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The Zorn Palette in Oil Pastels

The figure above is, at the time of writing, my latest painting using the Zorn palette on Clairefontaine Paint-On Gris. The Zorn palette consists of black, red, yellow ochre, and white and was pioneered by the artist Anders Zorn for figure painting. In the close up below you can see some of the different hues created purely by blending combinations of just those four different oil pastels.

Sennelier oil pastels perform beautifully in limited palette work because they are just so soft and blendable. While the brand of sticks can easily be interchangeable, always choose the Sennelier yellow ochre. It's the lowest tint strength and also the greasiest. These two qualities combined make it an excellent "lubricant" for the three other sticks. Harder oil pastels can resist blending, making it much more difficult to mix new hues in limited palette work, but they'll mix into the Sennelier yellow ochre.

The oil pastels I tend to use are the Sennelier yellow ochre, the Neopastels scarlet and white, and either the Van Gogh black or the Pentel black. The Senneliers red and black can be overpowering and difficult to control. The Van Gogh black is a good strong black but easy to control, and the Pentel black is much weaker, making smaller changes to value and hue easier.

I generally begin a Zorn palette figure by covering the entire area in yellow ochre and then working into that earth yellow couch with the black, red, and white. In the example above, the right hand side has been blended smooth but, before that, it looked just like the left. That painting ended up like this:

The Zorn palette isn't just for figures, it also makes great moody landscapes. I am not a landscape painter, nor is painting one-inch-square Toyota Celicas a forte of mine in any way, but I did a little six-inch example on a whim, see below. However, there are much, much better example of landscapes painted with the Zorn palette and I strongly suggest looking them up!


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