Art, Breath, Paint, Air . . .

Art, Breath, Paint, Air . . .

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Choosing Artist Oil Colors & My Palette

High quality professional grade oil colors are composed of a mix of pigment and a "drying oil." The drying oil is typically linseed oil. But since linseed oil yellows over time, you will also see the use of safflower oil (especially in whites) and walnut oil. Pigments are basically ground up particles that are suspended in oil. They can be ground up earth or rocks such as ochres and iron oxides, burnt things such as wood or bone (often used for blacks), metals such as cadmiums and colbalts, and carbon based pigments such as Napthol and Quinacridone. For an analysis of pigments see

The pigments available over the centuries, including today, can be understood from a painter's perspective using Robert Gamblin's Navigating Color Space video. I highly recommend watching this free video several times. In my color mixing class ,we look at the colors on your palette and analyze the pigments used in terms of hue, temperature, chroma, and opacity. This gives us an understanding as to where the paint belongs in color space and how a paint color will behave in a mix.

pigments and paint tubes
I paint with traditional oils (see below for a list of manufacturers and colors) and use M. Graham Walnut Oil Medium to clean my brushes. The benefit is that you are using buttery traditional oils that are saturated with pigment and can use the walnut oil medium to thin the paints as well as to clean my brushes. It is solvent free painting without resorting to the highly inferior water mixable paints. M Graham oil colors and mediums are available from Dick Blick, Genesis Art Supplies, and other sources. M Graham uses walnut oil instead of linseed oil in its colors. The result is a very buttery paint that dries slightly slower (less waste on your palette from paint drying too fast) that has a beautiful clarity. Both M Graham and Gamblin are domestic manufacturers that produce their paints in small batches and pack the highest pigment load possible in to every tube.

 My palette with a dark mix of transparent colors in the mixing area that I use for the initial drawing stage. You can also see, to the left and below the paint piles, a mix of grey green from palette scrapings the previous day.
I generally use a warm and cool of each color and occasionally have "guest colors." I use black sparingly and do not recommend it for beginners. There are GREAT painters who use black; you just have to know how to use it. It should be understood as a blue, and can be used as a replacement for blue in a limited palette. Black will necessarily reduce intensity (or grey) in a mix because it is usually made of burnt things. I can mix a very dark higher chroma color that looks black but is not as dull. For some things however, I just need a true black. When I choose a black, I avoid bone black because this is burnt animal bones. Since I am a vegetarian, it doesn't make sense for me. I will usually get lamp black.

In the past, I often chose the nontoxic alternatives to the heavy metals such as cadmiums and cobalts as much as possible. However, Gamblin Artist Oils notes that they use cadmiums that have a very low bio available content, so I have been using those when I need cadmiums (see The cadmium is compounded with another element so that it is only minimally available to be absorbed into your body. Better for wildlife too if it gets into the water system. Cadmiums tend to be more opaque than their modern alternatives while the modern pigments tend to be more transparent, higher in chroma (or pop) and tinting strength (remain intense when mixed with white).

My palette of colors changes based on the needs of the particular painting, but generally includes the following. I have noted the order numbers for for my student's convenience but double check them as they might have changed.

Colors in 37ml tubes that I use in the Gamblin Artists Oil line:
  • Hansa Yellow Medium (dickblick #00401-4713). (alternate is M.Graham’s Azo Yellow # 01573-4453 or Gamblin’s Cadmium Yellow Light dickblick #00401-4073)
  • Mono Orange (dickblick #00401-4933 ). (alternate is M Graham Indian Yellow # 01573-4163 or Cadmium Yellow Deep)
  • Golden Ochre ( # 00401-9033). (alternate is M Graham Yellow Ochre # 01573-4043).
  • Cadmium Red Light (dickblick #004013093) (alternative is M Graham Naphthol Red # 01573-3603).

 Colors in 37ml tubes that I use in the M Graham line:
  • Anthraquinone Red ( # 01573-4913) (Alternative is Alizarin Crimson Permanent. Gamblin’s is dickblick #00401-3063)
  •  Ultramarine Blue ( # 01573-5233)
  •  Manganese Blue Hue ( # 01573-5813) (alternative is Cerulean Blue, Gamblin’s is dickblick #00401-5163)
  • Azo Green ( # 01573-7453) Love, Love, Love this one.
  •  Transparent Red Iron Oxide ( # 01573-3763)
  •  Titanium White ( # 01573-1023)

 Some optional colors that I find useful in the M Graham line:
  • Quinacridone Violet ( # 01573-6513)
  • Quinacridone Red ( # 01573-3273) and or Rose ( # 01573-3793)

Colors that I use from the traditional Rembrandt Oil Color line are:
  •  Sap Green (dickblick #00417-7093)
  • Viridian Green (dickblick #00417-7103)
I will be continuing to post my materials periodically. For those of you who have taken my classes, I will be adding new and updated information as I post--so stay tuned. Please feel free to post comments or questions. Look for my classes at See my artwork at

Thanks for reading!


  1. Looking forward to following you!!!

  2. Thanks Sherri--now you get to legally art stalk me. Tee hee. Tell your friends about my blog!