February 29, 2016

Choosing the ‘right’ colours for your watercolour palette is a huge subject. The simple answer is that it is a never-ending journey of exploration.

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Choosing the ‘right’ colours for your watercolour palette is a huge subject. The simple answer is that it is a never-ending journey of exploration.
General Comments:
– 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.


Paint Tin:

I used a small Schmincke metal tin that has a fold out mixing area and a three sectioned lid for many years . For those in Australia you can get a similar tin made by Art Basics from the Art Sceneand this is what I now use.
I have removed the metal clips (correction: my dad removes the metal clips for me) and then secured the pans of paint with blu-tac.
Dad’s description of the process: To remove the steel clips from paint trays, place tray in vice (or clamp down) and drill out the four punched fixings from the clip side. Use an electric/battery operated drill with a twist drill bit slightly larger than the punched fixing area, then use a file to remove any burrs around the hole on the reverse side of the tray.
Detailed description of setting up my paint tin is here.

My Current Palette:

I use mainly Daniel Smith paints (with some WN) in empty full or half pans. I am continuing tweaking and trying new alternatives although the basic principles are the same but at the time of updating this they were:

Note 1: DS= Daniel Smith WN = Winsor Newton SCH = Schmincke
Note 2: I am listing them as I think of them from right to left (as I am a leftie) so please excuse that this list doesn’t relate to the way you are probably read the above image!

DS Hansa Yellow Medium – PY97
DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange – PO71
SCH Translucent Orange – PO71
WN Potters Pink – PR233
DS Quinacridone Rose – PV19
DS Ultramarine Blue (not French!) – PB29
DS Cerulean Blue Chromium – PB36
DS  Indanthrone Blue – PB60
WN Cobalt Turquoise Light – PG50
DS Buff Titanium – PW6
WN Naples Yellow – PW6 PBr24
DS  Quinacridone Gold – PO49
DS Monte Amiata Natural Sienna – PBr7
DS Transparent Red Oxide  – PR101
DS Van Dyke Brown – PBr7
Steels Grey III (a pre mix of WN Cobalt Deep Blue with a little DS Quin Burnt Orange and a touch of DS Quin Rose)

I do not recommend anyone to rush out and buy all these colours… but that is what I use – or was using at the time of the photo.

Recommended 12 colour palette:

Below is my standard palette of 12 colours that I do recommend for my sketching classes and workshops. …and even in that list there are some personal quirks.

Refer to this updated blog post for more description.

Recommended minimal 4 (or 6) colour palette:

I have also developed a minimum palette of 4-6 colours (Daniel Smith preferred but with W&N and Schmincke alternatives. More details here

How I store my paints:

My amazing dad made this incredible wall  unit for me to store my paint tubes. Read the full details here.

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