Double Primary Palette

By Mikki Senkarik

Let me tell you about our palette. Jack and I use a mixing system he developed called a Double Primary Palette. This is not a gimmick just for conversation. It’s actually based on the scientific fact that our eyes have RODS to see black and white; CONES that register color. CONES are receptors that only “see” the three primary colors; Red, Yellow and Blue. All Umbers, Siennas, Ochres, even Blacks are mixed from these three primary colors inside the brain. Since paint manufacturers don’t make pure primary colors, our system incorporates warm and cool BLUES, warm and cool REDS, warm and cool YELLOWS, hence the name Double Primary Palette. The marvelous thing about this system is it’s impossible to mix dirty or muddy colors. Mixing these colors causes an emotional response in the brain, triggering a visual vibration as the three primaries are translated into a full  range of grays, greens and browns.

Above the paint is laid out on my glass palette. These base colors are used in all of my paintings and are ALWAYS put on the palette in the same order. Just like in typing where the keys are always in the same place. From left to right they are:

  • Liquin (an alkyd based product that makes the oil paint dry faster)
  • MUD (Ultramarine Blue + Alizarin Crimson)
  • Ultramarine Blue (Warm Blue)
  • Pthalo Blue (Cool Blue)
  • Alizarin Crimson (Cool Red)
  • Cadmium Red Light (Warm Red)
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium (Warm Yellow)
  • Hansa Lemon Yellow (Cool Yellow)
  • White

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long you know I use a lot of  MUD in my paintings. It’s the base of many of my mixtures. Here you can see the combination of Ultramarine Blue + Alizarin Crimson makes a deep purple.

The Orange can be mixed from Cadmium Red Light + Cadmium Yellow Medium. For convenience we use a tube of Cadmium Orange just so we don’t have to take the time to mix it.

Horses were my main subjects when I began painting over twenty years ago. As Jack taught me to paint my main concern was how could I paint horses using Red, Yellow and Blue? MUD and Orange provided the answer. They are the basis of all the Browns. Using just the two makes a rich brown. Adding Ultramarine Blue + White to the Brown produces the umbers used to paint Flying High shown above. The Blacks were mixed with Alizarin Crimson + Pthalo Blue. To see any of these images larger just click on the picture.

The addition of Cadmium Red Light to the MUD + Cadmium Orange mix makes a beautiful Burnt Sienna perfect for a blood bay horse. Now I use the mix for terra-cotta pots!

Yellow Ochre is easy to make. All the colors mixed with this system have a vibrancy not found in pre-mixed tube paint which has fillers and binders.

Because my main gallery is in Santa Fe, southwestern adobe buildings are found in many of my pieces. The recipe for the base adobe color is shown above. More MUD is added for the shadows, more White for the highlights.

As children we learned Blue + Yellow makes Green. The Double Primary Palette takes it a step farther. Pthalo Blue has a touch of yellow in it, Hansa Lemon Yellow has a tiny bit of blue. When the two are mixed the result is a pure, intense Green.

To mute a color the complimentary hue is added. The complement of Green is Red. Here is one of the wonderful subtleties of this system. Ultramarine Blue has a touch of red in it which makes it warm. Cadmium Yellow Medium also has a little red. So when the two are mixed a warm, muted Green results because of the red in both the blue and yellow.

Take a little time and just play with mixing. You will be surprised at the broad spectrum of color you can achieve with our Double Primary Palette.

Have FUN!
Mikki Senkarik

To Watch Mikki Paint CLICK HERE