Choosing your limited color palette: picking a theme makes it easier

Pulling the dominant colors from a favorite photo to form this 8-hue palette

A project came up recently which called for a limited palette of only 3 colors. Oh no, limiting my color choices is not something I do very often. Almost never! The above photo of last flowers of summer has 8 colors selected. That’s my idea of a limited palette, not 3!

Here’s my solution to this problem. You can have fun trying this too, no matter what your medium, fiber, paint or photo composition! Choose your “theme” for the palette, and give it a name, based on your inspiration for the colors.  Then choose 6 to 9 colors that fit the theme. It’s completely up to you.

I’m showing 2 color palettes here I named Eggplant Parmesan and Cool Zing. The Eggplant idea came from the color of the veggie and earthy colors of Italy, part of our family heritage inspiration. The Cool Zing is just a group of colors that look contemporary to me with warm and cool sparks going on.

Now I look closely and think of a new project which needs only 3 colors. Let’s say the project is a quilt. Is the quilt going on a bed or hanging up on a wall for art? Perhaps I will be making a table runner for our dining room, walls already painted a cool and lighter value green with white trim. Now we’re talkin’. If I have a practical application for my color palette, my job is so much easier.

Cool Zing is a palette my twenty-something daughters would probably both like. To fit their current personalities and styles I decided on their limited palettes of 3 colors each, if I am to make them a quilt.

Two daughters, 2 palettes from my Cool Zing larger palette collection

Karen’s Eggplant Palette

Here’s the palette I have chosen for my own quilt. I know, I’m cheating here. There are 3 hues: green, an orange and a violet. But there are 2 values of each, because I just can’t decide on only three swatches. My practical logic is saying, if I  make my husband and I a quilt, it will probably be made of more than 3 values in real fabrics of these colors. (I like scrap quilts.) How’s that for sneaking out of the limited palette dilemma? At least I have the spirit of the limited color palette challenge going on here, and I’m learning the value of this challenge! The point is, start with something, a simple plan you can always adapt.
What are your own favorite color choices for a project that are very personal, like making a quilt, or a pillow or an apron for a friend, all if you are a sewing person? If you are a painter, plan your painting based on only 3 hues and a variety of values from those 3 color choices. It might be a wonderful painting, full of harmony and a cohesive group of colors and values pulling it all together.

What are your favorite choices for a 3-part color palette and what might be your inspiration, personal just for you?

Notes for Photography:
Create a limited palette for your color work. In photography, with all of its subtleties, a limited color palette might set you apart from those who wield the heavy hand of Photoshop colors a bit too indiscriminately. Try out the limited color scheme. Pretend you are hand-coloring your black and white photos. I learned hand coloring black and white prints in old-school film developing days. It was such a wonderful experience, and surprisingly simple, with very few materials, great results.

-Have fun. -Karen


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4 Responses to “Choosing your limited color palette: picking a theme makes it easier”

  1. sandy Says:

    Thanks so much for the information! As a quilter, I often struggle with color.


  2. Anne Taylor-Biddle Says:

    I like my color palette!


  3. karen Says:

    Oh, good, I thought it looked like your current colors! 🙂


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