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How do you arrange oil paint palettes?

Arranging your oil paint palette effectively can make a huge difference in your painting process. A well-organized palette allows you to quickly and easily access the colors you need, while keeping your workspace tidy. In this article, we’ll explore different methods for arranging both basic and expanded oil paint palettes.

Organizing a Basic Palette

When you’re just starting out with oil painting, it’s best to begin with a basic palette of around 6-12 colors. This allows you to learn color theory and mixing without becoming overwhelmed. Here are some tips for organizing a basic oil paint palette:

  • Group paints by temperature – warm reds/yellows on one side, cool blues/purples on the other.
  • Place white and black on the outer edges for easy access when mixing.
  • Arrange paints from light to dark, moving clockwise around the palette.
  • Leave space between colors for mixing.
  • Place colors you use most often closest to you.

A sample arrangement for a basic palette might look like this:

White Cadmium Yellow Light Cadmium Red Light Alizarin Crimson Ultramarine Blue Phthalo Blue Black

This places warm yellows and reds on one side, cool blues on the other, with white and black bookending the arrangement. The middle reds transition from light to dark moving clockwise.

Expanding Your Palette

As you advance in oil painting, you’ll likely want to expand your palette with more color choices. A expanded palette of 20 or more paints allows for greater flexibility and nuance in mixing. But all those tubes can become chaotic if not organized properly. Here are some tips for arranging an expanded palette:

  • Separate colors into warm and cool groups.
  • Within each group, organize from light to dark values.
  • Place specialty colors like earth tones and neutrals in their own groups.
  • Arrange based on frequency of use – most used colors go in the center.
  • Add a section for convenience colors like transparent mixing white.

Here is an example of how to arrange a 24 color expanded palette:

Warm Cool Neutrals & Earth Tones Convenience
Cadmium Yellow Light Yellow Ochre Cadmium Orange Indian Red Cadmium Red Light Alizarin Crimson Cerulean Blue Phthalo Blue Ultramarine Blue Phthalo Green Sap Green Burnt Umber Raw Umber Burnt Sienna Titanium White Transparent Mixing White Ivory Black

This arrangement keeps the palette organized by temperature, value, and frequency of use. The neutrals act as a bridge between the warm and cool sections.

Specialty Palette Layouts

Some artists like to arrange their palettes in special ways based on the their painting style or subject matter. Here are a few examples:

  • Portrait palette: Organize skin tone colors (yellow ochre, red ochre, burnt sienna) near the center for easy mixing of realistic flesh tones.
  • Landscape palette: Cluster earth tone pigments (ochres, umbers, siennas) together for quick access when painting natural scenery.
  • Split complementary palette: Arrange colors opposite their complements (reds vs. greens, oranges vs. blues, etc.) to make harmonious mixing easy.

Don’t be afraid to customize your palette layout in a way that suits your personal painting needs!

Tips for a Clean and Portable Palette

No matter how you organize your oil paints, it’s important to keep your palette clean and portable:

  • Scrape off excess paint after each session so colors stay fresh.
  • Use a foldable palette with sealable lids for easy storage and transportation.
  • Choose a palette with large mixing areas and deep wells to prevent spills.
  • Clean thoroughly with palette knife and brush soap to remove oil residue.
  • Consider disposable paper or tear-off palettes for traveling light.

With a tidy, organized system you can quickly set up your palette anywhere and dive right into painting. Keep these tips in mind and you’ll gain efficiency and focus for more creative freedom at the easel.

Sample Palette Layout Diagrams

Here are some example palette layouts showing different color organization systems:

Basic Split-Complementary Palette

Cadmium Red Light Alizarin Crimson
Cadmium Yellow Light Titanium White Ultramarine Blue
Viridian Green Ivory Black

This simple 9 color palette places complementary colors across from each other for easy mixing. The middle white acts as a bridge between warm and cool.

Expanded Portrait Palette

Flesh Tones Warm Cool Neutrals
Yellow Ochre Burnt Sienna Indian Red English Red Red Ochre Alizarin Crimson Cadmium Yellow Cadmium Orange Cadmium Red Light Naples Yellow Flake White Cerulean Blue Ultramarine Blue Prussian Blue Viridian Green Raw Umber Burnt Umber Ivory Black

Centering flesh tones makes this 19 color palette perfect for painting portraits. Extended warm and cool sections allow wide flexibility for mixing.

Simple Landscape Palette

Warm Cool Earth Tones
Cadmium Yellow Light Cadmium Orange Indian Red Cerulean Blue Ultramarine Blue Phthalo Blue Sap Green Yellow Ochre Burnt Sienna Titanium White Ivory Black

This 11 color outdoor painting palette clusters earthy pigments together. Solid warm and cool secondary mixes make it great for landscapes.


Arranging your oil paints effectively is an essential skill for staying organized at the easel. Start with a basic palette, then expand as you gain experience. Group paints by temperature, value, and use frequency. Consider custom layouts for your painting style. Keep your palette clean and portable. Implement these tips and you’ll gain more control over your colors for more creative freedom and success in your oil painting!