Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I've been emphasizing that one does not need a huge palette in order to achieve a variety of results. (See my earlier posts on this topic:  http://thewendywatsonblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/my-palette.htmlhttp://thewendywatsonblog.blogspot.com/2013/10/my-palette-continued.html)  I was reminded of an exercise that my grandfather Ernest W. Watson suggested in his book ERNEST W. WATSON'S SKETCH DIARY:  try painting with a palette of just 3 colors.  I chose yellow ochre, light red, and Winsor blue as my palette for this demonstration.
I started with this little ink drawing of a figure I drew for the book I LOVE MY BABY SISTER, by Elaine Edelman.
In this version,all 3 colors are of fairly equal importance.  Notice that although only 3 colors are used, the effect does not feel at all "limited".  On the contrary, it is very colorful.
In this version, the 3 colors are again of fairly equal importance, but the overall effect is rather different from the first example.
In this example, the blue is clearly the dominant color, and there are only bare touches of the red and yellow.  But again, the effect does not feel "limited".  You will notice that all 3 of these images do consistently "go together" in the sense of feeling as though they are from the same pictorial family.  This is one of the huge boosts the illustrator receives when using a limited palette.  A limited palette almost automatically produces art that is consistent throughout a book or project.  And once again, in this post I'm preaching my strong belief that the artist does not need a huge array of materials in order to produce beautiful work.  Instead, I suggest that the artist choose carefully a small arsenal of high-quality tools, and then learn through trial and error how to get the absolute most out of each one of them.


  1. Wonderful tip! I'm going to have a go at it. Thank you, Wendy!

  2. Fascinating, the the three variations on a theme. This looks like the start of a book on illustrating. Fun...

  3. How wonderful to see the big sister in our book "I Love My Baby Sister (Most of the Time)" come alive in such an intriguing demonstration of the way a true artist can change the feeling of a character and her world using only 3 colors (but using them brilliantly!) Thanks all over again, your collaborator, Elaine.

    1. Elaine! How wonderful to get your comment! This book was one of my really fun projects---the house, interior and exterior, is based very much on my sister's household as it was at the time I was working on the book. She had two young children, with all the resulting mess, squabbling, distraction, and delight that goes with those circumstances. Thank YOU for providing me with such a lovely text on which to build. It was fun!

  4. Love seeing the big sister in our collaborative book come alive again in this brilliant showing of what a true artist can accomplish with only 3 colors!