(We are not financially affiliated with any of the artists or products mentioned in this post)
There are so many choices, almost too many it seems at times (somewhere North of 160 hues). That plethora of colors can become confusing – even for the seasoned artist. I have discovered that professional quality paints are made really well by each of the major brands. We just need to decide which slight variation we love most.
The most important consideration is professional vs. student grade paints. Remember, learning to paint well is tough enough – let’s not sabotage our efforts, especially with the most important ingredient.
As tempting as it may seem to save a few bucks and buy student grade paints…DON’T! The pigment load is much thinner. Think about painting a room – there are some paints that can cover your wall with one coat, other paints that may take quite a few coats – that’s pigment load.
It’s also much easier to learn when we use consistent quality materials.
This is the easy part, right?
After all, the best artists in the world have used the science of color to determine the exact pigments necessary for mixing every color we will need for landscape or portrait work – haven’t they?
Do a little research and you will find many of the top artists’ palettes online. What you will quickly notice is that no two professional artists’ color choices are exactly the same – in fact there doesn’t seem to be any real consensus at all – the colors vary widely, even among artists with similar styles or approaches.
As you study artists and their palettes you will notice that there is no secret formula for choosing paint brands or colors. The only perfect palette is the one that works for you, and even then you may experiment and switch a color now and then.
So in developing your palette, a helpful starting point might be to find an artist you particularly admire and use theirs, then add or eliminate a color once in a while and see how you like it.
My Palette consists of a warm and cool version of each of the major hues plus some earth colors:
Cadmium Lemon (cool)
Cadmium Yellow Medium (warm)
Cadmium Orange (optional)
Quinacridone Red (cool – for clean lavenders in my flowers rather than dirtier Alizarin)
Alizarin Crimson Permanent (cool – can’t do without it for my darkest dark shadows when mixed with Ultramarine Blue)
Cadmium Red Light (warm, but cooler than cad red med)
Cadmium Red Medium (warm)
Transparent Oxide Yellow (replaces yellow ochre)
Transparent Oxide Orange (replaces raw sienna)
Transparent Oxide Red (replaces burnt sienna)
Phthalo Blue Green Shade (cool)
Ultramarine Blue (warm)
Manganese Blue (optional – cooler than ultra blue)
Phthalo Green (cool)
Permanent Sap Green (optional – warm)
Chromiumm Oxide Green (very optional)
Back in the late 80’s I started using Utrecht and Gamblin paints because I could buy them in the larger 150 ml tubes. I still use them today – although recently I tried out RGH and Michael Harding. Michael Harding paints are incredible (which I didn’t really expect since I like most professional paints – I used Rembrandt in college and loved them – at the time they didn’t offer the 150 ml tubes or I might still be using them today) – many of the RGH paints seem to be high quality, but their titanium white paint has too much oil or something – it literally takes weeks to dry, rather than the usual 3-6 days – that alone causes me to pause when thinking of purchasing more paint from them (although I love the Blue Black they sent me as a free sample). Gamblin has the most complete selection of the colors I use, but often it comes down to what’s on sale when it’s time to replenish my supplies.
Paint Price Comparison
For those on a budget – when every penny counts (I’ve certainly been there) – here is an approximate cost per ml of the professional brands of paint, using Ultramarine Blue as the common denominator. Of course these costs can change, but overall they stay pretty constant unless you find them on sale.
How fast one paint dries compared to another isn’t something I think about, unless I try some paint from a new company like RGH and the white ends up taking weeks to dry, instead of days like I’m used to.
For those of you who really take the fat over lean concept to the limits, or you just have a deadline and need to make sure your painting is ready, it might be helpful to know how long it takes overall for one pigment to dry compared to another.
The most important paint on our palette is white – we use a lot of it – it’s mixed with just about every other color at one time or another. I would suggest getting a couple different whites and trying them out from different manufacturers. Some will be creamier, some stiffer, some brighter – each has advantages depending on our painting styles and techniques.
If you are using an acrylic gesso on your canvas or panel, be cognizant of any Zinc in your oil paints – it has a tendency to delaminate more easily than titanium. You don’t want to do a Pollock paint peel.
Also, even on an oil or lead ground, zinc in white paint tends to crack or become brittle. If you choose to use zinc white (a favorite of Richard Schmid and Dan Gerhartz is Lefranc white which uses zinc), it might be prudent to use a panel rather than canvas.
Have fun with it all. Don’t get overly anxious about paint – the major brands do a fantastic job of creating exceptional paint – much better than what our predecessors had.
So relax and enjoy the process. Happy Painting!
What has been your go-to paints for your palette, and what paints have you learned to stay away from?