Date Your Colors

Many times, I use those color palettes littered throughout Pinterest that show a nice photograph accompanied by a series of 5 or more colors. I love these color schemes and pin them as much as anybody else and also use them as inspiration for paintings. Here’s one from Design Seeds.

Copyright Design Seeds

Most of these pre-made palettes are gorgeous to look at in their own right, but they don’t transfer well to an art palette. Why? Because in artwork, we need light, dark and mid-tone values to make the art sing. I’ve tried many times and get inspired, but not made artwork I love by following the exact same values in these pre-made palettes. I created a new palette inspired by the one from Design Seeds to create “Hisako” (below).

“Hisako” by Lynne Furrer 24×24 inch acrylic on canvas

How to Create Your Own Palette

Today, I did something different, I “dated” my colors. I have a shelf full and I’ve never taken the time to get to know these colors. I don’t know who their friends are or those they avoid. But making color charts is boring as heck! Only I do like a challenge…

I came across this lovely artwork from Fanny Nushka Moreaux. She does these “no face” women in soft tones with wonderful brushwork. The challenge was now clear to me: build a palette using my shelf colors using her art as a reference. I was drawn to this artwork first because I love purple. Fanny used a rich, deep purple with earthy brown-red overtones. Her gown looks almost black, but I can see from the tiny triangle created by her arm and hip that it was a reddish-purple. I know how to make purple, red + blue. But which red? Which blue? Date them!

Copyright Fanny Nushka Moreaux; all rights reserved. Title Unknown

I use Liquitex Heavy Body Acrylics. I like their creaminess and that the caps are large enough and screw on/off easily. I dislike other brands primarily because of caps; weird but true. All colors described herein will be this brand/type of acrylic.

Setting Up

I use acrylic paper sized 6×9 inches. I needed a plan on how to setup the paper because I felt I’d be making a lot of these. The primary pure color I’m dating is always in the top left corner. Other colors I’ve invited to the party are to the right. Under each pure color swatch, I put in the original color name, it’s transparency rating. Below the pure color row is a mixture of the primary pure color with one of the invitees. The pictures below show these far better than words.

Date #1

I pulled out Napthol Red and the two ultramarine blues I have – red shade and green shade. The 1st row are pure colors. In the 2nd row, I mixed Titanium White with the red and for the blues, I mixed Napthol Red with both. In the 3rd row, I added white to the 2 blue mixtures.

Analysis: The 2nd row purples are very close to the reference photo and I like them. There’s not much difference between the 2 pure blues even though one leans red and the other green, until you see white added. I probably won’t use the lovely, bright pink in the 2nd row and dusty blue/purple in the 3rd row, but now I have them on a card and can revisit whenever I need these colors. A very successful first date!

Date #2

As there was little difference between the 2 blues, I kicked out Ultramarine Blue (Green Shade) making room for Quinacridone Blue Violet. I also swapped Napthol Red for Quinacridone Crimson to see if I could get some even better purples.

Analysis: That middle purple was glowing deep and rich magenta purple; I loved it! Why was it better than the middle purple on the first date? Because the red in the first date was semi-transparent. It absorbed the light from the white paper underneath and therefore kept the rich purples from glowing. So 2 options, depending on what’s beneath the mixture when I apply it to the canvas or if I use the transparent mix over white. And look at all the other gorgeous purples and pinks on this date! Even if I don’t use any of these for my next painting, I’ll have lots of reference colors already mixed up and ready to choose from.


So, I’ve found the gorgeous magenta purple in the reference photo. I only want to create a triad color palette (3 colors). Now, I need the other 2 colors. In a triad, the 3 colors form an equilateral triangle on the color wheel, but it won’t tell you shades/tones of the colors that go well together. On my color wheel, I need a lime green and a deep orange-yellow. In the reference photo, I see some yellow and greens…but they are really light and dusty. There are also some dusty purples, blues and pinks, which I know I can make by adding white to any of the combinations I’ve already discovered on the first 2 dates. Now, I need to date some yellows and greens…

Date #3

Studying the reference photo again, the pinks are more apricot, but they are dusty and light in value. The green is more minty. The yellow is earthy, not bright like a sunflower. This yellow makes me think of Transparent Raw Sienna, so I try it with the 2 Ultra blues…ugh…it comes out like Irish tartan green/blue (not shown). Not any shades I’m after, but all is not lost. I have a new card swatch to add to my file! Now I’m stuck…how in the world to get green if I don’t like it with Ultra blues? I don’t think adding another blue is right. OK, I cheat… I invite some Green Gold and Unbleached Titanium to visit with Ultra Blue RS. 

Analysis: This was a stellar date! Look at all the great new colors!!! I found a minty green that can be made even more subtle with a wash of white over the mix, or I can just add more white to make it a lighter minty green. And look at that yummy gray blue…last one in the 2nd row. I can use it or not, but I’m definitely keeping the green which gives me 2 of the three colors in the triad palette. (I don’t count neutrals like white, unbleached titanium, black and gray).

Date #4

On this date, I’m looking for the earthy yellow to round out my triad palette. I stick with raw sienna and put it next to my purple and minty green. I decide it’s a perfect triad and so I look no further for my yellow. But I do see in the reference photo an apricot tone. Looking at the colors I’m using so far, I know that there’s a red I used to make purple. Will that Quin Crimson play well with Raw Sienna? I test it…and sure enough, by mixing those two colors and a bit of unbleached titanium, I can get a wonderful apricot that I can tint lighter or darker with white for whatever I need. So I have my triad and I’m done, right? Nope…one more date…

Analysis: Transparent Raw Sienna is perfect as is.

Date #5

There’s one last color in the photo that’s very obvious to me – a brown used for her hair and probably also tinted lighter and used in her skin. EEEEEK! how to make brown? I cheated here again and searched the internet…ugh, there are so many recipes! Sadly, I know those recipes won’t work for me because of the particular colors I’ve already chosen, so no shortcut… I have to get back to the date. I invite Transparent Raw Sienna, Quin Crimson, Ultra Blue RS and Green Gold to lunch.

Analysis: In the first row, I’ve added a double dose of Trans. Raw Sienna, and 1 part each of the other 3 pure colors. That comes out kind of reddish brown, very earthy and a very useful color somewhere, but too reddish to complement my purple. I cut back on yellow and add 1 part of all four colors….yummy!!! rich, deep, forest brown…a perfect blend layer over my purple to make it darker or wherever a rich dark value. In the 3rd row, I lose the yellow, mixing 1 part crimson, blue and green gold. This too leans red, but I still like it and may consider it where I need a warmer brown in the artwork.

Just for fun, I pulled out Raw Umber from the tube, to compare. It looks a bit green when wet, but after drying resembles the middle brown, but not as rich looking as my date mixture. I decide on my last mix for warm browns and the one above it for a darker, cooler brown.

A Triad Palette is Born

I don’t have plans to paint a portrait with this new palette, but I may do a still life or landscape. These new colors will sing, have life and depth. They get along well and I have several cards (not all shown) where I tried new combinations…learning what worked and what didn’t. I spent about 3 hours, but it never felt like it.

Here’s the final triad palette I chose:

  1. Purple made from 1 part Quinacridone Crimson and 1 part Ultramarine Blue Red Shade
  2. Yellow using straight Transparent Raw Sienna from the tube.
  3. Minty Green using Green Gold, Unbleached Titanium and Ultramarine Blue Red Shade

I’ll make other tints and washes to get apricots, grays and browns using the 3 colors from my triad palette. And I have the recipe card to refer to anytime I need it.

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One response to “Date Your Colors”

  1. Neat idea. I need to try this!


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