The Summer Palette, Mark II

Here’s my end-of-summer reveal: I’ve been working on a new Summer Palette this whole time!

I took my time to build this palette (which is why this post is appearing at the end of summer instead of the beginning). I went through several iterations, taking out different sets of colors to see how they performed in the real world when I tried to paint my surroundings.

This is the first time I’ve come around to make a second version of seasonal palette. The first seasonal palette I designed, last fall, was the Autumn Palette, but I added the Summer Palette quickly after. Let’s see how my new one compares!


Throughout the summer, I took several nature spot walks with various iterations of my palette, each time refining based on my experiences.


  • Summer is a time of greens, greens, and more greens! These greens are very intense and I wouldn’t call them muted in any way, but they are also not neon or yellowy like greens of spring. Some of them are blue-toned, but most are very middle, “greeny” greens.
  • Summer is a time of high contrast! Bright light means dark shadows.
  • The same colors for the forest and field can generally be reused for the sea in different combinations. It’s important to have an earth that can mute blues, like Burnt Sienna.
  • Flowers are so deep and warm, these luscious shades of orange, red, and yellow. Some are pink, though, so a magenta is still needed.
  • Brilliant Hansa Yellow (PY74) is perfect unmixed for sunflowers, but a mix of yellows (such as Imidazolone and Hansa Deep) provide more range for different specific balances.
  • Skies are pale, muted blues. Light value DV Indanthrone blue is perfect, but DS Indanthrone Blue is too dull. That said, DS Indanthrone is better for working up dark shadows.


As I refined my palette over time, I found that I had landed on some specific priorities for summer:

  • Dark values to create high contrast. Although I think of summer as a bright, light time of year, it’s impossible to create a sense of light without an equivalently dark shadow!
  • Intense greens that are bold and deep without being neon or springy.
  • Bold floral colors especially warm yellows and deep reds.
  • Muted blues for sea and sky.

The Palette

Summer Palette Mark II (2023)

Top Row:

  1. HO – Imidazolone Yellow (PY154) – I did try to branch out, but after trying several primary yellow options, my usual PY154 was still my favorite! I found green-toned yellows (Lemon, Azo, Hansa Light, etc.) too springy, their greens too neon. The more middle yellow makes more mature summer green mixes, while still being bold enough for yellow color pops like flowers and goldfinches. And while the slightly deeper PY74 was ideal unmixed for some flowers, as in the examples above, it didn’t give me quite the range of hues that I wanted; the combination of PY154 and my next pick, PY65, gave me a wide range of yellow options.
  2. WN – Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65)A deep yellowy orange that is perfect unmixed for orangey-yellow day lilies and, with the lighter PY154 yellow, mixes the perfect sunflower color. It also mixes gorgeously with blues to make sap green hues.
  3. DV – Permanent Red (PR188). A scarlet pop-color that mixes wonderful oranges, and serves a useful function as a mixing complement that mixes striking blacks with Phthalo Turquoise.
  4. HO – Pyrrol Rubin (PR264) – Bold red floral colors; green neutralizer. Alizarin Crimson Quin (PV19) is another good option that I tested for quite awhile, but I ultimately decided I preferred the more warmer, more opaque, solid feel of the Pyrrol color for a pop floral.
  5. HO – Quinacridone Magenta (PR122). Ideal for certain magenta/violet summer flowers such as echinacea and thistle. I tried Quin Rose in this slot but found that this palette needed a true/violet-ish magenta to balance out the warmer reds.
  6. HO – Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15). A base color for blue skies. This is one of the ones I’m most on the fence about. I almost put the DV Indanthrene Blue in this slot because it can paint a nice muted sky in dilute, but it isn’t quite as good for shadows as DS’s Indanthrone Blue (next row), and I couldn’t bring myself to make a limited palette with two Indanthrone Blues (even though I think they are really different). Other options for the sky slot might be Cerulean Blue or Cobalt Blue; both differentiate themselves more from PB16 (listed next), but I don’t love granulating colors in the sky.
  7. WN – Phthalo Turquoise (PB16). If I could only have one blue (or green) in this palette, I would choose Phthalo Turquoise! This is the cornerstone for my summer green mixes. Any yellow or earth can mix with it to make deep, bold greens. They’re never too bright but also never too dull.

Bottom Row:

  1. MI – Green Gold (PY150). PY150 aka Nickel Azo Yellow is my #1 pick if I could only have one yellow! The greens it mixes, especially with Phthalo Turquoise, are just perfect: deep and intense and glowing and light-filled and quintessentially summery! Rich Green Gold (PY129) is another option – they mix similarly – but I decided for summer that I preferred the sunny yellow cast that PY150 gave me.
  2. Da Vinci – Raw Sienna (PBr7). A yellowy earth, useful for end-of-summer dry grass. MANS is another good option, but I find RS easier to dull even further with blues.
  3. Daniel Smith – Transparent Red Oxide (PR101). A mixer for browns/grays (with blues); also neutralizes greens. Any Burnt Sienna type color would work. Quin Burnt Orange (PO48) is a compelling alternative because of the glowing greens it mixes, but I found TRO easier to work up into dark values.
  4. Daniel Smith – Naphthamide Maroon (PR171). A new color I am trying out! A deep, dark wine color that deepens floral reds and neutralizes greens for dark shadows.
  5. Daniel Smith – Indanthrone Blue (PB60). A very dark blue, this is a crucial color for mixing up really dark (Perylene hue) greens with PY150, deep browns (with TRO), and various other dark colors. DS’s was the only version that I could reliably get dark enough in the field to work up really dark shadows.
  6. Da Vinci – Ultramarine Blue (PB29). A favorite mixer for dull greens, chromatic shadows, and a variety of granulating grays/browns (with earth orange).
  7. HO – Payne’s Gray (PBk6, PB15, PR122) My favorite quick shortcut to those dark/shadow values that are so essential to creating sunny-day contrast. At my desk, I might work up a dark color with complements, but in the field, it’s so useful to have a convenience color that goes on the brush already dark enough without too many opportunities to overdilute in mixing. I also tried Holbein’s Indigo, made from the same pigments, but found it too blue (I had to mix it to create a shadow color and then what’s the point), whereas flat black colors, such as my buddy Spinel Grey (PBk26), were too dull and dried with an unnatural flatness. Holbein’s lovely balanced Payne’s Gray is my Goldilocks dark color!

By the way, I didn’t intentionally go out of my way to make a nontoxic palette – I did try both Cerulean Blue and Cobalt Turquoise at various times on the palette – but I just didn’t find them as useful as the other colors on here!

Minimal Viable Colors

If I could only have three colors for the summer, they’d be Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150), Phthalo Turquoise (PB16), and Permanent Red (PR188). Between the three of them, you can make a range of intense greens with the yellow and the turquoise; bold orange florals with Permanent Red and Nickel Azo Yellow; and striking darks with Permanent Red and Phthalo Turquoise.

Summer Triad of PY150, PR188, PB16

Last Year’s Summer Palette

The colors of the Summer Palette arranged in front of an image of a beach ball on a shore
The Summer Palette 2022

Last summer, I based my palette on photographs that made me feel summery, which included lots of beaches. I imagined painting tropical seas with Cobalt Turquoise, pristine sandbars with Titan Buff; a rainbow of beach umbrellas; amusement parks and boardwalks. It’s not the wrong way to envision summer, by any means, but when preparing a palette for my day-to-day reality, those are not sights I typically see!

The difference between Summer Palettes I and II has made me realize that, for me, the past year has been largely about shifting from a “internet stock photos” artist to a “my own photos and life” artist. I still paint from internet photos quite a bit (that’s what the National Parks project is all about!), but I’ve added a lot more painting from my own life; when I think about palette building and swatching, I’m all about local color now.

It was fun to revisit the same season with a different outlook as an artist. I hope to repeat the process in fall!

2 thoughts on “The Summer Palette, Mark II”

  1. This is shockingly similar to my new ten-color art toolkit palette! I guess summer in Berlin is not that different…

    • Ten colors is a lot more concise than mine! I always have trouble narrowing down to a generous 14. But I am also surprised that I came up with a pretty generalist palette. I don’t really need to change it much for fall (though I will because I want to add all kinds of fall specialty colors.)

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