Art theory Oil Painting Painting Still Life

Limited Palettes 2-Color Studies

Clockwise from top left; all also include white: Cadmium Lemon Yellow + Sevre Blue; Cad. Yellow + Viridian; Cad. Yellow Pale + Permanent Rose; Ultramarine + Perm. Aliz., oil on 12x12" panel

Following in the footsteps of Kathryn Law’s 36 (!) color studies inspired by the Peggi Kroll-Roberts Limited Palettes video, I returned to doing more of my own. As Kathryn explains on her post, it’s all about learning what your colors can do.

The four at top I did yesterday, after switching back to regular oils (mostly Winsor & Newton). Below are some that I did previously using Holbein Aqua Duos water-soluble oils that I fell out of love with.

Dioxazine Violet & Quinacridone Red
Dioxazine Violet & Quinacridone Red; warm light, cool shadows

Dioxazine Violet & Cad Yellow Deep, V.1
Dioxazine Violet & Cad Yellow Deep, V.1

Dioxazine Violet & Cad Yellow Deep, V.2

Ultramarine Blue & Cadmium Orange; cool light, warm shadows

Phthalo Green and Cad Lemon Yellow; warm lights, cool shadows
Phthalo Green and Cad Lemon Yellow; warm lights, cool shadows

This is a really fun exercise. The idea is to discover about all the variations of value and hue that you can make with just two colors (plus white) and to experiment with using both cool and warm colors for the light or the shadows. It can be done with any medium (with watercolor you’d use two colors and vary the amounts of water instead of adding white).

Doing exercises like this is also a great way to have fun with paint when time is short or if there’s a big scary painting that you’re not quite ready to begin.

9 replies on “Limited Palettes 2-Color Studies”

Hi Libby (and Annie),
I started using the Duos after working with Golden Open Acrylics and before that, regular acrylics so it had been some time since I’d painted with regular oils. As a result I didn’t really notice the difference in the consistency between Holbein Duos and regular oils until I went to the workshop last month with Peggi Kroll-Roberts and saw the way she mixed her paint so that it was a slippery, creamy consistency. I couldn’t do that easily with the Duos .

The Duos are very high quality, strongly pigmented artist quality paints but they are stiffer than regular oils. You have to use somewhat stiffer brushes to move them around. Whether I added their water-soluble oil or water, I found I couldn’t get a creamy, buttery, easy-to-spread consistency the way Peggi did. At the workshop I also learned how to work with very little solvent from my friend Kathryn Law (who had also been using Duos and also switched back) and how to avoid some of the odor I was getting from reusing the Gamsol OMS too many times.

And then like I said in this post, as soon as I tried the regular oils again it was heavenly–so much easier and more fun.


I’m also interested to hear why you fell out of love with the water miscible oils. At one time I was all set to get some but have been doing more watercolor. Tell us, please, what happened to ruin that relationship!

Carol C.


Thank you, Jana. I love the studies and need to do more of this…maybe one day I will “feel” all that color theory stuff. It’s the hardest thing for me. I really like the studies you did with dioxine violet. For me, using a purple makes it easier to get the dark values


This looks like fun, and you give very sound advice. Also, it’s interesting the ways the different color combinations affect the mood of the picture, creating an emotional sensibility.


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