What are the colours of Chicago?

July 12, 2017 | 41 Comments

Inspired by Paul Wang’s colour chart on Instagram the other day, I thought I would have a go exploring a few mixes from my existing palette in preparation for my trip to Chicago.

I am more concerned about achieving colour harmony, than I am achieving perfect colour match, so I rarely add new colours to my palette for a certain location. I might add a convenience colour to reduce mixing (eg. Perylene Green when I was on Norfolk Island) but normally I’m happy with the best mix I can make from the pigments that I know and love.

This page was more fun than scientific, but it has made me more conscious of which paints might be used the most. (And if you are wondering, I put a second wash over the soft grey – not 100% sure what that was!)

Pigments referred to above are:

DS Hansa Yellow Medium PY97
DS Quinacridone Rose PV19
DS Cerulean Blue Chromium PB36
DS Indanthrone Blue PB60
WN Cobalt Turquoise Light PG50
Soft Grey (a premix of DS Cerulean Blue Chromium, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna and a touch of Quinacridone Rose)
DS Buff Titanium PW6
WN Potters Pink PR233
DS Quinacridone Gold PO49
DS Sap Green PO48 PG7 PY150
DS Monte Amiata Natural Sienna PBr7
DS Transparent Red Oxide  PR101
DS Van Dyke Brown PBr7

The only three colours I didn’t use were:

DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange PO71
DS Ultramarine Blue (not French!) PB29
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 can’t quite make out the colours of the buildings of Chicago from the photos I have seen. There seems to be a commonly used stone that is a light brown colour and the usual greys and beiges of modern buildings. And also the colours of glass of course!

I am really looking forward to interpreting the colours of Chicago for myself… soon, really soon!

Are you going to the USK Symposium – please leave a message if you are going to be there too!


  • Suzala says:

    Hey Liz, I’m going. I hope. I broke my ankle in two places in early May and still not walking well. I’ll be the one in the knee scooter trying to catch up with the group. Say hi if you see me! But I’m going to be there if i have to crawl!

  • Nancy says:

    Hi Liz…I am going ….new sketcher so nervous but excited . Your class was full so maybe next year or Italy !

  • Dena Limpede says:

    hi Liz – question about your palette – how do you mix a good brick red? The one you have above is lovely. Is it a mix of TPO and VDB? Also – love the Dirty Palette color!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Hi Dena – I use transparent Red Oxide as my base – refer to reply to SUhitas comment as well.

  • Debbe Rigney-Hays says:

    Yes! I’m volunteering all week. I think Chicago is one of the most beautiful cities in the U.S. Of course, I am totally biased! Having you just talk about Chicago, is a grand treat for me.

  • Cathy Dwyer says:

    Hi Liz. I’ll be there! I’m looking forward to seeing you again.

  • suzanne labrecque says:

    Hi Liz ! I am going. I am from Montreal. I am new to drawing and hope to one day dare waterpainting. I can’t say that I have talent but I am improving. I am almost 70 and I have a ball. I love your works and your courses.

  • Elizabeth Hooton says:

    Hi Liz! Am just finishing your Foundations course and really looking forward to Chicago. Your class was full so catch it sometime in the near future. Awaiting your Buildings online class in September too!

  • Joanna Guglielmino says:

    Hi Liz,
    I will be there with 2 of my sisters! Can’t wait to see you again! Thanks for this post, as it’s been on my mind to ask if you change your colors for different cities, ancient vs modern. I loved your palette for Italy! I pinch myself writing that…! Joanna

  • Tina Gartlan says:

    What does the IB stand for bottom right mixing square?
    I love the dirty palette and soft grey, lovely!!

  • Steph Fowler says:

    Coming! My first symposium – see you there!

  • Matt Hockenberry says:

    It’s my first symposium, looking forward to capturing Chicago architecture in watercolor!

  • Beret Beatty says:

    I’m Coming! It’s my first symposium too, and I’m in your class! So looking forward to it!

  • Barbara says:

    I will be there for my first time at an urban sketcher symposium. I am very excited that I will be participating in your workshop! See you soon

  • Joan Tavolott says:

    I will be there, Liz and am taking your workshop on Saturday morning. I am so excited about going!!!

  • Phoebe Wilson says:

    Great post! And a really good subject! I thought I should adjust my palette too and dump, say, Indanthrone Blue, but look you’ve done with it! All that brick will be a challenge. It varies so much from khaki to ochre to red to brown. I think that Potters Pink you gifted us with will come in handy! Looking forward to seeing you soon!

  • “what color is brick”? I love that one, it confounded me in Manchester, and now it’s back. So much of the color depends on the light: and in Chicago in the summer, especially by the water, I expect there to be a lot of glare and just super bright, hot light…

    • Liz Steel says:

      I cant get a feel for how much brick in Chicago, but certainly not like Manchester. I always use a transparent red orange (TRO) as my base and then slightly adjust it. I find other indian red type hues to hard to use (a bit heavy)

  • Joanna Guglielmino says:

    Hi Liz, I will be in Chicago with 2 sisters. Look forward to seeing you. Glad to see this post, since I’ve wondered if you change your palette with city vs country setting, ancient city vs modern city. Your palette seemed perfect for Italy. Pinch self when I think how lucky I was to be on Palladian Odyssey I and sketch in Italy with you and new friends! Thanks for the post and I’ll see you soon! Joanna

    • Liz Steel says:

      Ah yes, missing the PO Tours day and people – did we really do that! Cant wait to see you again Joanna!

  • Tina Koyama says:

    See you soon! 🙂

    – Tina

  • Carina Tornqvist says:

    Yes, I’m going. And I realize my standard cotman standard kit palett is far too bright for Chicago but I suppose I might buy and try some DS out when I’m over there. See you!

    • Liz Steel says:

      not that I want to discourage you from buying some artist quality paints (you will notice a huge difference!!!) but with the right mixes and amount of water you can achieve some good colours with the standard cotman kit!

  • I’ll be there! I’m originally from the Chicago suburbs but haven’t lived there in many years. I’m a bit nervous that I have gotten used to the cool English summers and the heat of Chicago will be a shock to my system!

  • Liz Steel says:

    Wow wow wow! looking forward to seeing you all there. Make sure you come up and say hi!

  • Brianne Alling says:

    Hi Liz! I’m in your class too, and this is my first Symposium.

  • What colors are we going to use to draw Cloud Gate, the shiny steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor? Hhhmmmm

    • Liz Steel says:

      ha! whatever colours we see. That is a subject matter where pre-conceived ideas about colour need to be put aside… and just respond to what we see.

  • Zoe Peate says:

    Hi Liz,
    You might find my blog post “City Signatures: Chicago” of interest. As a graphic designer (and hopefully urban sketcher one day) I’m always picking up on visual queues that make a city unique, and that’s exactly what I wrote about after my trip to the Windy City.

  • Carla Giller says:

    This is my very first Symposium & I am more than excited and nervous! I’ve just finished your Foundations course and I’m waiting anxiously for your Buildings course to begin. I tried to register for your workshop, and am still disappointed about not getting in!

    • Liz Steel says:

      ah! sorry you didnt get into my workshop but there are SO many other incredible workshops. Its a once in a lifetime chance to be taught by them (especially those who dont have any lessons online) You will have a ball. Dont be nervous just let the creative energy spur you on!

  • Carla Giller says:

    This my first Symposium and I am more than excited and very nervous. I have just completed your Foundations course and I’m anxiously waiting for your Buildings course to begin. I’m still disappointed about not getting into your workshop. Being that I live about 5 hours away from Chicago, I’ve been there many times. It will be so interesting to be there as a sketcher this time!

  • Angela says:

    HI Liz- thought you might find this interesting with regard to Chicago & brick…we have a special kind of our own…


    I’m a Brissy girl (who also lived in Crows Nest & Wollstonecraft for some time) now living in Chicago- unfortunately I am not attending the symposium, but can’t wait to see your Chicago sketches…I’ve been following since T2 days! Enjoy my adopted city- it’s fantastic!

  • Peggy Wilson says:

    Hi Liz. I was so lucky to get first picks in registration and got in your workshop. I’m in 3 of your classes on line. This is my first symposium. Myself and 2 friends started USk Kansas City this February and we are expecting confirmation this month so we are super excited to be at the symposium!

  • Liz, I have followed your blog for awhile now and have taken your Buildings course. I also live an hour outside of Chicago. However, I could not get into your course at the Symposium. Bummed! Do you have any tips for those of us who missed out on getting into the workshops of how we can still take advantage of USK being in Chicago? Are there some general locations artists will use for sketching that we can go to and observe? Will there be any exhibits of work anywhere? I cannot find any information on their website or FB page. Thank you for any help. Enjoy our beautiful city!

    • Liz Steel says:

      Sorry you missed our. I know there will be a public sketchcrawl on the Saturday. There is a symposium Facebook group. You could join that and ask.
      I don’t personally know anymore details but hope that helps.

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