Eons ago, a seventh grade art teacher threw me a real curve ball. Middle school age is around the time we start thinking we know a few answers. You know, a lot of the important stuff that's just lost on the elementary school kids. On this particular day, my art teacher set up an ambitious still life display, which included two scarecrows with papier mache mouse heads sitting on a bench, surrounded by all sort of interesting knick-nacks. It looked much like a set from an avant-garde play. The teacher announced that we would be painting this little mise en scène using only three colors. "Ah..." said my inner know-it-all "...a color study using only red, yellow, and blue." The teacher then dropped the bomb. We were to use any three colors, except red, yellow, or blue.
I remember being on the verge of apoplexy for a few moments. Was such a feat even possible? I mean, everything was goint to look all...weird! I chose purple, green, and white, I believe, and proceeded to paint something, quite surprisingly to me, completely satisfactory! I was amazed. It certainly looked a little odd, but all the light and dark values (which I would later learn were the key elements to the lesson) hung together well, and the picture looked pretty good to me.
Beyond the immediate lesson of understanding how much visual "comfort" is imparted by having all the lights and darks of an image (values) in their appropriate places, even when the colors (hues) don't correspond to what we perceive from an object, there was an important creative lesson to be learned; even when you can't use everything you want, you can find a way to meet your needs with what you have.
Consider the artist's color palette. I sell artists' paints to make a living, and am a painter myself. I have encountered just about every level of expertise and naïveté when it comes to assembling a color palette. In most figurative painting, where artists use colors we see in the world, in the places we're used to seeing them, most professionals rely on a tried and true palette of a dozen or so versatile pigments finely balanced against one another. Less experienced painters tend to fall into one of two extremes. A few come armed with the popular but erroneous assumption that every color can be made from mixing red, yellow, and blue (you can almost get away with this approach if you divide your reds into a warm orangey one and a cool crimson one, and add a tube of white. This is the bare minimum for a balanced, if very limited palette.) The other extreme is the painter who relies on the paint manufacturer to deliver ready made mixtures. They look for colors such as ocean blue, grass green, sky blue, flesh tone, etc. This type of painter is missing the boat in a big way. So much of the art of painting is the careful consideration of colors in relation to one another, that relying on a pre-fabricated generalization of a color is tantamount to giving up before you begin!