Artists & Illustrators|August 2020
In this four-part series, ANN WITHERIDGE of London Fine Art Studios looks in depth at the four-colour Zorn palette. This month we will create a colour chart to explore the full range of possibilities.

In this article, we will be continuing with our work on the Zorn palette, a limited set of four basic colours (black, white, red and yellow) that was often used by the Swedish master Anders Zorn. We will be looking in more detail at how to create a range of colours from the four pigments while discussing colour mixing and making a colour chart.


Traditionally the four pigments used in the Zorn palette would have been Lead White, Yellow Ochre, Vermilion Red and Ivory Black. There are many modern equivalents and substitutes available to us and so it is important to find the right ones for you.

I have been painting for 20 years and really love art materials, so I have become fussy about my favourite white, my favourite red and so on. This isn’t to say they are the best colours in each case, but simply that they are the ones that I like to use and I know how they behave in different situations.

In many countries, Lead White pigment has been banned due to its toxicity. In Europe, it is still available for picture restorers, but it is no longer sold in tubes. In the US, however, it is currently available to artists. Many artists prefer Lead White as it is warmer than Titanium White and has such a beautiful density to it, making it ideal for thick, impasto painting. For this exercise, I’m going to keep it simple and use Michael Harding’s Titanium White, although I do also use Zinc White sometimes and Rembrandt does a great Zinc-Titanium mix.

With Yellow Ochre, there are hundreds of subtle varieties of ochre pigment which is made the same way today as it was during Renaissance times, grinding earth traditionally from Provence in France with linseed oil. It is a beautifully neutral yellow, not sharp or chromatic like Cadmium Yellow. I love Sennelier’s Yellow Ochre. I find the equivalent colour from other brands can be too green or orange, whereas Sennelier’s is very neutral and the texture is dense but not gritty.

With reds, Vermilion is a beautiful warm colour, but it is a mercury compound and very expensive. It is soft and a little more orange than purple. Artists nowadays tend to use Cadmium Red Light as a substitute – still a beautiful colour, though a little more chromatic. My favourite red is Old Holland’s Cadmium Red Light. It is very expensive, but less so than true Vermilion and it lasts forever if you don’t squeeze out more than you need as it is so pigment-rich. For this article, I used Old Holland’s Cadmium Red Scarlet instead as I ran out of my preferred colour and the two are very similar.


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August 2020