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Why I like ugly colors – the ArtSquish Palette

Why I like ugly colors – the ArtSquish Palette


It’s true. I like horrible colors. Sometimes beginning artists at our school, Firstlight, wonder why we use colors that are so intense that you can’t really paint with them. Our purple is so dark it looks black. The yellow is too acidic. The green is hideous. I have an explanation, though, and it begins with breakfast.

I like to make breakfast from scratch. My kids grew up eating biscuits, pancakes, or French toast on the weekends. We could, however, just pop a frozen waffle in the toaster though. It’s a choice. You can use ingredients, like flour, eggs, oil, cinnamon & baking powder, or you can go to the freezer and find a box that holds some pretty acceptable prepared food. We prefer to make from scratch because it tastes better.

You have the same choices with colors. There are two kinds of colors in artist paints. Ones that are prepared for you and already look pretty good, and then there are colors that look absolutely horrid when squeezed out of the tube because they’re so intense. I wish that we had a different word for these two kinds of colors you can buy. Prepared-colors and Mixing-colors works for me.

Mixing colors

Mixing colors, like the intense palette we use at ArtSquish, are like ingredients. You don’t want to use them straight out of the tube because they’re intended to be mixed. That’s why they’re so strong.

My daughter once tried eating some baking powder by itself when she was a little girl. We still laugh at how that didn’t work out so well. But we enjoy a hot biscuit after the baking powder has been mixed with other ingredients.

Prepared colors

Prepared colors are shortcuts. There is nothing wrong with shortcuts. I like prepared-colors, but they have a few distinct problems, which is why I recommend not using them.

  1. Prepared-colors are very limited in the range of colors they can mix towards. You must also have mixing colors available. You can’t make a biscuit if you have a box of frozen muffins. But you can make a muffin and a biscuit with ingredients.
  2. Too many pigments can easily become unharmonious and clash on a painting. Prepared-colors can introduce pigments that are incompatible with each other.
  3. Prepared-colors create confusion. You quickly end up with too many tubes of paint, along with at least some mixing colors. I know painters who have no idea how to make the colors they want, because they can never remember what all those tubes actually create in the myriad of combinations available.
  4. Prepared-colors are inconsistent – sometimes opaque and sometimes translucent. Even when using the same name. The manufacturer decides how they make it, so it’s hard to tell which is which.

Years ago I had this little revelation . One of my favorite tubes of paint was permanent green. Squeezing out that pure, brilliant color was a joy. Then one day I read the label, and it was made out of the yellow and the green that I also had right there in my case. I could make that color. I realized that by having the ingredient colors, I could have more colors available with fewer tubes to keep up with.

So, the palette we use at Firstlight, is a mixing palette of 9 translucent acrylic colors (student grade) and opaque titanium white (professional grade). We’ve chosen these 10 colors for several awesome reasons:

  • Color Consistency. All the colors are single pigments. This ensures that brand to brand, and even medium to medium, they are the same. You can move up in paint quality and take all your experience with you from your student paints.
  • Cheap Watercolors. Being translucent means that you can water down the acrylics and make a suitable set of student grade watercolor. Discover what you like without having to purchase another set of paints!
  • Giant range. When mixed, these 9 tubes create the widest range of colors, using the smallest number of tubes.
  • Easier. Carry less weight, use smaller storage bins, and still get the biggest set of colors you can find.
  • Economical. Student grade versions of these are nearly as brilliant as the professional grade. The student grade paints have less of the pigment as a percentage of the whole, and therefore don’t go as far when mixed. When learning, students throw away more paint that didn’t turn out the way they wanted, so this is helpful. NOTE: we only recommend professional grade white, though, because student grade white is frustrating to use.
  • Not frustrating. While it is a little harder to learn how to mix, once you do, you can get to the colors you want so much easier. Also, we use the professional grade white, because student grade white is anathema. It’s thin, runny, doesn’t cover well (because it’s not fully opaque), and it won’t make all the colors you need.

The ArtSquish Palette

Tube Color
  • 1.  Bright Yellow
  • 2.  Bright Red
  • 3.  Magenta
  • 4.  Purple
  • 5.  Dark Blue
  • 6.  Light Blue
  • 7.  Green
  • 8.  Dark Brown
  • 9.  Dark Yellow
  • 10. White
  • Hansa or Arylide
  • Pyrrole or Napthol
  • Quinacridone Magenta
  • Dioxazine Violet/Purple
  • French Ultramarine
  • Cyan or Cerulean
  • Pthalocyanine (Blue Shade)
  • Burnt Umber
  • Raw Sienna
  • Titanium (professional grade)


About The Author

Dennas Davis

Dennas is the founder of Firstlight Arts Academy in Nashville, and also of The Art Instructor (formerly ArtSquish). He has been designing, painting, illustrating and teaching in various combinations since he learned how to hold a crayon. He is the illustrator of 24 children's books with over 5 million in print worldwide. See his paintings at

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