The Importance of Color Charts

When I first started painting, I didn't have a clue on where to lay out my colors on the palette or distinguish between a cool and warm version of the same color. I ended up with multiple blue paint tubes that would eventually turn out to be all warm blues once I learned the difference. That's where a color chart comes in handy!

A color chart of some Winsor and Newton paints

A color chart of some Winsor and Newton paints

Color charts clearly lays out all of the colors that you have and can help guide you when you paint. I have several color charts and never paint without one.  This actually ties into how to set up your palette, a topic which I would like to touch upon in another post. To make a color chart, you must first understand what a warm or cool color is. 

Warm and Cool Colors

For each color, there is a cool and warm shade of the same color. For example, Pthalo Blue is a cool blue while Cobalt Blue is a warm blue. Hansa Yellow is a cool yellow while Indian Yellow is a warm Yellow. I'm no expert in color theory but generally, cooler or warmer colors are relative and cooler colors have a blue bias (i.e. Quinacridone Red is a cool red vs. Napthol Red which is a warm red) while warm colors have a red bias (i.e. Cobalt Violet is a warm violet while Ultramarine is a cool violet). The brand of watercolors may also affect what colors will be a red/cool color since the names may be applied differently.

If you look at the chart below, you can see that the Magnese Blue Hue is more of a warm blue vs. the Winsor Blue (Green Shade) on its left which is a cool blue. Try looking at your colors and analyzing which are cool/warm colors before deciding if you want it as a permanent part of your palette. 

A sample of a messy color chart for my winsor colors

“There’s no such thing as too much”

The above quote is a lie. Too many colors is not a crime but too much is too much. Too many colors cripples you as an artist (in my opinion) because you end up relying on pre-mixed colors instead of creating your own hues and mixes. Again, this is something I had to go through to learn exactly what I was doing wrong. I have over 75 different tubes of colors from various brands and to this very day - I regret buying so many!

Just a sample of my "Master Color Chart" 

Why Should I have a Limited Palette?

When you build color charts, you start to realize:  A) "gee...I have so many colors..I need to make more charts!" or  B)"I don't have the right shade of green it seems, I should buy more"

Whether it's A or B that you're thinking about..those are already two clear signs for you to stop hoarding colors. (Yes, I do consider it hoarding and I'm guilty of it myself)

A limited palette is wonderful and cost-effective! Limited palettes should only consist of 12-17 colors and with only a few cool/warm variations of each. However, you might want to fine-tune your palette depending on the subjects you paint. If you paint landscapes - have more browns, yellows, and greens. If you're similar to me and you paint bontanicals - incorporate more red, yellows and blues. Below is a brief list of the reasons why I think everyone should have a limited palette:

  • Limited palette forces you to mix instead of reaching for convenience colors. Don't get me wrong, convenience colors are great to have on-hand but mixing teaches you patience and you might even discover a few recipes that could help with other paintings! Some greens and oranges are just better when mixed from the primary colors
  • Cost-effective! No one really paints with the rainbow (with the exception of artists' who has the rainbow style and needs more than 10 colors in a painting)
    • I found myself struggling to use all the colors available in a big palette and realized that I am just as content with only 17 colors or so. They are all I need to mix with!
  • Overwhelming decisions - having so many color choices might block your creativity and end up wasting your time in choosing the "correct shade". You're an artist! Any shade you choose will end up being the "correct" one but you need to realize that too many choices are not necessarily a good idea and can slow down your creation process. 

SQ chart - a color chart of all my colors in the Stephen Quiller Palette

The above chart is based on my Stephen Quiller porcelain palette which unfortunately, is not used as often anymore. This is because it had too many colors that I don't need in most of my paintings. I rarely use the purples, blues, or greens in my artwork because flowers are mostly warmer shades. I dislike painting foliage and even when I do paint them - the greens are not as bright as the pre-mixed tubes of green. I still have to tone down my greens with either more yellow or blue to get the right hue.

Hopefully this brief glimpse into how I use color charts and limited palettes can further your painting adventures! Always happy to hear from my readers - feel free to leave a comment below or email me if anything :)

Stay tuned!