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A Palette of Colors for Acrylic Painting
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When you're getting started with acrylic paints, it's important not to buy too many colors. And, it's also important to buy artist grade, rather than student grade paints.

(Winsor & Newton's Finity is artist grade; their Galeria line is student grade. I've used both. If you're on a very limited budget, the Galeria line is significantly better than some other lines' student grades, and is the exception to the "buy only artist grade paints".)

All that you really need are red, yellow, and blue, plus white. Try to get "crayon box colors," rather than anything more stylish when you start: Plain red, plain yellow, and plain blue. Period.

What's a "plain color"? Here are the names to look for:

  • Cadmium yellow, or cadmium yellow light
  • Cadmium red medium
  • Cobalt blue, or Winsor blue if you're buying Winsor & Newton paints and want a less vivid blue
  • Titanium white

    Brand names

    When you're starting out, it's good to buy all your colors in just one brand and one line. The slight color, dye, and pigment variations can turn colors to mud if you're trying to mix more than one brand. And, they can end up looking like plastic, too.

    But, that said, I personally paint with several brands right now. My current favorite brand of acrylic paints is Brera from the Italian company, Maimeri. (Say it "my-MERR-ee".) Maimeri grinds their pigments so finely, and the pigments are suspended so perfectly in the paint, you can get a depth with Brera that's hard to match with any other brand.

    However, Brera is nearly twice the price of American-made acrylic paints, unless you shop at Texas Art Supply (as I do) or another store that discounts Maimeri paints 50%.

    Oh, if you're serious about painting, buy the best as soon as you can. For many professional painters, Maimeri's Brera is the best acrylic paint. But, when you're starting out and not sure if you'll really like to paint... it's fine to spend less on very good paints.

    Golden is one line that I've used with success. I also use Winsor & Newton, Grumbacher, Daler-Rowney, and sometimes Liquitex. Maimera makes a student line called "Polycolor" that I haven't tried yet, but I'll bet that it's great.

    I'm testing a range of American-made acrylics, to see which seem best to me. But, buy what's in your budget and available locally. Don't feel compelled to buy Maimeri's Brera or even Golden, at first.

    Additional colors

    Here's my basic acrylic palette, in real life. The colors with an asterisk are the ones I rely on the most. With them (plus white), I can mix almost anything.

    Cadmium yellow light* Quinacridone violet Hooker green*
    Cadmium orange Violet (or Dioxazine purple)* Burnt sienna
    Cadmium red orange Cobalt blue* Permanent green light
    Cadmium red medium* Phthalo green Burnt umber*

    I also use Titanium white, which generally mixes better than other whites.

    I own black acrylic paint for special projects such as shrines, but when I'm actually painting on canvas, I never use black. I mix any two opposite colors on the color wheel to get a very dark, neutral grey-brown that is far more natural. (I use the Quiller color wheel, which I demonstrate in my classes.)

    In addition, I'll try other colors on whim. There are times when I go through a time of using a lot of yellow ochre or raw sienna, particularly if I'm painting landscapes in autumn.

    When you're learning to paint, I recommend buying one or two tubes of paint in colors that you absolutely love, in addition to your basic colors. You'll find ways to use them, and they'll make painting more fun, so indulge a bit!

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