Limitless Reasons for a Limited Palette

art education

Limited Color Palette Cartoon by Karen Strum

A limited color palette is just like what it sounds like, the palette is restricted to a few select colors. During Picasso's Blue Period, one of the most iconic examples of limited color in fine art, he conveyed all his emotions through use of nearly monochromatic color. Novices often go to the art supply store and are dazzled by the colors available but the more experienced artists know using only a select few is a tried and true method of palette selection. There are countless advantages to using a limited color palette.

My Top 6 Reasons for using a Limited Color Palette:


  • Too many colors can cause a distraction. Limiting the number of colors will place the focus on value, line, and form.
  • Limited color palettes can control the movement of the eye.
  • Creating harmonious color schemes is easier when you limit your palette. You're also less likely to over mix.
  • Plein air artists benefit from working with limited palettes because it helps them to pack light and paint fast. The Zorn Palette is a popular choice and consists of Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Red Medium, Ivory Black and White.
  • Corporate brands typically restrict their color palettes to 2-4 (warm and cool) colors to achieve contrast.
  • Accent colors are often employed as powerful design elements in layouts. Accent colors should be used sparingly and will create rhythm in a design.

“The Parrot Parade” uses a limited color palette. The most noticeable colors are black, ivory, green and orange. While there are varying values and tones of each color, they work together to create harmony and balance due to the shared color set. Green, the more subdued color, is used for the bulk of the painting. The orange is an accent color and emphasizes the birds' beaks.

In fine art a limited color palette can add harmony, create drama, and enhance the composition of the finished piece. Every artist has their own reasons for selecting their color palettes. It might be one of the reasons listed above, or they might simply do it because (as Muffin suggests) it might be more economical.

"The Parrot Parade" Pastel Painting by Karen Strum



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About the Author: Karen Strum is a Tampa Bay illustrator available for freelance projects. A unique cast of characters in her style can be designed for use in advertisements and materials for which you want something extra special. Karen's cartoons use retro imagery and vintage color palettes that add charm to every image she creates whether it is a comic, logo, diagram, book cover, or concept image. [Send an Email]


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