This post has been updated 20 June 2014. I have tweaked the colours slightly but the principles are the same. Lots of people come to this post so I thought it best to amend the original.
You might also be interested in my recommendations for a Minimal Palette or 3, 4 or 6 colours in Daniel Smith or Winsor&Newton or Schmincke which I posted 23 Oct 2014
This the palette that I use for my sketching classes (12 half pans in a small folding metal tin made by Art Basics and available at my local art store Artscene.
A couple of general comments first:
– When I started painting in Jan 2007 I bought the small cotman sketchers box and started using it. I got rid of the white and add cerulean blue (as a blue to use of the sky) and had no idea how complex watercolours were …but I was aware of making many muddy mixes! (refer below to my comment about Cotmans)
– A book that influenced me strongly in the early days was “transparent Watercolour Wheel” and ever since then I have eliminated very opaque colours (like the cads) from my palette. I probably have too many staining colours but do manage to control them and rarely have a problem with their staining properties.
– Also HUGELY influential is the handprint website- I have spend hours and hours reading and comparing pigments. It is the most comprehensive resource for watercolours!
– I also found the blogs of Cathy (Kate) Johnson and Roz Stendahl when they talked about their palettes extremely helpful!
– I am totally indebted to the advice of my great friend Jane Blundell – ‘color Jane’ (sometimes we agree sometimes we differ!) Her site is a MUST VISIT!
– I try not to make brand generalisations but focus on the pigments (I compare pigments not colour names) Some pigments are best in one brand rather than another brand.
– For many years I was using a certain brand because it is readily available. Winsor and Newton is available in every art store in Australia but I have to go into the city to buy Daniel Smith over the counter or save up and make a big online purchase. Schmincke is not as easily to be found… etc etc… but in recent years it is nearly all Daniel Smith. I find them so much more vibrant than WN.
– Choosing colours that go in your palette is a very PERSONAL choice. You will find some pigments work better for you.
– I LOVE colour!!!! There are some pigments that I just fall in love with and I just want them to be around- so reducing my colours to 12 for this palette was a big exercise.
– I love vibrant colour and so am looking for colours that are intense and easy to give me ‘juicy’ washes
– Some of my choices have been influenced by the way that I work (ie. fast spontaneous watercolour) I need to ensure that I can mix a colour quickly and also recover a mix if I accidentally mix the wrong colour in (ie. transparent colours are more tolerant of mixing 3 colours together than opaque which are more likely to give you mud with more than 2) and I have convenience colours to make my mixing easier.
– I try to use single pigment paints always (sepia is an exception) so that my colours are brighten and clearer.
– I LOVE granulating colours!!!!
– You just have to get to know your paints!!! How do they mix with other colours and react in different situations. How versatile are they, what mixes you will typically use them for. I will post below all my working pages that I did to decide on the best colours for this set… I keep revisiting mixes!
– My palette is designed for the bright light of the harsh Australian light so might not be the best selection for people that live closer to the poles.
This basic palette follows more or less a standard approach of a warm and cool version of the primaries, and a few earth tones…but with a few personal quirks.
All colours Daniel Smith unless noted otherwise.
1. Cool Yellow. Hansa Yellow Medium. Rather than a Lemon Yellow I have a middle yellow. It is hard to get a transparent yellow and this is a truly beautiful all-rounder.A beautiful bright transparent mid yellow that mixes beautiful greens as well as oranges and just stunning on its own.
2. Warm Yellow. DS Quinacridone Gold. I l love New Gamboge PY158 in this spot but I just can’t fit it into a set of 12. Quin Gold is a lot more versatile. Combined with HYM above it makes New Gamboge. Very much needed for the gold around teacups but mostly for mixing beautiful greens- Australian greens!
3. Warm Red. DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange. A colour that I really love (I say this about a lot of colours!) and it is more of a dark orange than a warm red but works the same. Makes lovely primary reds with Quni Rose.
4. Cool Red. My favourite is DS Quinacridone Rose. Makes a great mixed orange with my cool yellow. Also makes a great pink and purple..and add to a neutral to add some warmth. Really this is one of the most important and versatile colour in the palette so essential to get it right.
5. Warm Blue – can’t go past a French Ultramarine…but in fact I prefer DS Ultamarine Blue over the French version(this is another thing I discovered thanks to Jane) I find the Ultramarine makes better greens and a more neutral grey with Burnt Sienna than the slightly cooler French Ultramarine. Mix for purples, greens AND all my warm greys and browns, blue greys! Total addiction!
6. Cool Blue 1 – Cerulean Blue (Chronium) Great for skies, and lovely neutrals!I use the Chronium version as it is brighter and more suitable for Australian skies.
7. “Green” – In a standard palette this would be a green…but I don’t feel like I need a green as prefer to mix them. So another blue – Pthalo Blue Red shade – it is not as staining as a green shade and it makes lovely bright but natural greens when mixed with Quin Gold.
8. Earth Yellow ‘Raw Sienna ‘- I prefer Raw Sienna to a yellow ochre as it is more transparent and the colour of Sydney sandstone. I use DS Monte Amiata Natural SiennaPBR7
9. Earth red Burnt Sienna – Can’t live without this colour- browns and neutrals mixed with Ultramarine. (Please note: My class palette includes Burnt Sienna but in my personal palette I use Transparent Red Oxide. It is more transparent but highly reactive pigment and very crazy – not a good option if you are beginning.)
10 Earth Brown – DS Raw Umber is a lovely dark cool colour. Quite different from other brand’s version of raw umber.
11. Personal Colour 1 – I just love Cobalt Teal Blue (or the WN version Cobalt Turquoise light)No other real justification for it except I love it and it makes me happy
12. Personal Colour 2 Potter Pink (I use WN as the DS one runs too much!) It makes lovely muted colours and great for cream (as in scones, jam and cream)…
These last two colours are VERY personal… the idea is that you can substitute them for any particular colour that you feel you NEED to have.
Now the reality is that I rarely use a 12 colour palette. My standard palette has a few more (16) and changes slightly from time to time. I find that it is good to have a few more choices when you are working quickly on location…. but these 12 colours are the foundation.
Start using the paint that you have…there is no other way …. you have to get to know your paints like friends… and have LOTS of fun doing it!