The Maine Palette

Heading out on a recent weekend trip to Ogunquit, Maine, I grabbed the first palette I had to hand, which was my “spring palette” (in progress). Unfortunately, when I got to the moody Maine seaside, I found that this palette didn’t quite contain all the colors I wanted. Fortunately, it helped me to identify what would have been better! Immediately upon getting home, I drafted a 14-color (Art Toolkit Pocket size) palette that I think would have better suited my needs and wants on the Maine coast.

Maine Palette

The Colors

Rich Green Gold (PY129)

The perfect color for moss, and the perfect mixer for dark pine greens (with Indanthrone Blue); bright/deep summer leaf greens (with Phthalo Turquoise); and even the flecks of green in the sea! I previously used Phthalo Green when painted sunlit green wave crests from photographs, but painting from life in Maine, I found the color much more warm and golden than I previously thought.

Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150) 

Similar to RGG, this is another transparent and glowing deep yellow. While RGG mixes great greens, NAY is perfect for beams sunlight and mixing warm, orangey tones. This is the closest thing to a primary yellow in this palette (in practice, I found I didn’t really use a straight Lemon or Hansa Yellow, so I omitted them, but they might be more useful if I’d painted a sunrise or something). 

Deep Scarlet (PY175)

This is the ultimate neutralizer for Phthalos, turning overly bright blues into the deep gray-blue of the sea. Very similar to Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (PR206).

Local Color: Oguinquit Maine, on a foggy, stormy day. March 25, 2023. Muted colors are common, especially in late winter/early spring.

Quin Red (PR209)

This is a “bonus color,” not one I really used much but one I like a lot. It’s great for sunsets and sunrises, but doesn’t neutralize blues (it mixes violets), so doesn’t replace Deep Scarlet. Feel free to substitute your own favorite bonus color. 

Quin Rose (PV19)

My specific color is DV’s Red Rose Deep, but any quin rose will do. This is another color I didn’t specifically use in Maine very much, but is a useful mixer. Also, if you visit Maine in summer, it’s perfect for summer roses! 

Indanthrone Blue (PB60)

This deep violet-blue is perfect for shadows, distant waves, inky night skies. It’s the basis of my Eastern White Pine dark greens, with Rich Green Gold or Nickel Azo Yellow, and mixes a lovely range of neutral browns, grays, and blacks with any Earth Orange. Indigo is a reasonable alternative, but I think the violet tones of Indanthrone are more useful in this landscape. 

Phthalo Turquoise (PB16)

This gorgeous teal blue does triple-duty as a mixer:

  • The basis for my sea colors, when neutralized by Deep Scarlet or Quinacridone Burnt Orange (depending on how gray or green I want it to be).  
  • The basis for most of my greens, when mixed with Rich Green Gold or Nickel Azo Yellow
  • Perfect for blue skies, when mixed with Ultramarine Blue and optional white. 

Phthalo Blue Green Shade is an acceptable alternative.

Local Color: Oguinquit Maine, on a bright, sunny day. March 26, 2023. Phthalo Turquoise is the base color for sky and sea.

Titanium White (PW6)

(Mixed with a bit of palette gray so it will show up on this white paper, but it’s actually bright white.) Useful for mixing pastels, especially intentionally chalky ones like sand; and for adding flecks of highlight detail, such as seafoam. You may prefer to replace this with Buff Titanium if you’re interested in warm, granulating pastels, and don’t mind preserving your seafoam whites. 

Raw Sienna (PBr7)

A useful earthy mixer that adds an orange-yellow-brown heft to mixes; useful for rocks, dirt, dry grass, and even cloud grays. In theory I think that MANS or Yellow Ochre would also work, though I found I really liked Raw Sienna in practice. It’s great to add some natural, earthy color to a too-blue green.

Quinacridone Burnt Orange (PO48)

A bright earth orange with great granulation. Mixed with Phthalo Turquoise, it makes a wonderful sea-green. 

Plein air sketch in Ogunquit, Maine. March 26, 2023. Sea blue-green is a mix of Phthalo Turquoise and Quin Burnt Orange. QBO is also featured in the red foreground rocks and the green-gold foliage mix.

Transparent Red Oxide (PR101)

Similar to Quin Burnt Orange in many ways, this is a slightly redder/rustier earth orange. While both serve similar functions, they can mix differently; TRO makes color-separated mixes and grays with blues, perfect for rusty metal and speckled rocks. I only had QBO with me on my trip, and I found myself wishing for TRO as well. 

If you don’t mind opaque colors, I think Indian Red (PR101) would be another good alternative that’s a bit more distinct from QBO; it is highly granulating and its dilute pink color is perfect for pink granite.

Raw Umber (PBr7)

Although a gorgeous brown can be mixed from earth orange and Ultramarine or Indanthrone (and this is ideal for the gray-brown bark of Eastern White Pines), the greenish brown Raw Umber is a nice convenience color for other types of bark, wet sand, and mixing into blues for dark sea-green mixes. 

WN Smalt (PV15)

An unusually bluish form of granulating Ultramarine Violet (PV15), Winsor & Newton’s Smalt hue (also called Dumont’s Blue) is similar to Ultramarine Blue (PB29), but more violet. Technically, you could get by with just Ultramarine Blue, which is more widely available. But I found Smalt surprisingly useful for Maine. Many of the landscape blues struck me as being quite on the violet side, including mussel shells, blue-gray rock mixes, and distant shorelines. 

Ultramarine Blue (PB29)

As much as I like Smalt, I wouldn’t want to be without Ultramarine Blue, either! A useful mixer for gray-blues (with earth orange), muted greens (with a yellow), muted violets (with Deep Scarlet), and bright skies (with Phthalo Turquoise). 

Looking at this palette, I can see that many of these colors come in similar pairs. While I like being able to get something specific out of each similar color, I also think there’s scope to narrow down this palette if you have fewer slots: Rich Green Gold or Nickel Azo Yellow; QBO or TRO; Smalt or Ultramarine, etc. Still, I think each color brings something slightly different! In each of the pairs I mentioned, I think that the first named option is more specific to this particular landscape, and the second one is more flexible for many different types of landscapes.