This Christmas, my Secret Santa gave me the Daniel Smith 238-color dot cards, a sampler that lets me paint just a li’l with (almost) all of Daniel Smith’s colors! This has been amazing, because I was previous learning about colors one-at-a-time, and I always felt like there were more Daniel Smith colors that I didn’t know about appearing from the ether all the time.
With these dot cards, I have been obsessing about color, trying to figure out the optimal palette for me. I’ve almost lost sight of why I’m doing it (to paint pictures). It’s all about the color baybee! Color for its own sake. Who cares about paintings.
To make my hyperfocus episode not totally feel like a waste of time, I thought I’d share with you some of my experiments in color. I spend hours (days) swatching out colors so you don’t have to!
Settle in with the beverage of your choice (not to be confused with your dirty paint water) while I summarize my takeaways, one color family at a time.
I mixed up the placement of some of the yellows (I’d say Aureolin is cool and Hansa Medium is more warm), but other than that my main takeaway from this spread is… all the yellows look the same. At least, all the cool yellows look very straight ahead banana yellow, and all the warm yellows look like the same shade of yellow-orange to me. I think the differences between yellows probably come out in their mixability, which this set of swatches doesn’t showcase.
There are subtle differences. The Hansa Yellows (cool Light, neutral Medium, and warm Deep) all look quite nice on the page. They are semi-opaque and I generally prefer very transparent colors, but for a yellow, some opacity can really help it to stand out in a mix. It’s hard to compete with other colors in a mix if you’re a pale, cool, transparent yellow, like Lemon Yellow (PY175). That’s still the one I use, though, because… I don’t know… I just like it.
For warm yellows, I’ve been using New Gamboge because that’s the one that came in the Daniel Smith Essentials set, so it’s canonically “the warm yellow” to me. New Gamboge is a mix of Permanent Yellow Deep (PY110) and Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97). Here, though, I really can’t tell much difference between New Gamboge and Permanent Yellow Deep. And they both look pretty identical to Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65). I’d say Hansa Yellow Deep is subtly the prettiest looking, in addition to being a single pigment and the logical counterpart to Hansa Yellow Light. I’m not sure why that’s not the one in the Daniel Smith set.
Takeaway: Probably I’ll stick with Lemon Yellow for cool yellows, because I love its cool, crisp clarity. Since I prefer transparency and single-pigment colors, I lean toward Permanent Yellow Deep for my warm yellow, but further testing is required.
The first color that jumps out at me is Phthalo Yellow Green, being basically neon highlighter green! But it doesn’t seem that useful to me, because it doesn’t get very dark, and it looks just like any mix you could easily make from a bright, cool blue/turquoise and yellow. And indeed, it is a mix (Phthalo Green Yellow Shade and Hansa Yellow Light).
I can see why people like the very first color here, Sap Green. It’s a very pretty, natural, moss color. But if you read between the lines on the pigment number, you can see it’s a mix of Quinacridone Gold and Phthalo Green Blue Shade, both of which I already have and use a lot. So it seems like a waste to get the mix, or at least to prioritize it, unless I end up using that particular mix super often. (Which… maybe I will now that I see how nice it is!)
That’s the thing that strikes me about the warm greens as a group – so many of them are mixes. Except for the Primatek granulating shades made from rocks (none of which thrill me), the only single-pigment greens are:
- Chromium Green Oxide (PG17) – Boring
- Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PG36) – idk, it’s super “on the nose”, like a child’s idea of a grass color. Also concerned about mixing it up with Phthalo Green Blue Shade on my palette.
- Perylene Green (PBk31) – This one would not have jumped out to me on the page, but I have heard it’s a wonderful mixer, and useful landscape shadows. Worth further investigation.
- Rich Green Gold (PY129) – I actually truly like this one, very warm and glowing! It’s like the Quinacridone Gold of greens. It looks like sunlight through foliage.
Takeaways: Investigate mixtures with Rich Green Gold and Perylene Green. And consider mixing up some homebrew Sap Green in my next landscape!
Turquoise & Cool Greens
During this process, I was especially pleased when the colors I’ve already got turned out to be all-stars. Of the turquoises and cool greens, I only had eyes for Phthalo Turquoise and Phthalo Green Blue Shade. So bright, so smooth, such depth of color!
Phthalo Turquoise is just a mix of Phthalo Green Blue Shade and Phthalo Blue Green Shade. So, I could make it. But I love turquoise, so it might be a convenience mix that actually makes it onto my palette.
Another one I’d like to explore more is Jadeite Genuine, mainly because it’s got the greatest depth of color of any of the granulating greens I’ve seen. I’m not convinced I need any granulating colors (I tend to prefer smooth gradients and blooms, which are harder with granulating colors). But, greens may be an exception because of how often you want texture in, say, a mass of leaves.
Takeaways: Vindicated at already having Phthalo Green Blue Shade. Phthalo Turquoise is gorgeous, but can be mixed. Want more information about Jadeite.
Daniel Smith has a lot of granulating blues, but I’m skipping them because they took up more than one page and I just don’t want any granulating blues. I prefer clear skies and shadows. If you rule out granulators, you’re left with only a handful of shades.
I like all of these. I already have Phthalo Blue Green Shade (PB15:3), which came with the Daniel Smith Essentials set and which makes a great “cyan” in my Cyan/Yellow/Magenta color wheel. I also snagged Indanthrone Blue (PB60), and it is one of my favorite and most used colors. I use it for everything: from deep moody shadows in mass to skies in pale concentrations. It mixes fabulously, and also makes great monochrome paintings.
So, do I need any more from here? I’ll rule out Indigo, since it’s just a mix of Indanthrone Blue and black. I can and do mix Indanthrone Blue with dark greys to get a lovely indigo, and I don’t feel like I need the convenience mix. Phthalo Blue Red Shade is okay, but I feel like I don’t need a second warm blue besides Indanthrone (especially one that’s more easily confused with Phthalo Blue Green Shade on the palette.)
Set aside Phthalo Turquoise, because I also put it in the turquoise section and dealt with it there. (Though I do like it.) Phthalo Blue Turquoise (PB16), however, is a new color for Daniel Smith: the equivalent of Holbein’s Marine Blue or Schmincke’s Helio Turquoise. It’s a very pretty bright peacock blue that looks like a cerulean sky at the diffuse end of the spectrum, without the granulation that I find annoying in actually cerulean. I’ll have to give that one a think.
Takeaways: I’ve already got my favorite blues, Indanthrone and PBGS! Considering both the Phthalo Turquoise-y type shades.
I would say Rose of Ultramarine is the prettiest shade on here but it’s also an easy mix of Quinacridone Rose and Ultramarine. And one with limited usefulness, IMO. Quinacridone Purple has a similar look while hitting all the boxes for me – transparent, wide range of values, single pigment. I’ll have to try that one further.
Carbazole Violet stands out to me for how gloriously dark it gets. Seems like it could be a good color for night skies.
Takeaways: More research needed with Quin Purple (PV55) and Carbazole Violet (PV23).
Cool Reds & Warm Violets
Opera Pink (PR122) certainly stands out! It’s neon! I’ve avoided that one because it’s notoriously fugitive, meaning not lightfast (the color fades over time). But, I don’t know if I care that much about lightfastness because, to me, watercolor is just a fun thing to do, it’s not necessarily about making a product that lasts for the ages.
Quinacridone Rose (PV19) is the color I have of these. It’s the cool red from the Daniel Smith Essentials set. I like it a lot. It works very well as the magenta in a CMY color wheel, and dilutes to a lovely pale pink cherry blossom color. It’s gorgeous in sunrise skies and mixes beautifully. So, I don’t really have a good reason to explore these other, almost identical looking pinks.
Bordeaux (PV32) stood out to me in practice because it was just so easy to get a dark shade. Just a really smooth, luxuriously vibrant, fun painting experience, even just to do the swatch. I’m not sure I “need” it, since it shares a lot of use case with either Quin Rose or purple, but I’m kind of looking for a reason to grab it.
Takeaways: I’m happy with Quin Rose, and my heart wants Bordeaux.
Oranges & Warm Reds
This section interests me because I’ve never had an orange (it’s “easy to mix one up” yeah yeah but I like orange!) Also, I’m kind of looking for an alternative to my current warm red, Pyrrol Scarlet (PR255), which comes with the Daniel Smith Essentials set. It’s fine, but it always seems to be too orangey or not orangey enough for whatever I’m painting, and I don’t like that it’s semi-opaque – I love super-transparent colors for their mixability and glazing. So, I’m looking for a more transparent alternative.
There are a ton of entrants in this category, so I’ll narrow it down just to the transparent, single pigment options:
- Permanent Orange (PO62) – a Tic Tac orange. Maybe too much overlap with warm yellow?
- Transparent Pyrrol Orange (PO71) – a bright, medium orange; the equivalent of Schmincke Transparent Orange, which I’ve heard wonderful things about. Not sure why I haven’t heard of this one since my reading list is usually so Daniel Smith-focused.
- Quinacridone Coral (PR209) – I LOVE the look of this one. Warm red without being yellowy or orangey; perfect for certain hard-to-capture floral shades. Plus, it has such a huge range of values. A definite “yes.”
- Quinacridone Red (PV19) – Seems reduplicative with Quin Rose (same pigment). It looks different (more traditionally red-colored), but seems like it would have a very similar role in my palette.
- Anthaquinoid Red (PR177) – A straight ahead barn red. I don’t see anything wrong with it, but it doesn’t immediately thrill me. You know how I resist “on the nose” colors.
- Mayan Red (PR287) – Not a fan of the granulation.
Takeaways: Quinacridone Coral is going immediately in my shopping basket. I’m also highly interested in investigating Transparent Pyrrol Orange. And hey, I might be more justified in having an orange in my palette if my warm red isn’t orangey!
I’ve now gone through all the color categories except for earth tones, which I feel less qualified to judge because I find them so boring. So, I’ll save those for another time, when I feel more mentally equipped to face a hundred identical shades of brown rock.
Still, I already have quite a list of shades to either purchase immediately (Quin Coral, Bordeaux) or look into more. In future posts, I hope to share the results of my investigations with you.
I hope this helped you get to know the lineup! I highly recommend swatching out a dot card of your own if you want to super nerd out on color. I’ve watched videos and read about some of these colors before, but nothing felt as informative as painting them out myself.