Looking back: my 5 colour achievements in 2021

Colour me happy – if you read my previous blog post, you'll know that my primary art goal for 2021 was to explore new directions in colour. I promised to share my top five colour achievements of 2021. Here they are:


I've always found green a bit of a tough colour. And it turns out there are quite a few artists out there who share this view, as I've discovered through my art course peers and social media art network. It can be really hard to mix a good green, let alone a perfect range of greens for nature studies. I faced my green fears in the first half of 2021, mixing loads of green swatches and tackling landscapes with lots of (previously avoided) green foliage. Having built some confidence and discovered a lovely enigmatic, dark green, I even departed from my signature blue and attempted a trio of green ballerina paintings, including this one inspired by Swan Lake's iconic pas de quatre.

Green painting of four ballerinas in white performing cygnet variation

^ Dance of the little swans (oil on linen, 2021)



In spring, I decided to play with some of those lovely vibrant neon acrylic hues, juxtaposing them with black (a colour I rarely use in painting). These gave me the opportunity to create some lovely dramatic ballerina paint sketches as well as some unusual neon and black plein air flower studies.

Painting of ballerina figure in black with neon tutu

^ Ballerina paint sketch in black and neon (acrylic on paper, 2021)



Another area of colour growth was my on-going quest for the perfect sunflower yellow and African sky blue. I've already blogged about my sunflowers. If you missed that post, here's the shortcut. And my quest for a deep sky blue – through lots of careful swatch mixing – was put to the test in my painting Dreaming under African skies.

One of my favourite artists is Jane Thompson (based in Brisbane). I'm in awe of her distinctive colour palette and knack for subtly juxtaposing pinks against other colours. Her bold, expressive work definitely inspires me to try new palettes and I suspect mixing pinks might be next on my swatches list.

I've done a few pink paintings in the last few years and you can catch a glimpse of one in the above photo (where I've repurposed a rather pink blossom flamenco dancer painting as a backdrop for the paint sketch). Coincidentally, I had a conversation with a good friend yesterday who was encouraging me to recreate my blue ballerinas in pink. Watch this space ... 

^ Dreaming under African skies (oil on linen, 2021)



During the summer, I took part in Find your joy (FYJ), a Louise Fletcher online art course. Louise's FYJ assignments encouraged us to work with a limited colour palette. These gave me an opportunity to explore different palettes and extend my acrylic colour mixing experiments much further. I am usually always quite selective about which colours I choose to use in a painting. But, I have also tended to avoid using the typical "three primaries plus black and white" limited palette in my adult art life. 

This is partly because I have bad memories of a practical art examination in my early teens that went horribly awry. It also stems from my memories of nursery school days where the art corner had poster paint tubs of the primaries. I can remember my five-year-old self looking at the paint pots and being frustrated by the saturated, garish colours and the hideous murky browns they created when mixed. In hindsight, I suspect that is more to do with the quality of the paint and limiting of how many clean brushes and water were provided to small children rather than the nature of the primaries. 

My initial response to Louise's limited palette briefs was to find a way around this aspect (the course was all about exploring what works for you, so this isn't as contrary as it might sound). Drawing on my design background, I tried a CMY – cyan, magenta, yellow – palette with white and discovered all sorts of new joys with this. It yields a beautifully soft palette (as shown in Profusion below). Some of my favourite acrylic paintings this past year have adopted this palette. I also did some lovely plein air monochrome studies using burnt umber (deliberately avoiding black in a set monochromatic assignment) and white.

^ Profusion (acrylic on linen canvas, 2021)

Heartened, I began to explore quite a few new variations of a limited palette using different hues as starting points and also experimenting more with the relative opacity/transparency of acrylic paint. Thanks to Louise and her fantastic team of FYJ coaches for the nudge in this direction.

The FYJ course also helped me to enjoy painting in acrylic a lot more than I have done in the past. The secret, thanks again to Louise, was adopting a stay-wet palette. My favourite place to paint is outdoors in the sunshine. A stay-wet acrylic palette is ideal for happy plein air painting and enabled me to be a lot more spontaneous and free in my approach.



Building my confidence for working with acrylic was great. But I missed the tactility of my oil paints immensely. This really cemented for me that my joy is working in oil. In particular, I realised that I have a number of favourite oil colours that I've used over the years and have come to trust. I'd missed these working in acrylic. As a declaration of love, I began a new series of seascapes using only these favourites. I'll share more about that series in an upcoming blog post. 

During the last week of 2021, I experimented with two new oil pigments – warm white and King's blue light from Michael Harding. Lots of fun exploring different possibilities mixed with the blue and I'm totally in love with the warm white. It's particularly good for seascapes. Can't wait to share the new creations with you. Here's a preview.

Photo of a painting of a seagull on a beach with beach huts and bushes in the distance. The painting is on a work surface with tubes of paint and brushes.

^ Just another day on the beach – work in progress (2021)

I'm definitely looking forward to continuing my colour explorations in 2022 (in both acrylic and oils). If you're a fellow artist, I'd love you to share your favourite pigment colours in the comments below.

Back to blog

1 comment

Love the poppies :also the details around your floral ballerina (roses & petals scattered attracts my attention) . May you go from strength to strength as you explore new techniques & mediums in 2022.

Helen M

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.