GOAUCHE: How to Use a Limited Color Palette (Primaries) to Mix Any Color

Want to simplify your life? Buy less colors.

Here’s how I use a very limited palette to mix every color I need.

Why use a limited palette when you can buy every color under the sun premixed for you?

Besides saving money, when you mix your own colors you do two main things.

  1. The painting will be more harmonized because all of the oranges, purples, greens, greys, and browns come from the same blue/yellow/red.
  2. You start learning how to use color more intuitively (which is very empowering!)

Years ago I started painting outside and quickly realized that it’s extremely difficult when you don’t know how to mix colors. So I made it my mission to use a very limited palette which would force me to learn how to mix my oranges, purples, greens, greys, and browns.

But, can you really mix everything you need with only 6 tubes of paint??

Portable Painter Micro with gouache

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What’s in my Portable Painter Micro:

Portable Painter Micro with custom pans (available through their website). I also added a full pan for white.

If you’re concerned about the paint leaking out, just put some cling film over the paint, close tightly and wrap in a rubber band.

Painting outside with gouache in the Portable Painter Micro
Painting outside with gouache in the Portable Painter Micro, summer 2022

Yes, you can mix all the colors with a limited palette, but this depends greatly on which primary colors you choose. Last year I experimented with a bunch of different combinations. But I think I’ve finally settled on 6 tubes that allow me to paint everything I need.

Portable Painter Micro with gouache

I have two blues because each one adds something unique, particularly with greens. I’d happily add Schmincke Titanium Gold Ochre to this list if I had space, but white is super important and I use more of that than any color, so it gets two spaces. Could I live without black? Yes, of course. But it makes life easier especially to quickly neutralize any mix and for making earthy tones.

So here’s just a small taste of what I can mix with this tiny palette:

Gouache color mixing chart using primaries
Simple mixing strips, Combine each color in the palette (no more than two colors in each row).
Gouache color mixing chart using primaries
By adding white or black to the mix, or combining all the primaries, I can create a huge variety of earthy and neutral tones.

As you can see there are a HUGE amount of colors that are possible even with only six tubes. And this isn’t even everything. The main color I struggle to mix is a match for cobalt turquoise light, which is a very special color and I use it a lot for seascapes. I can get close with ultramarine, helio turquoise, and lemon yellow (maybe a bit of white). And when that is placed next to a reddish tone, it looks more turquoise, so it works.

I hope this inspires you to try a limited palette. I like using this little Portable Painter Micro for quick studies outside.

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I'm an independent artist living in Scotland. Always chasing the light, and painting the beautiful highlands.

5 thoughts on “GOAUCHE: How to Use a Limited Color Palette (Primaries) to Mix Any Color

  1. Hi Sarah! I’m new to gouache and wondering if these are still your top picks for a limited pallet. I just noticed it’s a couple of years old. Thanks so much!

  2. Amazing! And I can see the lamp black and ultramarine produces an excellent earth colour. Thank you for all your work! By the way, after quite a few emails Jacksons have said they will stock the Micro Palette extension pass!!! They expect them in April, so keep a look out and maybe you can put a link on your supplies list…I told them I was sure there would be a great demand! Clare Garrett
    PS I seem to have to fill in my details every time to comment.

    1. That’s great news! I wouldn’t be surprised if they quickly sell out.
      Hmm I’ll look into the spam settings on my comments (I think that helps reduce bots), thanks for letting me know.

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