Thursday, March 11, 2021


There are lots of artists who know way more about color than I can pretend to.  My outlook comes from my own personal experience and my own individual quirks and preferences.

But because I've been asked what colors I use, I offer today's post.

In all honesty, I can't tell what colors I've chosen for any given piece of completed art, because I don't keep records.  Some artists do keep records, and I can't even imagine how they have the discipline and time!

I can only describe my general approach to color.  

The biggest two influences on my "go-to" palette are, first, the color wheel; and of secondary importance is my notebook where I record color combinations that I've seen and enjoyed.

Above:  The right page holds a collection of paint combinations that have tickled my eyes.  modified (atypical) color wheel fills the left page above.  This particular color wheel differs from a traditional color wheel; it's modified to show the complement of each color right below the color itself. For example, at the very top, directly under the reds, you see their complementary blues. You can buy color wheels of the traditional kind from artist supply companies, but they're also free online.  Just Google "color wheels." 

Every brand of acrylic paints has its own individual array of color name assignments.  "Magenta," for example, is an assigned name that will differ slightly from brand to brand.

My favorite brand/manufacturer for acrylics is Golden Paints.  Their colors are highly pigment-saturated, lending themselves to endless varieties of shades when thinned with clear acrylic media.

Primary colors are yellow, red and blue.  

For those on tight budgets, I recommend buying 2 each the three primaries.  (In the modified color wheel above, you can easily find examples of each of the colors I'm listing below.)  

a warm yellow (a yellow faintly tinted with orange)

a warm red (faintly tinted with yellow)

a warm blue (faintly tinted with red)

a cool yellow (faintly tinted with green)

a cool red (faintly tinted with blue)

a cool blue (faintly tinted with green) 

I suggest, at least for starters, that you keep the cools separate from the warms.  Cool primaries work best when used together; likewise, warm primaries work best when used together, as a general rule.  It's fine to eventually break "rules" -- but first it's important to know what the rules are.

Golden Paints offers a wealth of information online; if their website's color charts don't answer your questions, you can personally contact their experts via their website.  They're very helpful in explaining everything, not only about acrylics but also watercolors and much more.

In addition to the 6 color suggestions above, I would add a white and a black.  

But in honesty, I think it's better for beginning painters to buy 2 types of white and skip black, at least for the time being.

I rely heavily on two types of white -- zinc white, which is translucent; and titanium white, which is opaque.

Some artists use white gesso for white and thin it when they want more translucency.  Personally I don't like that approach as much, but every artist has his or her own preferences since we are all individuals.  Nothing wrong with that!

To my eye, the main difference between white gesso and titanium white is that titanium is brighter.  So when I use it, I often dull it down a notch or two with an acrylic paint that fits into the color-scheme of whatever my current project happens to be.  Because Golden Paints are so richly pigmented, it takes very, very little of that tinting color to offset titanium's brightness. 

White is useful for creating pastels.  

Black is a shortcut color, often used to darken the other colors.

But colors can be darkened with the use of their complements (hence the need for a color wheel, which shows complements for each color and shade.)  You will never get a pure black by combining complements, but do you really want a pure black, anyway?  It's a question worth asking; the answer is up to the individual.

Besides Golden, I've also used other high-quality brands occasionally ... Holbein, Liquitex, etc. 

I don't recommend Liquitex "student grade" paints or any other brand of "craft" paints because I think their end result can discourage a beginning painter.  The cheaper alternatives are not highly saturated with pigments, and this matters. 

In my Golden Paints acrylic collection, my favorites are Manganese Blue Hue, Diarylide Yellow and Quinacridone Magenta.  

But that's just my personal preference; it's what I grab if I want to do a painting in a hurry.  Most often that's not the case.  So I generally branch out into a much bigger range of reds...and another, darker yellow...and a more violet-like blue.  My biggest collection is in reds.  I love reds!

Note: Tomorrow continues a daily posting of ideas for using my newly released Abstract Composition Backbones Masks s864 thru s867.  These daily posts will eventually come to an end but in the more widely-spaced posts to follow, more ideas for these new masks will be posted here, along with ideas for using my other stencils and masks. 

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