Choosing Colours in Art Paintings

Color choice is a hugely important component of any piece of art. Sometimes the hues of a painting will evoke a stronger feeling in the viewer than the things actually depicted in the painting.

Imagine if the Mona Lisa was painted in the bright colors of Monet’s water lily paintings instead of Da Vinci’s usual dark hues. Would it be as mysterious and captivating?

It’s doubtful.

A choice of colours is important in helping you communicate your theme.

When you decide to pursue oil painting, you’ll need to acquire a set of paints that will allow you to paint in a large range of colors, but you don’t need to break the bank buying every paint in the store. A very small set of colors will allow you to create a huge set of hues; that’s the joy of the primary colors.


Start your set of paints off by choosing a white paint. Titanium white is one of the most unanimously supported white paints. It’s made from titanium dioxide (hence the name) and is often referred to as “the perfect white,” loved by many for its brightness and purity. It is also considered one of the best whites to use for underpainting because it forms a good, quick drying base to apply other paints on top of.

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Primary Colors

You’ll need at least one red, one yellow, and one blue to start painting. It’s often recommended that you get a warm and a cool version of each primary color, but if you don’t want to spend that much money to begin with, you can get by with just three medium versions.

For red, cadmium red medium is a popular choice. Phthalo blue is a good versatile blue. For yellow, try cadmium yellow medium. If you want a full set of warm and cool paints, you can start with quinacridone rose, cadmium red light, ultramarine blue, phthalocyanine blue, cadmium yellow and azo yellow.


For your black choice, Mars black is a popular opaque black that you can use to darken your other colors. Make sure you use just a little bit as it’s pretty strong. Another choice is ivory black (it seems like a contradictory name, but it used to me made from actual ivory—obviously this is no longer allowed today, so ivory black is actually made from charred bones!).


The last color you should buy for your first set of paints is a good brown. One of the most popular choices is burnt umber. Almost every oil painter will have burnt umber in their palette of colors. It’s a good alternative to black for darkening colors. If you want a cooler brown, try raw umber, which is also very popular.

You can buy non-primary colors like greens, oranges, and purples, which you may want to do if you’re not yet comfortable mixing paints. Greens in particular are a bit hard to mix consistently. On the other hand, since you will eventually have to be comfortable with mixing, you might as well start from the beginning. With the above paints, you should be able to create almost any color you need for your painting.

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colour buster

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