Due to the wide range of oil colours and manufacturers available to the artist in these modern times it can seem a some what confusing task as to which colours to choose in order to provide a suitable range of hues and tones.
Added to this is the cost of most quality oil colours in which a selection of ten 37ml tubes can cost several hundred dollars. So I have provided here a basic list of quality colours that should suit most requirements when starting out in traditional painting whether it be a landscape or a portrait.
Titanium White is a non toxic very bright opaque white made with Titanium dioxide. It mixes well with a high tinting strength and permanence and should be used for the body work of your painting. However it is very slow to dry so should not be used for underpainting or painted over with faster drying colours.
is an ancient colour originally made with Lead antimonate and therefore highly toxic. Today however manufacturers have substituted other non toxic minerals that closely approximate the original hue. Naples yellow is a light warm creamy colour that can be used to lighten other pigments in place of Titanium white. It is good for skin tone and in creating aerial perspective. It has a medium to slow drying time and good permanence.
Cadmium Yellow and Cadmium Red are a range of cadmium pigments made with Cadmium sulfide. They are very bright intense colours with good permanence and slow drying times. Mix together to produce orange. Good for where you need bold bright colour, warm colour. Mix with Burnt Sienna, Yellow Orche for more muted tones.
Yellow Orche is an earthy yellow that should form the backbone of any palette. Able to be mixed with any other colour to produce earthy red browns and cold blue greens. An ancient pigment made with Iron oxyhydroxide and non toxic, it has excellent permance and mixing qualities. Medium to slow to dry. Other names include Mars Yellow.
Venetian Red is one of my favourite colours and hugely versitile. It is an Ancient colour composed mainly of iron oxide and non toxic. A rich earthy dark red that has excellent permanence and ability to be mixed with other colours. Use to warm shadows in landscapes or to mute more vivid reds. Work into skin tones in shadow areas or for reflected light in chiaroscuro Other names include Indian Red, Red Orche.
Cerulean Blue is a cold blue pigment made with cobaltous stannate, it is midly toxic and may cause skin irritation. It has excellent lightfastness keeping it's colour better than any other blue. It is particularly useful in landscape skies. Mix with a little prussian blue to darken areas of sky or with Naples Yellow and Titanium White for horizons. For a warmer blue add a touch of Cadmium Red.
Viridian is a stable non toxic cold green made with Chromium oxide dihydrate. In general greens tend to be a bit too intense for landscape painting and need to be muted with other pigments like Yellow Orche or Burnt Sienna. Viridian tends to be quite transparent so is good for glazes but not for impasto. Add to yellows and blues with Titanium White to produce more opaque greens.
Burnt Sienna is a warm brown made with iron oxide and is non toxic. It is semi transparent and good for glazes, do not confuse it with Raw Sienna. Good for skin tones mixed with Titanium White or for landscapes where a warm brown is needed. Mix with Van Dyke Brown or Prussian Blue for darker browns.
Van Dyke Brown is a dark brown that is non toxic and made from organic compounds found in peat. It has good permanence and is semi transparent with a medium drying time. Use in dark shadow areas and to mute other colours in place of black. Mix with Prussian Blue to create a very dark opaque tone. Useful in initial stages of underpainting shadow areas.
Prussian Blue is a very dark blue made with Iron-hexacyanoferrate and is non toxic. It has a very high tinting strength and can dramatically change other colours with only a little addition so must be used carefully. It has a fast drying time and dries to a hard finish. I prefer to use Prussian Blue but beginners may be best to use Ultramarine. These dark blues are good for shadow areas and to darken greens in place of black so as to preserve colour intensity. I also mix Prussian Blue with Yellow Orche for a dark green in place of Sap Green.
There are many other colours available but these will provide you with a good platform from which to expand your traditional palette. Secondary colour options would include Vermilion or Scarlet Lake, Cadmium Yellow Dark Hue, Burnt Umber and Raw Umber, Cobalt Blue, Terre Verte. It is my preference to stay away from black in traditional painting as there is little in nature that is truely black. Black is a dead colour and pulls the life from other pigments so in place of black I mix Prussian Blue with Van Dyke Brown which produces a deep colour that still has life and from which chiaroscuro benefits by not having to graduate out grey.