This post has been updated November 2017. I have tweaked the colours slightly from the previous version (2014) but the principles are the same.
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
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 spent 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 – ‘colour 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 purely because it is readily available. Winsor and Newton was the most available brand in Australia so I started with that. But over the years I have found Daniel Smith to be generally 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 I am looking for colours that are intense and that easily 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 colours 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 so that my colours are brighter 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.
- 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.
DS Hansa Yellow Medium PY97
DS New Gamboge PY97, PY110
DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange PO71
DS Quinacridone Rose PV19
DS Ultramarine Blue (not French!) PB29
DS Cerulean Blue Chromium PB36
DS Sap Green PO48 PG7 PY150
WN Cobalt Turquoise Light PG50
WN Potters Pink PR233
DS Monte Amiata Natural Sienna PBr7
DS Transparent Red Oxide PR101
DS Van Dyke Brown PBr7
This basic palette follows more or less a standard approach of a warm and cool version of the primaries, a green, 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. HYM is a beautiful bright transparent mid yellow that mixes beautiful greens as well as oranges and just stunning on its own.
2. Warm Yellow: New Gamboge.
I used to have Quin Gold in this spot but as that colour is no longer available, I am changing for this palette to a more traditional warm yellow instead of using the new Quin Gold blend.
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 Quin Rose.
4. Cool Red: DS Quinacridone Rose.
This 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: Ultramarine Blue
You 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: Cerulean Blue (Chromium)
Great for skies, and lovely neutrals!I use the Chromium version as it is brighter and more suitable for Australian skies.
7. Green: Sap Green.
I used to mix green with a Pthalo blue and quin gold, but these days I prefer to have a green that I can use to reduce mixing time.
8. Earth Yellow: Monte Amiata Natural Sienna
I prefer Raw Sienna often over yellow ochre as it is more transparent and closer to the colour of Sydney sandstone. I use DS Monte Amiata Natural Sienna PBR7 – it’s the most gorgeous earth yellow I have found.
9. Earth red: Transparent Red Oxide
This is my version of Burnt Sienna. I can’t live without this colour – browns and neutrals mixed with Ultramarine.
10. Earth Brown: Van Dyke Brown
This is a lovely cool granulating dark brown – similar to DS Raw Umber and used in the same way than the more traditional Burnt Umber which is slightly warmer. Please note that the DS version does not contain black.
11. Personal Colour 1: Cobalt Turquoise light (Winsor & Newton)
No real scientific reason for this colour it except that I love it and it makes me happy
12. Personal Colour 2: Potters Pink (Winsor & Newton)
It makes lovely muted colours and great for cream (as in scones, jam and cream).
These last two colours are VERY personal and the idea is that you can substitute them for any particular colour that you feel you NEED to have.
Winsor and Newton alternative
Note: I have never used this palette and but these are the colours that are the closest to the class palette. Some of these colours will behave differently but they are still a good selection!.
Winsor Yellow Deep
Winsor Orange (Red)
Cobalt Turquoise Light
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.
If you want to find out more about my everyday palette: Colours in my palette series
Final word: Start using the paint that you have and get to know the pigments as you would with a bunch of friends.