even though it's a cheap paint (Series 1 colour). So if you want to splurge on the coloured stuff then it's okay to use a cheaper white - I regularly use a System 3 white mixed with paints from more expensive ranges.

A white from a lower range, being weaker than Titanium White in artists' acrylics, can actually be beneficial in some respects although it depends on how you paint.


So here are some options to consider:

Phthalo Blue Green Shade, Quinacridone Violet, Azo Yellow Medium
with Yellow Ochre and Burnt Umber

Ultramarine Blue, Permanent Rose, Azo Yellow Medium
with Phthalo Green Blue Shade and Burnt Umber

Phthalo Turquoise, Quinacridone Violet, Azo Yellow Medium
with Red Iron Oxide and Raw Umber

Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Quinacridone Red, Cadmium Lemon
with Gold Ochre and Red Iron Oxide


Limited palettes are a much-discussed topic in Colour Theory if you want to do a search there and read more.


12-04-2009, 12:06 PM
If getting only 5 is not an issue set in stone may I suggest a split primary set. I just recently purchased the WN Artist acrylic paints. I bought the split primaries they recommended. When reading the list some of the colors seemed a bit strange to me but I figured they knew best, and they did. The paints I have are lemon yellow, azo yellow deep, pyrrole red, quin magenta, ultramarine blue and pthalo blue greend shade. And of course white.
These are not typical of the colors I use in oil so I made some split primary color wheels which helped show me the brightest and the greyest secondaries and mixes.

12-04-2009, 01:40 PM
one could also use gesso as the white, since ye usually have it around anyway...

12-04-2009, 03:38 PM
Thank you all so much for your advice, I very much appreciate it. I'll have a look at all the colour combinations you've suggested and have a good old think about it! Hope you all have a great weekend, take care.

12-04-2009, 11:47 PM
I would go with:

Titanium White,
Yellow Ochre,
Burnt Sienna,
Alizarin Crimson,
Ultramarine Blue


12-05-2009, 10:23 AM
Titanium white
Naples Yellow
Cad Red
Ultramarine blue
Burnt umber

12-05-2009, 02:41 PM
(Einon)Because you're getting more than three colours, an option is to use French Ultramarine as your blue, adding Phthalo Green Blue Shade to help with mixed blues and greens. The French Ultramarine will also give superior mixed violets with the Permanent Rose than with a phthalo blue.
My choice as well with a cheaper white than Aritst quality as I use white only for mixing. Then a Lemon yellow and burnt sienna.
I tend to use these colours exclusively anyhow.

12-05-2009, 02:53 PM
With only five, for landscapes I would use Old Holland or Steven Quiller brands:

Cad Red Light
Ivory Black
Cad Lemon Yellow
Tit White


12-05-2009, 03:41 PM
I think I would pick:

Cadmium yellow (my favourite yellow for mixing greens)
Cadmium red (or Carmine Red)
Burnt sienna (because it makes a great black with Ultramarine)
Zinc White (better for mixing that Titanium white)

12-05-2009, 03:59 PM
I'd pick the same as Dave above, except I'd omit the sienna (mix my darks with primaries) and add pthalo blue for cool tones when needed. I'd probably have titanium white, because I like the opaque-ness most times

Chestnut Tree Cafe
12-05-2009, 08:02 PM

I started with Galeria a few years ago and I wish I had done as you have and gone for a smaller selection of quality paints.

I usually use the standard six colour palette (theoretically allowing you to mix any colour and I have found it really good for understanding colour mixing).

My colours would be;
Cadmium lemon yellow, cadmium yellow middle, cadmium red middle, permanent rose, ultramarine blue, cerulean blue.

The cadmiums and cerulean make this a pricey palette, but one that I think is really worth trying. Many books on colour mixing will reference these as standard colours. The palette you need should reflect your subject - cerulean makes very nice greens, but if you don't need that you could use the slightly cheaper cobalt blue.

If the above palette is too pricey stick with your galeria ultramarine as there is not that much difference. If you need to reduce further you could replace the cadmium lemon yellow (opaque) with lemon yellow (transparent). You could also replace the cerulean/cobalt with phthalocyanine blue from the galeria range - though I would personally not recommend phthalocyanine blue if you paint anything naturalistic e.g. portraits as it is very hard to control.

Last piece of advice - shop around for the paints - prices vary considerably.


12-07-2009, 10:04 AM
Only 5 is a tough one if you include a white and a dark.

Cadmium yellow medium
Cadmium red light
Ultramarine blue
Burnt umber
Titanium white