Color palette for portrait painting

Oil color palette for portrait painting 
Winsor and Newton

First of all! If you want an in depth understanding of drawing and portrait painting. I have written a descriptive and thorough book thats available on Amazon:

Kindle HERE and Paperback HERE

This color palette for portrait painting is a personal preference. It’s the palette that has given me the best results over time and gives me the broadest spectre of possibilities.

Some call it a mud palette because the colors can seem muddy. It keeps all your mixes coherent so the colors don’t go to far away from each other. It’s an intuitive palette that makes your mixing very visible and easy to understand. You mix while you paint. And you mix very methodical in the same order every time.

I only use Winsor & Newton artist colors on my palette. Not because I feel it’s better brand but the colors soothe me. Colors from individual brands tend to differ from each other. Even though they have the same name.

Cadmium Green

I treat my Cadmium Green as if it was a yellow. I use it in the middle tones and in the skin tone to cool the hue. As well I’m the middle tones where there’s a transistion between hair and skin. I use it in shadows to lighten them and cooling them at the same time.

Burnt Sienna

Burnt Sienna is the most used color on my palette. I use it in the shadows, the middle tones and in the skin tone. Whenever I buy colors I buy 3 times more of Burnt Sienna. I adjust almost every pool on my palette with Burnt Sienna.

Scarlet Lake

The color is used to make the pools warmer or more red. Used a lot in the shadows to get that reddish glow of skin. As well as in the skin tone – especially around the cheeks and nose area there’s more red.

Yellow Ochre Pale

Mostly used to lighten my shadows. In some occasions I use a little bit of yellow ochre in my skin tone when I work around the forehead. For some skin tones it seems to yellow a little bit.

Indian Yellow

Indian yellow is mostly to give me a wider spectre if yellow. I mostly use it for nightlights in blond hair. Also used to make orange if needed

Transparent White

Transparent white is used to mix my skin tone and my neutral pool. In rare occasions I lighten my shadows with it – but one has to be careful with that. Used to lighten the skin tone gradually towards lighter areas

Manganese Blue Hue

Used to make my neutral pool with added Titanium White. Can make my pools more cool in temperature. Added in my shadow pool to neutralize any to powerful red hue.

Cobalt Blue

Mixed with Burnt Sienna to make my grey middle tone pool. Used to darken or cooling shadows or to neutralize any red hue – just like the Manganese Blue Hue but with a darker value

Dioxazine Purple

I very seldom use this color. It’s a quick purple in stead of mixing it on your own. This color is extremely powerful. I sometimes use a tiny microscopic drop in my Titanium White to make purple highlights. Some Caucasian models tend to have purplish tone under the eyes

Olive Green

The Olive Green is my main color to mix my dark pool. Added with Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue is Makes an almost black with the benefits of being transparent

Alizarin Crimzon

Used again to make the dark pool. Sometimes added more to the dark pool to make it more reddish for the corners of the eyes or the nostrils

Ultramarine Blue

Mainly used to mix the dark pool. Or used to darken blue colors in general, since it’s very dark in value

Darkests dark

Oil color palette for portrait painting. Winsor and Newton artist colors

Mixing my darkest dark is primarily for darkest shadows . It consists of Olive GreenAlizarin Crimzon and Ultramarine Blue. I use this mix to paint the darkest area of the eyes, the nostrils, hair and sometimes I use it for background. It’s also used for my next step of making shadows. In general it’s used to darken with


From the previous pool of darkest dark I now add Burnt Sienna until I find an average of all the shadows on the model. Since the Burnt Sienna tend to redden the pool a lot I might add Manganese Blue Hue into the mix to neutralize the very red Hue. The pool can be added Cadmium Green or Yellow Ochre to lighten it

Neutral pool

Oil color palette for portrait paintings
Winsor and Newton

Made of Manganese Blue Hue and Titanium White. More Manganese Blue Hue tinted with the white than opposite. Serves the purpose of neutralizing the skin tone pool and to “grey’ing/neutralizing” the other pools according to the models features

Middle tone

Oil color palette for portrait painting.
Winsor and Newton artist colors

Made of Burnt Sienna added with Cobalt Blue. It makes a dark grey color that you can control temperature vise towards cold or warm. Used to mix with the skin tone pool. It will create an even lighter grey tone that I use for the transition between shadows and light. This middle grey value makes that very much needed value in between dark and light to make it seem like an oval shape.

Skin tone

Made of Burnt Sienna and Titanium white. As like the shadows I find an average of the skin tone. Not to dark and not to bright. The skin tone gets added with color from the neutral pool. Simply to neutralize the reddish hue that comes from the Burnt Sienna. It kinda will grey it. Adding to much will make it all to grey.

An easy oil color palette for making portraits

All in all a color palette for portrait painting is a very personal thing. It’s important that you feel good with the colors you have chosen. You have to use a color palette for portrait painting a lot before you become accustomed to it. This palette if my favorite one after years of trying different colors and brands

Links to previous content

For more info about how I build up my portrait follow this link:

Links to the materials and brands I use

Paint from Winsor & Newton artist color:

Bristle brushes from Rosemary and Co:

Ampersand boards from:

Nylon brushes from Trekell:

My Easel is from Edge Pro Gear:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.