Tuesday 18 November 2014

Zorn's Limited Palette

Forgive me for stating the obvious when I speak of Zorn's limited palette. To me, the Newbie to painting, Anders Zorn is a recently discovered character, to you all he is probably common parlance.  

He was Swedish 1860 - 1920 (found fame in the US after painting the portrait of Presidents, Cleveland, Taft and Roosevelt)) and, from the look of his studio, seems like my sort of man.

What interests me, amongst other things, was his use of a limited palette. 

The fewer colours I use ... the fewer mistakes I can make! At least that's my theory :0)) So if I used a his limited palette for portraits I should stand a better chance of getting things a little less wrong than I otherwise might ... if you can understand that bit of back-to-front English.

Just to compound the task of portraiture I shall use Acrylics. I'm going to try Golden Heavy Body acrylics and maybe a W & N Burnt Sienna.

I think I may be forced out of my rigid attention to detail into a looser impressionist style to make it work. Who knows?

As we have friends staying until Saturday, I shan't be able to start until Sunday next. I shall record what I do for two reasons:

(i) It might give you a good laugh!
(ii) You may be able to point out the errors of my way.

Either way, I'm quite excited about it all ... should be great fun!! 


  1. You are so funny! You are a gifted painter. I am sure Zorn's palette and you will get along famously. I've been using a limited palette too over the last months--Zorn's colors and Ultramarine. Turns out I need a bit more blue than Ivory black has to offer. Alizarin is another tube I'll reach for when I want violet to be violet. Zorn's a good place to kick off, but feel free to satisfy John's needs as you explore.

    1. I spend my life re-inventing the wheel, Linda, but it's nice to know that I'm treading the right path

  2. This is from Linda as well ... but I deleted it in error

    Good to see you're back with all your talents settled. Sorry to read of Pat's arthritis. It's a bear. Massage is helpful--and stretches. She needs a home gym John--and a trainer who specializes. You're going to have to move some of your stuff. It's nice you're close to the theater though. Lovely evenings. delightful people.

  3. Most portrait painters used simular limited palettes to Zorn, here are a few of my favourites.

    Sir William Orpen.
    Lead White, Ivory Black, Vermilion, Burnt Sienna, Yellow Ochre and Cerulean Blue.

    Sir Henry Raeburn.
    Lead White, Black? Vermilion, Burnt Sienna and Prussian Blue.

    James McNeill Whistler.
    White and Black, Yellow Ochre, Raw Sienna, Raw umber. Vermillion, Venetian Red, Indian Red. Cobalt and Mineral Blue.

    Zorn also used Vermillion rather than Cad Red.


  4. Linda gave good advice with her two additional colors. If you really research the Zorn palette you will find he did use a couple of other colors. When it is stated he used yellow ochre - the one he used was more like yellow ochre light. The ivory black was a really bluish black that is not like what we get in the tubes today. Difference is slight but huge when you look at the color range he got. Every manufacturer has slightly different colors under common names.
    The acrylic colors will be even more interesting.
    Cant wait to see what you do.

    1. Thanks Julie. I've already noticed the vast difference between manufacturers. I guess experience shows which combinations suit the individual, I will learn my favourites in time.

      I will be interested to see what I do as well!!

  5. A very famous painter, that I love for a timeless style, suitable to be studied as Sargent or Cezanne. The great masters trace roads safe path for those seeking to understand the painting and put it into practice.
    The limited palette is a beautiful choice to focus on light and shadows without distraction due to too many colors (even in my watercolors apparently more colorful, there are very few vivid colors, so the variations are many but no falls).
    Good work and happy painting! I'm looking forward your beautiful painting!

    1. Yes the focus on light & shadows and few colours appeals to me, the pen & ink guy, I'm used to mono and this helps me spread out a little

  6. John, I don't think you will ever make a mistake. I've seen nothing to indicate that you might. Your work is always beautiful, no matter the medium.

  7. Thanks, Sherry, you're very kind. I won't be too bothered if the painting fails ... it's getting 'there' that counts, the failures are part of that journey

  8. I don't know much about the theory of painting, but instinctively I think a limited palette gives more harmony in a painting. I like to use colours that I used in the foreground subject, also in the background, so it all comes together. Looking forward to your work, John, have fun!

  9. I am looking forward to seeing your works. Have FUN with that looser impressionistic style!!