I am constantly asked to share the colours in my watercolour palette, but when you have this many that is easier said than done! I love to play around with different combinations, and I test new colours all the time, but this is my collection for 2018. I took this palette to Europe earlier this year, so they have happily traveled through Denmark and the Czech Republic. I wore through the leaf green and had to replace it, but the dents in the other pans give a good indication of how much they were used.
I should give a warning about my colour choices – I am NOT a traditional watercolourist. I know I SHOULD consider colour theories more, but I didn’t pick up a brush for about a decade after going to a “proper” watercolour class. Although I learnt a lot about how things were meant to be done, and about the difference that good art materials and brushes make, it left me feeling out of my depth.
What I really love about watercolour is the freedom of just playing with colour – especially bright, jewel-like, rainbow colours. I don’t worry about pigment numbers, but I am interested in granulation for the interesting textures it creates, and I prefer transparent colours because they work well over my pen drawings. I know I should theoretically be mixing more, but my preference is to include a lot of premixed colours that simply sing to me. Some of them are included just because it makes me happy to look at them and apply a wash to a random piece of paper. I have lost count of how many rainbow washes I have made over the years, but they always bring a smile to my face. My colour choices don’t all need to be very useful in urban sketching terms, because the joy of playing with them is the whole point to me. The hot pinks and magentas fall into this category. I can’t leave town without them 🙂
Having said that, I do smoosh multiple colours together in my palette, and dunk my brush in randomly to see which tone of green or orange or purple it will pick up. So although I don’t make efforts to mix colours in a traditional way, or think about it too much, I let my colours make friends naturally and see what happens. I love that surprise effect.
Please remember that the pictures of my colour choices won’t be an exact match, because they will look different on different screens, and photography and lighting change things too. There is an infinite number of ways colours can change, so the pics are an indication only.
I have marked my absolute favourite, indispensable colours with an asterisk*. The others are good but more interchangeable between brands.
The Watercolour Palette
The palette itself is a very old plastic Cotman watercolour palette that I bought in Australia around thirty years ago – showing my age here! It housed my very first set of 24 watercolours which were much loved, and gradually replaced with artist quality Winsor & Newton pans. This year I pulled the innards out and stuck my own mix of pans in with blue tack. The arrangement worked well for me. For once I could remember where I put colours, which worked well together, and I wasn’t accidentally mixing colours by overlapping my brush from one to the other. Sadly the palette has cracked, so its days are numbered.
The sunrise colours – yellows, oranges and reds
My palettes always have to start on the top left with a bright yellow, as if it was the sun rising in the morning. It just seems “right”. Other people who know more than I do talk about warm and cool yellows, but I just think of brilliance and transparency. I think that having a contrast between light and dark is really important, so if you squint at each of my colour sets you can see how I have consistently put the lightest at the top, and the darkest at the bottom. These are my sunrise colours:
Holbein Imadazolone Yellow – It wouldn’t necessarily have to be this brand, but I love the brightness of this yellow and its transparency. Whatever else I might replace it with would still need those qualities. A lovely, sunny, gloriously happy yellow 🙂
Daniel Smith Isoindoline Yellow – A warmer mandarin yellow/orange. Not so transparent, but plays nicely with the Holbein Yellow and stronger Pyrrol Orange. I could obviously mix something almost identical, but it makes me happy. If I swap this it will be for something more transparent.
Daniel Smith Pyrrol Orange – A brilliant orange which reminds me of Buddhist robes. My sister used to say that when people grew out of all their other favourite colours they often settle on orange. I think she could be right. I LOVE orange with hot pink too – such vibrant friends. Only downside is that this is a little more opaque.
Sennelier French Vermilion – a lovely fire truck red (very important when my husband is a firefighter). Transparent. What’s not to like?
Holbein Crimson Lake – I like the warm pink tone to this red. It’s so rosy. And it’s transparent.
Daniel Smith Rose of Ultramarine – I could obviously mix these from my stash, but I heard so many love stories about this colour that I had to try it. Not sure I really need it, but it is very different to my other royal purples, and creates a nice dark for contrast. It can also be watered right down.
Pinks and Purples
My happy colours. Seriously. I don’t care whether the top two are EVER needed in urban sketching, but I just have to have them because they are stunning. Every so often I spot a flower in one of these colours, and painting that is like winning the lottery 🙂
*Holbein Bright Rose (luminous) – Surely one of the most brilliantly beautiful pinks in existence? This photo doesn’t do it justice, but it truly zings. I have explored Opera Pink in most brands, but then landed on this. It’s brilliant without being overpowering or quite as unnatural as Opera Pink (yeah, I know – blasphemy). Love it so so much.
*Holbein Bright Violet (luminous) – Another stunner. Rarely used, but I really don’t care. Worth its weight in gold for just sitting there ready to bring me joy. And every so often I find a geranium to match.
Daniel Smith Cobalt Blue Violet – I have always been drawn to blue-purples and I really like this one, but it admittedly doesn’t get many outings. Not sure if I’ll carry it next year, but I also know I’d miss it.
*Daniel Smith Carbazole Violet – A terrific dark purple, and before I discovered the joys of Indigo and the Neutrals this would have been my “go to” for dark shadows. Good for a lively dark.
I rarely paint in skies any more, but I still can’t have a palette without a good variety of blues. Technically Moonglow might fit better with the purples, but that row was full and it wanted to be near my dark Neutral. Who am I to argue?
Sennelier Phthalo Blue – A soft blue with good transparency, and it filled this spot nicely. Not essential though.
Sennelier Turquoise Green – I was really happy with this, but could equally have settled for a number of other bright blue/greens from other brands. It’s a bit opaque but it really sings when mixed with the Holbein Leaf Green – together they make a lovely verdigris on those old copper domes. One thing is for sure – I will always include something like this in future palettes.
Holbein Ultramarine Deep – Gorgeously bright blue which really speaks to me. Probably the most lively ultramarine I have found to date.
Daniel Smith Cobalt Blue – A nice blue, but probably too similar to the Holbein Ultramarine to include in the same palette again.
*Daniel Smith Moonglow – Every so often I toy with not including this, but I think I have to give it its due as an essential. Fantastic lively colour for shadows, with its warm and subtle purpleness. Almost a comfort colour if that makes any sense.
Daniel Smith Phthalo Turquoise – A lovely blue green. I like to throw it in with the greens to mix up the tones a bit.
*Holbein neutral – Wow what a discovery this colour is. It is an absolutely wonderful dark that fits beautifully with my cooler colours, and which waters down to a terrific soft shadow as well. I used this to paint a landscape of Danish houseboats and it was delightfully crisp, yet somehow compelling as well, and it let some orange highlights shine. My latest essential.
I love greenery in general because I think trees, shrubs and flowers really brighten a scene and soften buildings. I especially love to see the light as it shines on leaves, and for this reason I adore my latest find, Holbein Leaf Green … but more about that below. If you look at how I have laid my greens out in columns, I see the left column all blending and fitting together nicely, with their more jewel-like blue-ish tones, but Leaf Green (top right) is interchangeable between both columns. The right column works well in another way, which I consider more “sensible” and closer to Australian greenery with an olive tinge. They also have more granulation, which is terrific for trees. That, at least, is how I think about it – but when it comes to the moment I just throw my brush into random pans and smoosh a mix into the palette. Then I dip in and out and see what happens and what blends together. So much fun! Following are the greens in my palette for 2018:
Sennelier Phthalo Green Light – Impossible to spell (seriously – “phth”??!), but a bright emerald-ish green that goes well with the leaf green. Not an essential, and I could have replaced it with something else. Nicely transparent though.
*Holbein Leaf Green – Oh my goodness I love this brilliant yellow green and could almost eat it for breakfast!! It is wonderful for bright highlights, and has saved me destroying my yellows while trying to mix my own. For me, absolutely indispensable!
Horadam (Schmincke) Sap Green – Nice medium, transparent green. To an Australian eye it feels like a European grass green, and handy for bright leaves.
*Daniel Smith Green Gold – one of my ‘sensible’ greens, especially for an Australian as it has a hint of gum tree about it. Really useful, and smooshes nicely with the Leaf Green to take it in a more serious direction.
Holbein Bamboo Green – Just another nice green and I was probably getting excessive here, but was evening up my colours in the palette 🙂
*Daniel Smith Sap Green – I find it incredible how different this is to the Horadam Sap Green. Really useful colour with granulation, and goes nicely with the Green Gold.
Daniel Smith Phthalo Green (blue shade) – I love a blue/green combo so this would probably stay even though it doesn’t get a lot of use. It is just one of my happy colours.
*Daniel Smith Diopside Genuine – A new colour for me, which ties my more serious greens to the brights. Very handy.
I’m scratching for a way to define this group of colours, other than to say that I am most likely to use them for watercolours of old buildings, especially when we are travelling in Europe. I tend to think of them as the “grown up” colours in comparison to my usual brights! So maybe vintage, or earthy would start to describe them, although then I’d also add some of the more “serious” olive-ish greens, like a sap green or green apatite. For now I have kept greens in their own slot. The “vintage” colours that I carried in my palette this year are:
*Holbein Naples Yellow – I love this colour as it is both soft and lively – lovely for some of those creamy yellowy walls on old European buildings. Last year I discovered the Winsor & Newton version, but Holbein has stolen my heart. It doesn’t seem quite so opaque and veers towards my brights without being overwhelming. Flat with no granulation, but it is my latest essential.
*Daniel Smith Quin Gold – A classic in so many ways. A generally very useful colour, especially if you are lucky enough to be wandering around Italy. It is beautifully transparent, plays well with others, and ‘ll definitely be carrying it again next year.
*Daniel Smith Transparent Pyrrol Orange – A brilliant burnt orange colour with a lot of life. An all round good guy which is lovely and transparent (who would have guessed), and really holds my vintage colours together. A keeper.
Holbein Perylene Maroon – I just wanted a darker rusty red which would blend with the other golden tones. It didn’t have to be this one, but the transparency is really good when painting over pen, and it plays nicely with the others.
Horadam (Schmincke) Titanium White – I like to have this for its gouache like effect, when I want to paint a dash of white over the top of other dried colours. I don’t want to carry around tubes. It doesn’t get used much, but is handy to have. Not an essential if I have my white gel pen though.
Daniel Smith Buff Titanium – I have carried this for a while for painting bulidings, but use it less now that I have the Naples Yellow which I can just water down, and which has more life to it. This is a useful, but definitely not energised colour. I’m not sure whether I’ll carry it next year.
Daniel Smith Raw Umber – I felt I should have at least one brown, and I like the warm tone of this one. Handy for drawing tree trunks without mixing, but it isn’t an essential. I tend to avoid browns, possibly because I was traumatised by wearing a brown school uniform for 6 years as a teenager!
*Horadam (Schmincke) Neutral – A warm neutral which is super useful. At full power it is almost black so provides a great contrast, but it can also water down to a soft shadow. It feels like a rich brown and it goes nicely with my more grown up colours 🙂
So that’s it. What do you reckon? Does it give you any ideas for a palette of your own?