Probably what most people imagine a painter's palette to look like is an oval or kidney shaped thin board with a thumb hole in it. I don't have one of those. While the traditional palette might work well in a studio, that's not where I do most of my painting. I paint outdoors. Rectangular palettes are more packable and easier to transport. The palette board in my biggest paint box does have a thumb hole, but I sometimes wish it didn't. I rarely use the thumb hole, but when I do I usually end up with a painted thumb.
The color palette I use is a basic split primary. Of course it's arguable what "primary" colors are, but for all practical purposes here, I mean yellow, red and blue. By split primaries I mean a "warm" and a "cool" version of yellow, red, and blue - with an extra color or two thrown on the palette. A generous pile of white is always a part of my color palette.
I don't think I'm too much of a stickler concerning paint brands. M Graham, Utrecht, Holbein, Gamblin, and Grumbacher are some of the brands I use, but I'm not adverse to trying other brands. Anything with good color, good strength, and lightfast works for me. I avoid "student" or "studio" grade paints, also any cheap, obscure paint brands. By the same token, exorbitantly priced paints - such as those made with exotic pigments like lapis lazuli - aren't likely to find their way into my paintbox, either.
Below is a diagram of the colors I use for plein air painting.
- Titanium white, made with safflower or walnut oil - not linseed oil. I like linseed oil in all colors except white because it yellows white in a relatively short time.
- Cadmium lemon yellow. A slightly greenish yellow.
- Cadmium yellow, cad. yellow medium, or cad. yellow deep. A more orangey yellow.
- Cadmium red, or medium, or deep. A red on the yellowish side.
- Permanent alizarin crimson, or quinacridone red, or another apropriate quinacridone. Dark, semi-transparent, and on the purplish side.
- Cobalt blue. It's about as blue as paint pigments get, I think. I used to use cerulean blue, but found I can do everything with cobalt that I used to do with more expensive, but less strong cerulean. Cobalt blue is expensive enough.
- Ultramarine blue. Dark, semi-transparent, and a touch violet.
- Viridian green. A dark, cool green. Not a primary color, as oil paints go, but very useful.
- Mixed dark purple. This is what I usually use for "black", or rather instead of black. It's a mix of alizarin and ultramarine, plus a touch of yellow to tone it down a little. This color can be made more blue or red as needed.
Other colors I occasionally add to the palette are:
- Ivory black. Mixed with yellow makes a wonderful earthy green like that found in high desert junipers.
- Yellow ochre. A good color for things like winter marsh grasses.
Colors I no longer allow on my palette:
- Anything that starts with thalo. Thalo blue and thalo green are good strong colors. Overpowering, in fact. I've been unable to always control them. Thalo colors tend to take over any painting I've ever tried with them. Thalos also take over my hands, clothes, and anything I touch or walk on. The only way I've been able to control thalos is to tone them down with so much complementary color that I spend more time mixing paint than I do painting. But thalo colors are clear, strong, permanent, and inexpensive, so if you can learn how to use them successfully, more power to you!
- Any color with the term "hue" in it. Honestly, I won't rule out hues entirely, They can sometimes be convenient. But hues are just mixes. Generally, a painter should be able to easily mix whatever's needed.
All this, of course, is subject to change.