The Value of a Limited Palette

Deep into Week 5 of CVP I’m navigating discomfort, confusion and uncertainty in my exploratory painting exercises. Half the work has been letting go: of known outcomes, of previous assumptions, of a successful painting.

Apparently to move forward I must let go of confidence and competence! I was clutching fiercely to this, so it’s been challenging. The new aim is competent exploration, confident experimentation.


I have been very dissatisfied with my recent abstract panels. It feels like I’m learning and growing, but it hasn’t arrived in the painting yet! This week we continue our Design & Value work. In order to keep the focus on Value, we’re adding just 2 colors beyond black and white: Yellow Ochre and Cadmium Red Deep.

For a starting place I chose a misty wetland photo and made this landscape in a traditional process: first painting an earth-pigment underpainting, then I blocked in the main dark values with a rich black including some red and ochre. I enjioy the cream whites and pinky grays I could make with these colors. I had to cool my very warm ivory black with some Ultramarine. It’s amazing how much variation you can create with a limited palette.

I’m pleased with a lot of the marks and spaces here. I experienced more satisfaction making this – not necessarily because its a landscape, but since I removed variables by choosing the subject and method.

A painter faces SO MANY decisions as we work.

  • light & shade
  • color
  • line & shape
  • mark-making
  • layers
  • brush and tool marks
  • texture(s)
  • subject matter

Each having their own depth of considerations. That’s a lot to parse!

Nicholas Wilton of Art2Life is consistently teaching us a “Less is More” approach, and my new angle on that this week is by limiting some choices, you intensify focus on others. AND you have more mental space to contemplate the challenge at hand.

I’m searching, searching, searching for my abstract language, the shapes or forms that hold meaning for me in this new alphabet. There are curves and stems and clouds and feathers, and I’m staying just out of reach of ‘recognizable.’

I used Alizarin Crimson for the dark red. Being the rebellious thing I am, there was blue lurking on my palette that found its way in here. 😉

Another fascinating week of CVP! On we go to WEEK 6: Creating a Series

1 thought on “The Value of a Limited Palette

  1. Jennifer Williams April 5, 2021 — 9:44 am

    Maybe you can envision swimming the way your friend envisions ice-skating. All the happy emotions that come when you’re in a lake! I really love the minimal pallet paintings, Patrise!



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