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Colour ranges and their combinations

There are five types of oil colours:

Traditional Oil Colour

Traditional oil colour is generally available in two qualities. Winsor & Newton Artists' Oil Colour provides the widest range of colours, the highest pigment strength and the best clarity of colour.

The greatest variety of techniques is possible when using artists' quality. Winton Oil Colour is a smaller range, suitable for those artists who require good quality colour at an affordable price. It is also available in 200ml tubes which are particularly popular with artists painting on a large scale.

Fast Drying Oil Colour

Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour allows techniques from impasto to glazing to be achieved in considerably less time than traditional oils. Griffin colours also have a greater transparency than other oil colours, and when painting in layers, can dry with a more even sheen.

Water Mixable Oil Colour

Water Mixable Oil Colour is oil paint which can be mixed with water instead of solvents, yet it provides all the handling properties of of conventional oil colour. Water mixable oil colour is popular in art schools and studios and with all painters who do not like the smell of turpentine or wish to cut down or eliminate the use of solvents.  As a result of avoiding solvents, painting with water mixable oil colour is less hazardous. After painting, brushes and palettes can be cleaned using only soap and water.

Oil Colour in Stick Form

Artists' Oilbar is oil colour in stick form. The soft, creamy bar facilitates drawing directly with wet oil colour. Oilbar has the handling properties of a conventional oil colour and not a crayon or oil pastel. The use of artists' pigments in Oilbar also ensures considerably improved permanence to light. Oilbar is also widely used by hobbyists for stencilling.

Combining different oil colours

All of the above oil colour ranges can be freely intermixed. There are however three exceptions, where care should be taken; i) thin alkyd films should be avoided over thick oil ones, ii) thick Oilbar films under oil films are not recommended, iii) once water is added to Water Mixable Oil Colours, conventional oil colours should not be used.

Permanence

Most artists like to be sure that their colours are permanent. Fortunately, the 20th century has seen enormous improvements in the lightfastness of colours. All Winsor & Newton colours rated AA or A are recommended as permanent for artists' use. There are very few colours which do not reach this standard and are provided only because of the lack of permanent pigments in certain colour areas.

Drying rates of colours

Different drying rates occur in oil colour because each pigment reacts differently when mixed with oil. Winsor & Newton colours are formulated individually to optimise the overall drying rates, helping artists to avoid the problems of slow drying underlayers. However, a guide to the likely variations between colours when painting is useful for practical purposes and is given here:

The relative span of drying times varies
with product range;

  • Artists' Oil Colour touch dry in 2 - 12 days
  • Winton Oil Colour touch dry in 2 - 12 days.
  • Artisan Water Mixable Oil Colour touch dry in 2 - 12 days.
  • Artists' Oilbartouch dry in 2 - 7 days.
  • Griffin Alkyd Fast Drying Oil Colour touch dry in 18 - 24 hours.

Any differences in the drying of different colours in the Griffin range are insignificant over this short period of time.

FAST DRYING COLOURS
(around two days)
Aureolin
Permanent Mauve (manganese)
obalt Blues
Prussian Blue
Raw Sienna
Umbers
Flake White Foundation White
Cremnitz White
MEDIUM DRYING COLOURS
(around five days)
Cadmiums
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Cobalt Violets & Greens
Winsor Blues & Greens (phthalocyanines)
Ultramarine Blues
Permanent Sap Green
Ochres
Burnt Sienna
Mars colours
Lamp Black
Ivory Black
Titanium White
Zinc White
SLOW DRYING COLOURS
(more than five days)
Winsor Yellows & Orange (arylamides)
Quinacridones
Alizarin Crimson

Painting thickly in oil colour (Impasto)

Very thick layers of oil colour may show wrinkling as the surface dries. This can be avoided by building up texture in thinner layers, allowing each layer to dry first. Using Oleopasto will also help by thickening the colour as well as speeding the drying time.

The important thing to avoid is the use of thinner layers of colour on top of thicker underlayers. This would be against the 'thick over thin' rule. The underlayer of impasto will shrink as it dries throughout and could cause a thin film on top to crack.

Basic palettes

Your initial palette should provide a wide colour spectrum and should have a good balance between transparent and opaque colours and between strong tinting and weaker tinting colours. Permanent colours are always desirable and the main palette should ideally be low in price. The common practice is to maintain a broad palette of about twelve colours and add to it for specific requirements.

Basic palettes

ARTISTS' OIL COLOUR Winsor Lemon
Winsor Yellow
Cadmium Red
Permanent Rose
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
French Ultramarine
Winsor Blue (green shade)
Winsor Green
Raw Umber
Yellow Ochre
Burnt Sienna
Titanium White
WINTON OIL COLOUR Cadmium Lemon Hue
Cadmium Yellow Hue
Cadmium Red Hue
Permanent Rose
Alizarin Crimson Hue
French Ultramarine
Phthalo Blue
Viridian Hue
Raw Umbe
Yellow Ochre
Burnt Sienna
Titanium White
GRIFFIN ALKYD FAST DRYING OIL COLOUR Cadmium Lemon
Winsor Yellow
Cadmium Red Medium
Permanent Rose
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
French Ultramarine
Phthalo Blue
Phthalo Green
Raw Umber
Yellow Ochre
Burnt Sienna
Titanium White
ARTISTS' OILBAR Cadmium Lemon
Cadmium Yellow Pale
Cadmium Red
Permanent Magenta
Alizarin Crimson
French Ultramarine
Manganese Blue Hue
Winsor Green
Raw Umber
Yellow Ochre
Burnt Sienna
Titanium White.
ARTISAN WATER MIXABLE OIL COLOUR

Lemon Yellow
Cadmium Yellow Hue
Cadmium Red Medium
Permanent Rose
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
French Ultramarine
Phthalo Blue (Red Shade)
Phthalo Green (Blue Shade)
Raw Umber
Yellow Ochre
Burnt Sienna
Titanium White.

Colour mixing - the six colour system

Restricted palettes are used by both beginners and serious painters to develop their understanding and use of colour. The six colour system uses two reds, two yellows and two blues as a 'primary' palette. This provides both a blue shade red and a yellow shade red for example, which will ensure clean violets and clean oranges from your palette.

The additional colours recommended in the basic palettes introduce a wider range of tones and greater variation in opacity and tinting strength. For further information on colour theory for painters look out for our Colour Mixing section in this website.

 

ARTISTS' OIL COLOUR
Winsor Lemon, Winsor Yellow, Cadmium Red, Permanent Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Green, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Titanium White.

WINTON OIL
Cadmium Lemon Hue, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue.

GRIFFIN ALKYD FAST DRYING OIL COLOUR
Cadmium Lemon, London Yellow, Cadmium Red Medium, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue.

ARTISAN WATER MIXABLE OIL COLOUR
Lemon Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Permanent Rose, French Ultramarine, Phthalo Blue (Red Shade).

ARTISTS' OILBAR
Cadmium Lemon, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Red, Permanent Magenta, French Ultramarine, Manganese Blue Hue.

Additional colours for techniques

When choosing new colours, an excellent investment is a hand painted colour chart of the range. For a small price, you'll be able to see all the colours in graded washes, helping you to make the right choice before buying new tubes. Colours named are from Artists' Oil Colour, although many are also available from other ranges.  A full list of chemical compositions for comparison is available in our booklet, Notes on Composition & Permanence of Artists' Colours.

Landscape painting

New or different colours can really broaden your painting vocabulary. For landscapes, yellows, blues, greens and earth colours are always useful.

Landscape Colours:
Lemon Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blues, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Ultramarine (Green Shade), Indanthrene Blue, Prussian Blue, Cobalt Turquoise, Cobalt Greens, Terre Verte, Oxide of Chromium, Viridian, Winsor Green (Yellow Shade), Prussian Green, Permanent Sap Green, Olive Green, Raw Sienna, Light Red, Indian Red, all ochres and red earths, Davy's Gray, Lamp Black, Ivory Black, Zinc White.

Stephen Godson

Portrait painting

Portraiture needs that spark of life and character; clean, crisp colour mixtures and tones will achieve these. Pinks, violets and earth colours will make some of the subtle tones required for portraits.

Portrait Colours:
Lemon Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow, Flesh Tint, Cadmium Scarlet, Vermilion Hue, Rose Doré, Rose Madder Genuine, Rose Madder Deep, Cobalt Violet, Cerulean Blue, Jaune Brillant, Naples Yellow Light, Naples Yellow, Indian Red, Mars Violet Deep, Davy's Gray, Charcoal Grey, Ivory Black, Lamp Black, Flake White No.1 or No. 2, Underpainting White.

June Mendoza

Secondary colours

In addition to the bright secondary colours you will achieve from your basic palette, single pigment 'secondaries' are important, eg. Winsor Green can make brighter mixes than if you use a green mixed from a blue and yellow yourself.

Useful Secondary Colours:
Winsor Orange, Cobalt Violets, Permanent Mauve, Winsor Violet, Ultramarine Violet, Permanent Magenta, Purple Madder Alizarin, Cobalt Turquoise & Greens, Oxide of Chromium, Viridian, Winsor Greens.

Glazing colours

Transparent colours are used as thin tinting films. An overall glaze at the end of a picture unifies the image. Glazing can also be used throughout the painting to produce delicate colour effects and depth to the painting. When a thin film of colour is required, thin the colour with Liquin and solvent to prevent the glaze from being underbound.

Glazing colours:
Transparent Yellow, Aureolin, Indian Yellow, Rose Dore, Cobalt Violet, Cobalt Blue, Cobalt Blue Deep, Prussian Blue, Terre Verte, Raw Sienna, Davy's Gray, Zinc White.  

Stephen Godson

Abstract painting

Abstract colour areas benefit from using opaque colours. They give flat, smooth finishes, covering underlayers and not showing brushmarks.

Useful Abstract Colours:
Lemon Yellow Hue, Chrome Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellows and Reds, Vermilion Hue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Greens, Oxide of Chromium, Chrome Green Deep Hue, Yellow Ochre Pale, Mars colours, Light Red, Venetian Red, Indian Red, Mars Black, All tints made with white.

Emma Pearce

Scumbling

Scumbling also uses the opaque colours, very slightly diluted and scrubbed on briskly to achieve a scumbled glaze.

Scumbling Colours:
Lemon Yellow Hue, Chrome Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellows and Reds, Vermilion Hue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Greens, Oxide of Chromium, Chrome Green Deep Hue, Yellow Ochre Pale, Mars colours, Light Red, Venetian Red, Indian Red, Mars Black, All tints made with white.

High key (bright) colour

These are generally the colours with high tinting strength. High key paintings are often made 'alla prima', using colour straight from the tube.

High Key Colours:
Cadmium Yellows and Reds, Winsor colours, Chrome Yellow Hue, Magenta, Permanent Magenta, Prussian Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, Titanium White.

Alun Foster

Low key (subdued) colours

These can be tints (colour plus white) or shades (colour plus black) but can also include earths and other naturally low - tinting strength colours.

Low Key Colours:
Flesh Tint, Rose Dore, Rose Madder Genuine, Rose Madder Deep, Cobalt Violet, Cobalt Greens, Terre Verte, Oxide of Chromium, Jaune Brillant, Naples Yellows, Ochres, Siennas, Indian Red, Mars Violet, Deep, Umbers, Davy's Gray, Blacks.

Wendell Upchurch

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