The Benefits of Using the Zorn Palette

The Zorn palette is by far the best-limited palette to create natural landscapes and surprisingly flesh tones and let me tell you, achieving realistic skin tones is one of the most challenging tasks for an artist, but once mastered it is, without a doubt, an extremely valuable skill set.  There are many ways to achieve skin tones, but the most consistent and easiest method is to use a limited palette referred to as The Zorn palette. 

So, what is the Zorn Palette?

This art palette derives its name from a Swedish painter named Anders Zorn who lived during the 19th century. The Zorn palette is an oil painting palette limited to 4 colors to create realistic skin tones. Anders Zorn was one of the most celebrated artists of his era and was sought after by prominent members of society to commission him for portraits. He was commissioned by members of the elite such as Grover Cleveland, William H. Taft and Teddy Roosevelt.

What I love knowing about his history, is that his palette lives on where we can create art pieces based on the knowledge that he gave to us. He helped create what we are able to do today. Imagine what you can do if you keep up a daily paint practice - what will you discover, produce, be known for? If you are thinking "who am I to do that?" My response is this, we are the makers that make, the creators that create, only you can stop you. I wonder if he knew he'd be known for this palette probably more so than his actual works...But I digress a bit :).

Benefits of using the Zorn Palette

Due to the 4 color limitation, it forces you to:

  • Focus value and the overall composition of the canvas.
  • Focus on turning the form of the face from light, medium, and dark
  • Enables you to create color harmony through a limited palette. 
  • Enables you to create beautiful greys and neutrals that you can mix to your taste. 
  • Enables you to master the art of color mixing from various tones of the primary colors.
  • This is also a fabulous palette to take into the field for Plein air painting!

Colors Used in the Zorn Palette

Zorn palette consists of the following colors which are derivatives of the basic primary colors of Blue, Yellow, and Red:

  • Ivory Black
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium Red Light (Zorn used Vermillion, but this is close enough and easily found)
  • Titanium White.

Once you start playing with these 4 colors, you will be amazed to find the vast range of colors you can create just from these 4 colors! 

Provided below is a Color Palette/Color Wheel that shows the Primary Colors, in this instance, and the Tertiary Colors that I created.  THEN using a combination of all of the colors and white I was able to create realistic flesh tones.  

Zorn Palette use 4 colors



How to Mix the Zorn Palette to Achieve Skin Tones

Check out this video to learn more!  In this excerpt of the video, you’ll see me mix the colors to achieve realistic skin tones.  

The full video demonstration is available within the Positive Painter Intro To Oil Painting and Videos On Demand, here "How to Create Flesh Tones Demonstration" in the Mini Painting Courses Section of My Library.  


Zorn palette - completed painting using this palette

Here is the completed painting from the demo using the Zorn palette.  

The best way to really learn how to use the Zorn palette is to simply paint and to paint often!  

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Stephanie Weaver Fine Art Artist

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