Colours in my palette: Blue

April 23, 2020 | 7 Comments

My blue selection is a little more standard than my yellow and red.

I have three popular colours – French Ultramarine, Cerulean Blue and Cobalt Blue. I also have a dark staining blue – Indanthrone Blue – making my blue paints the largest group in my palette. I love having a variety of pigment types in my blues – it’s not just because they are different hues.

If you don’t already know… I love blue! But it’s also an extremely essential colour for my work –  I use blue with earth colours to achieve greys, browns and neutrals. And as I sketch a lot of architecture, getting the right grey or earth colours is a big deal.

So you could say that I’m super sensitive to subtle changes in greys and I’m always looking for mixes which glow with some warmth (caused by pigment separation of two colours). You will see some gorgeous greys in this article and I will come back to this topic again in the section on neutrals.

A few general comments:

  • For many years I used DS Ultramarine Blue (as opposed to French Ultramarine) as it made better greens and was cheaper (see more here) but it dried really hard in the pan and was difficult to rewet. So for the last year or so I’ve switched to Schminke French Ultramarine. It wasn’t a carefully researched decision – I just had some in my stash, added it to my palette and loved it. I’m happy with the greens it produces but most of all I’m totally in love with the neutral mixes it creates with my earths.
  • I also love Cerulean Blue and I use the DS Chromium version as it’s more vibrant and useful for Australian skies. I love how granulating it is and also that it’s sedimentary (heavy pigment which drops quickly) so this creates wonderful textures. It also creates lovely greys such as my Soft Grey mix. I no longer have a pre-mixed pan in my palette as I did back in 2016 (see more here) but I do mix this combination frequently.
  • Indanthrone Blue helps me achieve darker mixes quickly – black and deep greens, plus I love having a staining blue in my palette for some pigment variety.
  • I don’t particularly like Pthalo Blue (green shade) as it’s just too strong and unnatural on its own. But a number of years ago I used Pthalo Blue (blue shade) which I found much more flexible.
  • When visiting California in 2018, I started using Cobalt Blue as it was an exact match for the sky. My friend Brenda Swenson also convinced me of how wonderful it was to use for shadows especially when you drop in a warm raw sienna type colour. I don’t use it a lot, but these days would be lost without it. I have really fallen in love with it as a pigment.
  • There are other blue pigments which I like a lot too but there is already a major bias happening in my palette!

French Ultramarine (Schmincke)

Cerulean Blue Chromium (Daniel Smith)


Indanthrone Blue (Daniel Smith)

Cobalt Blue (Daniel Smith)


Full Palette – Further Reading

Just for reference… here is my complete palette with the abbreviations I use for the other colours.




I hope you have enjoyed these colour articles (yellow, red and blue) in the last few days. I’ll come back to this series next week for the rest of the colours in my palette.

So what blues do you have in your palette? and why are they there?

Thank you in advance to anyone who takes to the time to share in the comment section – it really makes this article more valuable for other readers. Plus I always LOVE reading about other people’s WHY’s



  • Julie Knowles says:

    I love Brenda Swenson and did one of her workshops last year!

    I have a question about the toxicity of cobalt watercolors. I read the article you provided on it, but I still don’t know if I need to do anything special or different? Should I not wash my dirty water down the sink? Or?

  • I love indigo, it is darker than indatraine and makes a great neutral..I also love cobalt teal, moon glow, pyrylene red, sodalite, green gold, I use lunar red earth that is very similar to potters pink, if you dilute it you can get a great potters pink, and you can use it darker for rocks and walls on Pueblo’s here in USA in Arizona and New Mexico.

  • dana says:

    Hi Liz! I am wondering about Indanthrone Blue, if I should get it. Right now I have Prussian Blue in my palette, is there a reason you have Indanthrone Blue ove Prussian? I heard something on a youtube by Denise, about lightfastness of Prussian, but dont see that in the pigment info. Thanks!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Dana – I haven’t really used Prussian Blue so I can’t really comment on the comparison. Indanthrone is probably a little darker but less staining… but I’m not 100% sure about that. The basic question is what do you want this blue colour to do… is Prussian achieving that?

    • Kate says:

      Prussian blue is a deep blue with a green bias, indanthrone blue has red bias making it a deep purplish blue. They are very different hues, and would not work similarly in mixes or on their own.

  • Adlai Burman says:

    I love Prussian Blue. Like Indanthrone blue it can get super dark. As mentioned above, it has a green bias so it’s cooler than Indanthrone blue (or even cobalt blue).
    I understand that it has a propensity to fade with u.v. exposure … but snaps back to its original hue if left to “heal” in the dark for a while. This weird behavior is brand specific. I use Jackson’s prussian blue and haven’t had any problems with it.

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