4 Benefits Of LIMITED PALETTE Painting

Read about what Limited Palette painting is and what benefits it offers.


You might wonder how can a palette be limited? You are right, this term is confusing. Let me explain.
Limited palette is just a means of saying that you have a limited number of colors on your palette when you paint.

Light affects how we perceive colors

The color of light determines how an object's color looks like. If you have gone shopping clothes, then you might have seen some people take the garments out in daylight to see how the color actually looks. This is because artificial indoor lighting makes the color of garments look different.

For example, light from a candle has a color temperature of 2000 Kelvin whereas daylight on a blue sky day has a color temperature of 10000 Kelvin. So, same objects will looks different is these two extremes of light. The reason we do not notice the changes in color is because our brain adjusts for it and anyway we do not remember the color of the object when it was seen in different lighting conditions.

If we are not very careful and use many different blues, reds and yellows in the same painting, it would be like photographing different parts of the photo in different lighting conditions.

If you are not convinced, take a photo of the same object in fluorescent light and then in sunlight and compare the photos side by side. You'll quickly know what I mean.


Benefits of using a limited palette

Benefit 1: Color Harmony

For convincing realistic paintings, we need color harmony in our paintings. Color harmony simply means that all objects in the painting look as if they are all lit by the same source and the colors are pleasing to look at. Easiest way to achieve this is to use a limited number of colors, typically 3-5, and creating all other colors that the painting needs, by mixing these source colors. And our painting gets color harmony automatically.

Benefit 2: Simplification of color mixing
When you use less number of source colors, the process of creating or mixing other colors using these colors is simple and easy. If you want to warm up the color, add yellow or red, if you want to make the color cooler, add blue and so on.

Benefit 3: Time saving

When you want to add say blue to the mix, you just have one blue to use and so there is no choosing or experimenting involved. As you spend less time in mixing the colors, you save time.

Benefit 4: Saves money

As you can mix all other colors using the same basic colors, you just need to buy the basic colors. No wasted money in buying 3 shades of green or 5 shades of blue. This also enables you to buy larger tubes/containers of colors which cost less per unit.

When to use all other colors?
Especially when you are learning to paint, always use a limited palette. After you gain enough experience of color mixing and controlling the color, you may add more colors to your palette. But always assess the gains vs risks while doing this. It is like adding more characters to a movie. You always run the risk of diluting the impact of the main story.

As artists, our main aim is to tell a story visually. Color is just a means of telling it. 

Now I would love to hear from you. What is the insight you got from this and how do you plan to implement it in your work? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy Painting!

P.S. To learn more, take this course on Color Theory & Exercises and course on Limited Palette Painting