Anders Zorn, his palette & color charts

anders zorn photo
Photo by irinaraquel

Anders Zorn was a Swedish painter (1860-1920) whose work was popular in both Sweden and the United States, and as a well-known and successful portraitist, he was one of Sargent’s chief rivals.

Recently there has been a lot of interest in Zorn in the U. S. due to the 2013-2014 retrospective of his work which traveled to both coasts. At the same time a couple of books were released on the artist’s work

Anders Zorn: Swedish MasterAt least two monographs were published during this period. Rizzoli published a 224 page book for the retrospective titled, Anders Zorn: Sweden’s Master Painter by Johan Cederlund. Another, by Oliver Tostmann and published by the Isabela Stuart Gardener museum was, Anders Zorn: A European Artist Seduces America. (And he has…)

One of the things Zorn was known for was limiting the colors on his palette, especially for his portraits. Limited palettes are a popular way to paint.

The advantage of a limited palette is that you learn the possibilities and limitations of color mixing more quickly. Also using a limited number of colors creates unity and harmony in the painting.

Zorn’s basic limited palette for portraiture was Flake white, Yellow Ocher, Vermillion and Ivory Black. My studio class students used a modified Zorn palette for their portraits.

Taping the paper for color chart
Taping off the paper for color chart

To learn about the potential of the palette, we began by making color charts. We used 1/8 inch wide masking tape to make squares on primed water color paper.

We used Titanium White [TW] instead of Flake White (which contains lead and is very warm), and Cadmium Red Light [CRL] in place of Vermillion. We also used Yellow Ocher [YO] and Ivory Black [IB]. This is a simple primary color palette that uses the Ivory Black instead of Blue. Ivory black has a bluish cast, but some people modify it by adding a bit of Cobalt blue for an even bluer black.

Student painting the Zorn color chart
Zoie painting the Zorn color chart

The color charts are patterned after a chart I found online with the top row being a 5-step mixture of pure color with white to make a range of tints. In between each of the pure tube colors are mixtures of each as follows

YO, YO+CRL (80-20%), YO-CRL (50-50%), YO-CRL (20-80%), CRL, CRL+IB (80%-20%), CRL+IB (50-50%), CRL+IB 20-80%), IB, IB+YO (80-20%), IB+YO (50-50%), and IB+YO (20-80%)Zorn Color Chart patternThe bottom half of the chart is the color from each square on the top row mixed with a bit of the third color. So to the YO+CRL mixtures you would add a touch of IB and so on.

The range of color is useful for a wide range of skin tones and mixing the color charts gives you a sense of just how many colors can be mixed with so few hues.

Zorn Color Chart exampleIt’s easy to see, when you look at the entire chart, that in some of the squares the values are slightly off on the mixtures. Time to go back in and re-mix to get it right. Exercises like these help with seeing value as much as seeing color.

Making color charts is a great way to explore the potential of color. It’s also very meditative and relaxing.

What color charts have you made and how was it helpful to you?


3 Replies to “Anders Zorn, his palette & color charts”

  1. Great idea Jean. It is amazing to see just how many different possibilities there are with only 4 colors. Thanks for sharing Zorn’s information with us.

    1. Thanks, Tauna. I still get a kick out of looking at the chart. It really is amazing to me.

  2. […] is an oil sketch I did of her using a less limited palette. It’s basically the Zorn palette, along with a second yellow, a blue and a brown. I began by putting in a wash in the background […]

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