It was not until I switched from acrylic paints to oils that I understood the importance of an organized palette. As an acrylic painter, I used to haphazardly squeeze fresh paint onto my palette and mix away.

Years ago, when I made the switch to oils I enjoyed the longer drying time and workability of the paints, but I didn’t like cleaning up my messy palette. It made it difficult for me to salvage paint and keep clean pigments for the next painting session.
Then I realized that all my favorite artists used their own version of an organized, extended palette. David Leffel, Richard Schmid, Scott Christensen and many more, all use a basic set of pigments to suit their own artistic personality. These masters all use different cool and warm colors, but they have one thing in common – their palettes are organized!
The extended palette generally consists of a cool and warm hue representing each primary color. I lay out my paints in the exact order each time so I don’t have to ‘think’ about where my paints are – it becomes a habit.

organized palette
Lori’s organized palette

For example:
My Extended Palette

  • White:
    • Titanium
  • Yellow:
    • Naples Yellow (cool)
    • Cadmium Yellow (warm – medium most closely represent true yellow
  • Orange:
    • Cadmium Orange (cool)
  • Red:
    • Cadmium Red (warm – light most closely represents true red)
  • Blue:
    • Cobalt Blue (cool)
    • Ultramarine Blue (warm)
  • Brilliant Greens & Blues:
    • Viridian (cool)
    • Thalo (cool)
  • Duller versions of Yellow, Orange, Red:
    • Raw Umber (cool)
    • Burnt Sienna (warm)
  • Brilliant Red:
    • Alizarin Crimson (cool)

With these few colors I can duplicate virtually all other ready-made tubes of paint, including black. At times I do use Ivory Black, but never alone because it cracks. I can mix a deeper ‘black’ using Alizarin Crimson & Ultramarine Blue with a dash of Burnt Sienna.

There are a few colors on my palette (Naples yellow, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber) that I could mix myself, but I use them so much that is easier to squeeze them from a tube. But don’t let yourself get too carried away with taking up palette space with more pre-mixed paints.
The more you paint and experiment, the more you will learn how to customize your own palette with pigments that suit your needs. Just be sure to organize your paints in the same manner each time!

For a visual of my palette be sure to watch this short & informative video:

Check out these articles about color & more:
Use the Hidden Meaning of Color in Your Art & Design
The Importance of Value and Tone in Painting

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