I had to buy new gouache paints and, as always, I tried to stay close to the ‘Traditional Palette’ referring to the masters of Dutch Golden Age. Take Rembrandt, his original palette consisted of ochres, umbers, and siennas. Rembrandt used lead white, which for health reasons, is replaced with other whites, for instance titanium white.
Maria van Oosterwijck (1630-1693)
Allow me to analyse the colours Maria van Oosterwijk shows on her palette. She holds seven pencils with beautiful tips, perfect for her exquisite and highly detailed floral still-lifes. From top to bottom, I say (disclaimer, I was not there): Lead White, Ochre, Burnt Umber, Cadmium Red, Deep Red, Ultramarine Blue (green shade), and Deep Green. (Please, feel invited to upload your educated guess in the comment section; we can learn from each other).
SO FEW COLOURS!
One may feel puzzled how exquisite artwork is done with so few colours but the secret is simple: the art of mixing. Have a look, for instance, at the website of Natural Earth Paint and enjoy studying their mixing chart. Notice how a variety of colours can derive from 16 colours only!
With the advance of paint production came healthier paints but also fancier colours. Earth pigments were complemented with synthetic paints. Some colours still carry traditional names like Titan Golden Ochre, but others go by fancier names like Delfts Blue.
The traditional palette as I know it (in oil) consists of Burnt Sienna & Burnt Umbre, Cadmium Red & Cadmium Yellow Pale, Winsor Red Deep, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre Pale. Two greens: Permanent Green Deep & Terre Verte and two blues: Ultramarine (Green Shade) & Cobalt Blue and last, Titanium White & Ivory Black.
I never buy fancy colours with fancy names in our local art store whereas my neighbour, who loves to paint modern and abstract, finds it good fun to add newly developed colours to his palette. I ‘blame’ it on the echo of remarks made by my former teacher warning against wasting money on fancy colours, explaining how they can lead to vulgar results, easily leaving a dirty impression after mixing (only allowed to be mixed with white) and how they clash with classical colours. I understood what he said; ever since I have been religious with his advice.
Scroll up and study the Natural Earth and Mineral Pigment chart and notice how harmoniously these colours go together. Plus, there are more reasons for remaining loyal to a classical palette: one gets so familiar with the colours that mixing does not require consulting charts, and should you have to restore a part of your painting, it is easy to analyse which colours you have used. But most of all, avoid frivolity and vulgarity. There is no need for short cuts or buying harsh colours. I rest my case now but not before letting Maria van Oosterwijck’s art convince you.
Here you can download a handy list of traditional colours.
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