Elemental Color Grids!

Color swatches for the five elemental palettes described in this article: Earth, Sky, Sea, Fire, and Flower

In my last post, I discussed using Jane Blundell’s color grid to organize my palette, and I actually ended up with two versions, which I called ‘Earth Palette’ (based most closely on Jane’s, with a gravitation toward earth tones) and ‘Sky Palette’ (remaining colors I couldn’t fit, which happened to work together as sky colors).

Inspired by that, I designed no fewer than five elemental-themed palettes: Earth, Sky, Sea, Fire, and Flower. Each palette contains 15 colors laid out in a grid. The columns are yellow, red, blue, another varying color, and netural; the rows are cool, warm, and dark. I tried to vary them as much as possible with little overlap between colors. While I haven’t test driven these palettes (I don’t even have all these colors), I tried make them as complete as possible, so you could paint any subject, not just the palette theme. I made myself fall in love with each of them!

By default I suggested Daniel Smith colors, except where indicated.

Earth

Color ThemeYellowRedBlueGreenNeutral
CoolWinsor Yellow (PY154)Carmine (PR176)Phthalo Blue Green Shade (PG15:3)Cobalt Teal (PG50)Potter’s Pink (PR233)
WarmYellow Ochre (PY42)Perylene Scarlet (PR149)French Ultramarine (PB29)Serpentine GenuineItalian Burnt Sienna (PBr7)
DarkRaw Umber (PBr7)Indian Red (PR101 maroon)Indanthrone Blue (PB60)Jadeite GenuineTransparent Brown Oxide (PR101 umber)
Earth Palette

I concentrated a large amount of earth tones and granulating paints here. Because of all the granulation in the rest, I gave the artist a break and chose straightforward, versatile primaries. Carmine is a versatile red that can mix oranges or purples). Phthalo Blue Green Shade can likewise mix beautiful greens or purples. PY154 is a do-it-all yellow available from Schmincke as Pure Yellow or Winsor & Newton as Winsor Yellow, and is one of the few non-DS colors I suggested on this page. You could substitute Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97), which is almost the same color.

I had to do some shuffling to get in the full range of earth tones since I removed the special “earth” column, but I think I got most of them in there. You’ve got the classics like Yellow Ochre, Raw Umber, Burnt Sienna, and Indian Red. The cornerstone is my favorite granulating burnt umber variant, Transparent Brown Oxide. (Or try substituting yellow ochre for raw sienna or my favorite, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, which I used in the sky palette below.)

Potter’s Pink is a wildcard, a highly granulating dusty pinky-brown that separates and granulates in surprising ways. It can be used to make unusual shadow colors. I especially like its mixes with Cobalt Teal Blue; they sort of neutralize to gray, but they make a wild gray with flecks of teal and pink!

Sky Palette

Color ThemeYellowRedBlueBlue 2Neutral
CoolLemon Yellow (PY175)Quinacridone Lilac (PR122)Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15:6)Cerulean Blue Chromium (PB36)Titanium White (gouache)
WarmHansa Yellow Deep (PY65)Quin Coral (PR209)Cobalt Blue (PB28)Ultramarine (PB29)Moonglow
DarkMonte Amiata Natural Sienna (PBr7)Perylene Maroon (PR179)Prussian Blue (PB27)Indanthrone Blue (PB60)Neutral Tint
Sky Palette

This palette contains some of my favorite colors and the group most suited for painting skies at every time of day. There are lots of transparent, nongranulating shades here.

I added a second blue column instead of a Green since the sky is never green, and I felt I needed more blues. For this reason, and because there aren’t actually all that many different options for blue, you’ll see these blues again in other palettes. As I discovered in my post on the Best Blue Sky Color, you can get excellent blue sky shades from Phthalo Blue Red Shade, or from combinations of PBRS, Cobalt, or Ultramarine with a greener-toned horizon blue. In this case, I choose Cerulean because how can you not put Cerulean on the sky palette? But if you don’t like the granulation, Phthalo Blue Green Shade is a wonderful nongranulating horizon blue.

My favorite sunset colors are here. Lemon Yellow is a pale, transparent, cool, crisp yellow that I love to drop on the horizon. Quin Lilac (PR122 without fluorescence) is a perfect primary magenta and purple mixer, great for sunsets. Quin Coral is one of my favorite sunset colors of all time, perfect for a glowing sunset orangey-pink. (You could also consider swapping Quin Coral for Transparent Pyrrol Orange: a bright, transparent red-orange that works wonderfully in sunsets and is a perfect neutralizer for Phthalo Blue Red Shade.)

Titianium White (ideally gouache) is a sky necessity for adding star splatter or adding heft to clouds.

The earth tones were the hardest to theme, but I wanted to include at least a few to make this a complete palette. Note the second appearance of Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, my favorite Raw Sienna variant, which works wonderfully to add a touch of yellow to the sky without turning green.

I initially had Perylene Violet as a dark red because it seemed more “sky-like,” but then I decided to go with the redder Maroon as an option for muting the blues (since it’s already possible to make great purples with Quin Lilac). Perylene Maroon is a great sky-theme alternative to Indian Red because it’s transparent and nongranulating.

No “earth orange.” Originally I had Quinacridone Sienna in the middle Neutral slot (you can see it in the swatches in the photo), which is actually the least neutral earth tone possible: a glowing orange that I thought could add even more fire to sunsets. Or, an option to mute the blues. But when I looked at it painted out, it seemed so odd and un-sky-like, that I swapped it for a different neutral: the aptly named granulating gray Moonglow!

I love this palette because I love painting skies, and all the colors are exciting!

Sea Palette

Color ThemeYellowRedBlueGreenNeutral
CoolHansa Yellow Medium (PY97)Quin Red (PV19)Phthalo Blue Green Shade (PB15:3)Phthalo Green Blue Shade (PG7)Buff Titanium (PW6:1)
WarmQuin GoldTransparent Pyrrol Orange (PO71)Ultramarine (PB29)Rich Green Gold (PY 129)Transparent Red Oxide (PR101 sienna)
DarkGoethite Brown Ochre (PY43)Pyrrol Crimson (PR264)Prussian Blue (PB27)Cobalt Turquoise Deep (PG36)Payne’s Gray
Sea Palette

Back to green as the fourth color, to make sea blue-greens.

Basic Phthalo Green Blue Shade will mix with the blues for gorgeous teals. Rich Green Gold is for seaweed and glints of sun on waves. I almost put Undersea Green as the dark green because of the name theming, but you can make it with two colors on this palette, Quin Gold and Ultramarine. Ditto Prussian Green, a lovely deep sea green, which you can make from Prussian Blue + Hansa Yellow Medium. So I chose one non-DS color: Cobalt Turquoise Deep, Da Vinci’s slightly darker version of Cobalt Teal, is a perfect ocean color. (Note that I actually painted out Cobalt Turquoise because I don’t have the deep version.)

The earth tones were fun here. I love Quin Gold for making muted greens as well as sunlight effects. And I put the combination of Goethite Brown Ochre and Buff Titanium in this one, to make sand. (Transparent Red Oxide could also be used in orange-toned sand, but more importantly, it’s the exact color of rust – a likely part of any seascape.)

For reds, I chose Quin Red, a PV19 between coral and pink, which I felt would make a good color for anemones and coral. Transparent Pyrrol Orange will mute and neutralize the blues. And Pyrrol Crimson is a straight-ahead bold red, perfect for a Cape Cod color palette, lighthouses and boats.

Fire

Color ThemeYellowRedBlueOrangeNeutral
CoolHansa Yellow Light (PY3)Opera PinkManganese Blue Hue (PB15)Permanent Orange (PO62)Perylene Violet
WarmNickel Azo Yellow (PY150)Pyrrol Red (PR254)Sodalite GenuineAussie Red GoldTransparent Red Oxide (PR101)
DarkBrown Oxide EF (PBr6)Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (PR206)IndigoQuinacridone Burnt Orange (PO48)Lamp Black (PBk6)
Fire Palette

This palette isn’t just for painting fire itself (which is usually rendered white/light yellow) but the context around the fire, golden hour, sunsets, or anything warm and glowing! The “extra color” column is orange (including earth oranges).

Nickel Azo Yellow is a cornerstone color here. It just has such a golden glow in the diffuse end, nothing comes close. Meanwhile the dark granulation in masstone reminds one of smoldering tinder. The shade itself painted out in a gradient looks flamelike! This is the color that is typically combined with an earth red or orange to make Quin Gold, and while Quin Gold itself isn’t on here, that’s because it would be redundant: you can make your choice of quin golds from the many available red and orange mixers, including Quin Burnt Orange (PO48), which forms the other half of Daniel Smith’s Quin Gold; and Quin Burnt Scarlet (PR206), which forms the other half of Da Vinci’s Quin Gold; and Transparent Red Oxide (PR101), which forms the other half of Schmincke’s Quin Gold. (TRO is repeated from the Sea set, but it’s just so handy. In addition to being a Quin Gold mixer, it’s also a fab Burnt Sienna substitute.) And as I mentioned in the Sea set, Quin Burnt Orange + Quin Burnt Scarlet + Nickel Azo Yellow also equal the fiery and exciting Quin Sienna!

I almost put Pyrrol Scarlet at the warm red, but I figured I might as well err on the side of a basic red mixer since there are so many yellows/oranges to warm it up on here. Plus, Pyrrol Red is the perfect fire engine red, which seems thematic!

Opera Pink and Manganese Blue Hue were chosen largely because of their bold, glowing color. Mixed with anything, they make it pop! Opera Pink, of all cool pinks, makes the most intense oranges. Manganese reminds me of the glowing blue at the bottom of a gas flame.

The other blues are fairly muted shadow blues. Now that I seem them painted out, I can tell they’re too similar, so Ultramarine might work better in the middle slot.

There is really no such thing as a cool orange, but for some reason Permanent Orange – a bright, middle value, Tic-Tac orange – struck me as the spiritually coolest on the page.

Aussie Red Gold is a fiery glowing pumpkin that I’ve always loved painted out, but never put on a palette because it’s a mix. But I don’t have any of its components (PY83, PR101, PV19) on this palette, so it’s not redundant! I’m not sure how it mixes.

Brown Oxides Enviro-Friendly has black granulation that looks sooty to me.

And Lamp Black is literally made from soot. For an even more granulating black, try Lunar Black (PBk11).

Flower

Color ThemeYellowRedBlueGreenNeutral
CoolCadmium YellowQuin Rose (PV19 pink)Phthalo Blue (Green Shade)Viridian (PG18)Titanium White
WarmQuin GoldPyrrol Orange (PO73)Ultramarine (PB29)Green Apatite GenuineBurnt Yellow Ochre (PR102)
DarkRaw Sienna (PBr7)Permanent Red Deep (PR170)Carbazole Violet (PV23)Perylene Green (PBk31)Naphthamide Maroon
Flower Palette

Back to green, for leaves! I based some of these colors on the Daniel Smith Botanicals set. I only switched Cascade Green for Viridian, because Viridian is a more straightforward green that I felt would be a more useful leaf mixer. Cascade Green is a mix which can be approximated by mixing the Phthalo Blue with the Raw Sienna.

Quin Rose was obviously a must. It’s the perfect flower pink/magenta. Pyrrol Orange mixes to lovely peaches with white (PO73 + white = Holbein Shell Pink), and warms up pink mixes beautifully. Finally, I knew I needed a straight-ahead red for red roses, poppies, etc. so I went with bold Permanent Red Deep. You could swap in Alizarin Crimson or similar, if desired.

I cheated and put a purple in the blue column. Purple flowers are just more likely! The other blues are our workhorse PBGS and Ultramarine, both of which will mix lovely purples. (You could also try swapping the Phthalo Blue for Manganese Hue or Cerulean for more granulating, surprising mixes.)

White is back in the mix to make pastels.

Burnt Yellow Ochre (PR102, known as Light Red in W&N) is the pinkiest of the Burnt Siennas. Any Burnt Sienna or Terra Cotta type color would work here.

Naphthamide Maroon is the dark neutral, for mixing deep reds/pinks and shadows. I was considering Shadow Violet… but with Viridian, Pyrrol Orange, and Ultramarine, you have everything you need to mix it yourself! And DS’s Moonglow is just the same with red instead of violet; DS uses Anthraquinoid Red (PR177) but I think Permanent Red would work too.

Conclusion

Despite having made them all up, I want all these palettes now!

Okay, that’s not the point of this exercise. The point of it, I think, is to show how:

  • There are core slots, like primaries and neutrals (and usually greens) that work to make any palette versatile…
  • But you have multiple options for every slot. Look at the same slot across all the palettes, and in most cases, there is a different color in it every single time.
  • By referring to the other colors in a given palette, you can make informed choices about which colors to use contextually in each slot.

In reality, I don’t think I will choose any of these individually as my palette, nor do I want all of them (there’s some duplication, for one thing, but even if you subtract dupes it’s like 70 paints. And by definition, several of them have extremely similar palette use cases.) But I can mix-and-match into my ideal set. And it’s always fun to dream!

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