The Winter Palette

Here in the northern hemisphere, it’s January, the bleak midwinter. After doing a summer palette and an autumn palette, it’s time to for me to do a Winter Palette!

I was initially tempted to include lots of dark, muted colors, but in gathering inspo photos, and in paying attention to my favorite real-life sights of winter, I have noticed so more bright colors than I would have expected! Sure, the trees are bare and the grass is dry, but there is color if you know where to look. Winter sunsets are explosively bold with fiery corals, pop oranges, and deep lilacs. On sunny days, winter golden hour is more intensely gold than at any other time of year. Snowy landscapes are bright with fresh, clear blues and gentle violets.

Let’s break down the colors I chose, and why I chose each one.

The Colors

The Winter Palette

Here are the colors in the order shown above.

Top row:

  1. WN – Lemon Yellow (PY175)
  2. DS – Quin Coral (PR209)
  3. DV – Red Rose Deep (PV19)
  4. DS – Quin Violet (PV19)
  5. DV – Prussian Blue (PB27)
  6. WN – Phthalo Turquoise (PB16)
  7. WN – Winsor Green (PG7)

Bottom row:

  1. MI – Green Gold (PY150) aka Nickel Azo Yellow
  2. DV – Raw Sienna (PBr7)
  3. DV – Burnt Sienna Deep (PR101)
  4. DV – Ultramarine Blue (PB29)
  5. DV – Cobalt Blue (PB28)
  6. SH – Cobalt Turquoise (PG50)
  7. WN – Payne’s Gray (PB15/PBk6 mix)

Although the 14 colors are arranged in color order in my palette, I’m going to describe them as a series of “mini-palettes” that go together. There are also great color mixes in between the groups, but these smaller groups explain my use cases and main reasoning for each color. 

Muted Landscape Limited Palette

Winter Wetland. Colors: Raw Sienna, Cobalt Blue, Alizarin Crimson Quinacridone.
  • DV Raw Sienna (PBr7) – Wonderful for dry vegetation and cloud mixes. Although the unmixed color of MANS or Yellow Ochre are closer to dry grass, Raw Sienna is easy to mute with a bit of blue, and I’m finding it more and more to be a very flexible color.
  • DV Alizarin Crimson Quinacridone (PV19) – When I thought of a winter palette, this color immediately sprang to mind. Perfect for flashes of winter red such as holly berries, cardinals, and red osier dogwood. 
  • DV Cobalt Blue (PB28) – Another color I knew right away I wanted for the winter palette. This bright, bold middle blue just has the chilliest feel to me! Perfect for clear winter skies and snowy reflections. Mixes gorgeously with Raw Sienna, making a range of dark blues, grays, and ochre hues; and with Alizarin Crimson, making a vibrant cloud purple. All three colors together make a neutral gray cloud mix. 

Golden Hour Triad

Golden Hour Winter Willow. December 16, 2022. I have to acknowledge this was made with an earlier version of the palette before I replaced Indanthrone Blue with Payne’s Gray – which might have been a mistake. There are also hints of Potter’s Pink and Ultramarine Violet in this one.
  • MI Green Gold (PY150) – aka Nickel Azo Yellow. This warm yellow is perfect for golden hour sunshine mixes, homebrew quin gold (with earth orange), and interior lights that contrast with cool winter exteriors.
  • DV Burnt Sienna Deep (PR101) – Da Vinci’s version of transparent red oxide. DS TRO would also work, or Quin Burnt Orange. Mixes a lovely range of browns and grays with Ultramarine Blue, or quin gold hues with PY150.
  • WN Payne’s Gray – This semi-neutral dark blue-gray is my moody, dark value setter. Great mixing silhouettes and shadows, or used alone for peaceful monochrome gray landscapes. 

Sunset Triad

Winter Sunset. Colors: Lemon Yellow, Quin Coral, Ultramarine Blue, black gouache (for silhouettes).
  • WN Winsor Lemon (PY175) – A cool yellow, ideal for the pale clear color of the horizon at sunset.
  • DS Quin Coral (PR209) – My sunrise/sunset specialist, and mixer of bold oranges. 
  • DV Ultramarine Blue (PB29) – Granulating cloudy violet-blue perfect for mixing clouds, also useful for snow shadows! 

Winter Wonderland Colors

Winter Wonderland. Colors: Prussian Blue, Phthalo Turquoise, Ultramarine Blue, Payne’s Gray, Quin Violet.
  • DS Quin Violet (PV19) – A slightly muted magenta violet that’s great for adding a bit of purple tone to blues. 
  • DV Prussian Blue (PB27) – More muted and wide-ranging than Phthalo Blue, a middle ground between a primary cyan and a dark blue that’s a bit easier to make muted for winter.
  • WN Phthalo Turquoise (PB16) – A wide-ranging cyan/turquoise that’s great for night sky mixes, or in dilute for the turquoise highlights of icicles. Because my primary cyan is muted, I can use this color to bring in more of the green tones.
  • WN Winsor Green Blue Shade (PG7) – Cool, bold green for mixing pine greens, when muted by a red. Also crucial for Northern Lights.
  • SH Cobalt Turquoise (PG50) – A super-chilly, light-colored opaque turquoise that screams “ice!” to me.

Future Mods

I can already see some opportunities for improvement in this palette. As I mentioned in the image captions above, I swerved course partway through and replaced Indanthrone Blue with Payne’s Gray, but looking at my Golden Hour painting, I don’t think it would have been the same with Payne’s Gray. Perhaps I could dump something else to make room for them both. A turquoise, maybe? I feel like maybe I have too many turquoises (as much as I love turquoises).

I hesitated to add more reds (more blues felt more wintery), but a muted red like Perylene Maroon might have been nice for those deep red rose and dogwood branches I’m seeing everywhere. I did mix it up eventually with Alizarin Crimson, Cobalt Blue, and Raw Sienna, but it would have been easier with a darker color.

Also, right now I’m in the middle of Lisa Spangler’s #naturespotchallenge, where we paint swatches from nature each day, and I’m finding that the colors I use to paint idealized winter reference photos are not necessarily the same ones I use to paint real-life nature. I’ll have to report back at the end of the challenge to see what colors I actually used!

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