Mixing buff in a small palette (and a SOH sketch)

June 19, 2024 | 21 Comments

The other day I did a SOH sketch (SOH = Sydney Opera House), and I found it hard to mix a ‘buff colour’ in my small palette using a waterbrush.

I know that many of you love Daniel Smith’s Buff Titanium but I prefer to mix my own versions. I understand how convenient it is to have a ready-to-go cream colour, but Buff Titanium is an opaque colour and can easily create murky washes.

In addition, I prefer cream washes that are more complex with hints of other colours and lots of pigment parties. My favourite way to mix it is with DS Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, DS Transparent Red Oxide and SCH French Ultramarine – see more here. If I want a creamer colour, I mix DS Hansa Yellow Medium with WN Potters Pink.

(DS = Daniel Smith, SCH= Schmincke WN – Winsor and Newton)

I’m very comfortable creating these combinations normally, but I have found it harder to mix in a little palette and using a waterbrush. As a general rule, it is much harder to achieve the perfect amount of pigment and water in my washes when using a waterbrush, but I know that with more practice, I will get more consistent results.

After my SOH sketch above, I did some mixing strips. When I focused on mixing these combos, I was able to create the desired washes easily but it was definitely harder to get the right result while sketching. I think the secret lies in cleaning the mixing well mid-sketch – something I never need to do when I’m using my standard palette.

I was also trying to mix a beige (or warm grey) using DS Cobalt Blue, but I didn’t quite achieve what I wanted – so some more experimentation is needed.

The big question is: How long will I be able to survive using a waterbrush? or more specifically…. How long can I survive without using my beloved dagger brushes? 🙂

It is hard to get the right amount of water and pigment in each wash, but it’s worth pushing myself to continue using it, as a waterbrush is undoubtedly more convenient than getting out a ‘real brush’ and water container.


  • Ginie Udy says:

    Those cream mixes are certainly yummy! Thanks for sharing the recipes!

  • London Yazgan says:

    What a lovely SOH sketch! <3

    I'm one of the Buff Titanium lovers. 🙂 Years ago I added it to a half pan in my palette, thinking I would rarely use it. I was surprised to find that it was the first pan I emptied completely!

    I love using Buff Titanium by itself – it's fun to have some opaque hues, as you've mentioned before. 🙂 I also really love to mix it with Cobalt Teal to produce the perfect color for local moss and lichen. <3

    I'm actually out of Buff Titanium currently, though, so it's nice to see how you have mixed it, as well!

    About waterbrushes: I've actually used a Pentel Aquash (large) for years. I'm normally sketching on my lunchbreak at work, so the fact that I don't have to worry about disposing of dirty paint water in the office kitchen is a plus. 🙂 I still love using regular brushes on the rare occasions that I get to paint at home, but in the meantime I've learned to work with waterbrushes. The best way I've found to get a good load of pigment is to squeeze several drops of water from the brush directly into the pan of whichever color I need to pick up. I wait a couple of seconds for the pigment to soften, and then I drill into the pan (much more aggressively than I would with a regular brush) and get a nice juicy, saturated wash. It sounds like a slow process, but it's actually pretty fast. Just have to plan ahead to activate the pans that you need for that particular sketch.

    Thank you so much for sharing your work and your thoughts! 🙂 Happy sketching!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Thanks for sharing that trick London – I have done that in the past but I appreciate being reminded of it!

  • Sydney Brown says:

    I am surprised those colors make such a lovely cream/buff/beige color! I am going to try that.

  • brenda says:

    I LOVE these recipes — thank you for saving space in my palette for the best mixing colors!

  • Kate Powell says:

    I will try the second one especially — thanks. I use buff sometimes but I am not married to it, mostly because it does muddy everything up!
    Regarding waterbrushes, I have a love/hate relationship with them… I rely on them because I can keep two of the Pentel Aquash large in my bag at all time with a small palette and sketch anywhere. There are real downsides, but that brand is the best IMO.

    • Liz Steel says:

      HI Kate – yes buff gets muddy so easily and I carry 2 large squash too. Just so easy to get out and paint.

  • Martine says:

    I did a few sketches on location with a waterbrush. As long as I have lots of ink lines, hatching and tombow markers a little bit of watercolor applied with a waterbrush is okay for me. But I really struggled with a ‘proper’ watercolor sketch with watery, juicy and pasty mixes. It’s so much harder to control the water. I made a huge mess. But I do like the convenience. So not sure if I’ll continue with the waterbrush. I do love colour and it does make it easier to paint on location.

  • Ginie Udy says:

    Hi Liz, I’m still working through the Introduction Exercises for Watercolour on Location. I was doing O4 the Paint in a Coffee Shop exercise. I ordered a Chai Latte which came in a glass mug. I tried painting the colour of the Chai with my BT but wasn’t happy, it just goes so muddy and murky. And I couldn’t get the dark creamy brown at all really.

    Then I remembered your recipes and did a yellow with PP, and I loved the result: thank you!

  • Veronique Gibbons says:

    You’re really struggling with the small palette. Is it worth it?

    • Liz Steel says:

      Yes it’s worth it to see how usable it really is. It’s so much smaller and lighter and easier to get out.

  • Pat Demers says:

    Do you premix your Buff Titanium paints (MANS, TRO, UB) like you do with your Steel’s Gray? I do like that 3 color combination.

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Pat – Ah! I’ve never thought to do that. As this is quite a hard combo to mix and uses a lot of water I think it would be hard to pre-mix in a pan with the right combination of each colour. Something I might try one day!

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