Adventures in Daniel Smith Dot Cards II: Earth Tones

Swatches of earth tones overlaid over Daniel Smith dot cards on a messy desk.

Previously: After swatching out all the colors from my 238-color Dot Card, I gave my thoughts on all the exciting color categories: yellow, red, purple, and so on. Now, I give my thoughts on the earth tones and grays. I know these can be important colors, especially in realistic landscape and portrait paintings (neither of which I have admittedly really done), but gosh, it’s hard to get excited about them.

Since I started painting I have actively resisted getting into earth tones and browns; the closest I get is having Quinacridone Gold which many people would consider more of a warm yellow. I just always want bright colors instead! Which is honestly not a bad impulse in watercolor, because you can always make muted tones from brights (by mixing complementary colors), but you cannot go the other way around. Anyway, life’s too short to buy paints that don’t spark joy.

But maybe I am missing something? Maybe earth tones CAN spark joy? Will this dot card change my mind??!

Earth Yellows

I organized the colors based on rough categories (which was a task in and of itself). I called them Earth Yellows, Oranges, Reds, Magentas, Browns (they’re all brown but these are just brown browns), and grays. We’ll start with earth yellows and oranges. These range from yellow ochre equivalents to raw sienna equivalents (slightly more orange).

Daniel Smith Earth Yellows – yellow ochres and raw siennas

The first shade that jumps out at me is the second from the top on the left, Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150). It is by far the most bright, vibrant, and yellowish of the Yellow Ochres. The shade that is actually called Yellow Ochre, above it, looks so dull and lifeless in comparison! Looking at the pigment numbers, I can see that Nickel Azo Yellow is a component in my old favorite, Quinacridone Gold (PY150 + P048), which you can see at the top of the second column. This intrigues me, because I usually opt for single-pigment colors. Maybe I can go hardcore single pigment and get the components of Quin Gold, and just mix it?? With that said, the reason to opt for single pigments is because they tend to mix better, but I have had no problems mixing Quin Gold – it mixes well with everything!

Beneath Quin Gold is its more orange cousin, Quinacridone Deep Gold. It’s beautiful, but the thing is, it’s made from the exact same two pigments, PY150 and PO48. I feel like when you’re adding multiple different balances of the same two pigments to your palette, that’s when it’s time to start looking at the components instead of the mixes.

The only other shade I want to draw your attention to is the last one, Monte Amiata Natural Sienna. Like many of these colors, it’s a version of the generic pigment name PBr7, a natural iron oxide clay. I would say this is one of the more bright and cheerful PBr7’s, and while I don’t own it, I have heard wonderful things. Used by the artists Liz Steel and Andrea England, it is said to dilute to a wonderful glow in sunsets and not to turn green when mixed with blue – a great quality in a sunset color!

My Takeaway: I can’t really imagine anything replacing Quin Gold in my heart, but Nickel Azo Yellow is worth more investigation, especially if I decide to go hardcore single pigment. Monte Amiata Natural Sienna is very well regarded and definitely would be my pick if I were to add a PBr7 traditional sienna.

Earth Oranges

Daniel Smith Earth Oranges – raw and burnt siennas

These are roughly the Burnt Sienna equivalents, although there are still some Raw Sienna equivalents, too, including the shade called Raw Sienna… which is just as boring as the shade called Yellow Ochre. There are some cool shades on this page, though.

Aussie Red Gold is the first one that truly stands out, perhaps because I ought to have put it on the orange page instead! A deep pumpkin orange to a pale peach, it sits at the intersection of orange and burnt sienna and gives off a lovely glow. This is a mix of Quin Rose/Red (PV19), Diarylide Yellow (PY83), and Transparent Red Oxide (PR101). So, basically orange plus the shade I will discuss next:

Transparent Red Oxide (PR101)! This is the fifth one down (third from the bottom) on the left. I’m struck by the range of values on this one; it was so pleasant to paint out because of the ease of getting dark values.

Take a look at Quinacridone Burnt Orange (PO48) right above it. PO48 which is the other half of DS’s Quin Gold along with Nickel Azo Yellow, lending its deep orangey fire to Nickel Azo Yellow’s sunny glow. I can definitely see this shade making a good Burnt Sienna option, especially if you paint a lot of landscapes with orange rocks.

The last one on this page that stands out for me is Quinacridone Sienna, first in the second column, a very vibrant orangey-red mix of Quin Gold with PR209 – which Daniel Smith offers as Quin Coral! Since I plan to get Quin Coral anyway, I feel I don’t need this color, but I am very excited to mix my new Quin Coral with my old friend Quin Gold to get it!

Wow, these earth tones are turning out to be more fun than I thought!

My Takeaways: It’s hard to choose a favorite between Transparent Red Oxide and Quinacridone Burnt Orange. I’m planning to try mixing Quin Coral with Quin Gold to make Quin Sienna.

Earth Reds

Daniel Smith Earth Reds – Venetian Red to Perylene Maroon type colors

All right, there are some fun ones here.

Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (PR206), bottom of the left side, is a standout, sitting at the intersection of earth red and just plain straight up red. It has a deep, garnet-y glow that I like better than the actual literal garnet above it.

Deep Scarlet (PR175), top of the middle column, is even brighter and oranger, and even more awkwardly straddles the line between “is it an earth tone or is it just red?”

Over in the last column, on the maroon side of things, my favorite is Perylene Maroon (PR179). Still, I am not totally sure when I would use a maroon brown. Evidently I included Perylene Violet (PV29), a very similar color, in the purple section, but I think that would be the other one to consider if you’re looking for a dark, muted, reddy-purpley shadow color.

My Takeaways: Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet and Deep Scarlet look interesting.

Earth Browns

Oh, lord. Here’s where it gets dull. I couldn’t figure out any other way to describe these shades than “brown.” Browny browns. The brownest of the browns. I even skipped some of the low-pigment Primateks that I was too bored even to look at.

Earth Browns – just miscellaneous browns

Raw Umber and Burnt Umber are here, colors I couldn’t pick out of lineup. The only one that really jumps out is Permanent Brown (PBr25), which somehow manages to be a bright brown. It’s not any other color – not orangey, or reddy, or yellowy, just brown – yet it’s still bright. How is that?? I’m fascinated by it, yet also repelled by its “on the nose” quality: it’s exactly the color a child would pick to paint a brown tree trunk.

Note below it our old friend PR101 of Transparent Red Oxide fame, this time styled as Transparent Brown Oxide. It just looks like a more boring version. I am not sure when I would choose to use this over the Red version.

Van Dyck Brown (another PBr7) stands out for how dark it is, almost grey-black. That’s one to consider if you need a really dark shadow brown.

Buff Titanium (PW6:1) is the sort color I would love in a colored pencil – a muted, pale shade that I imagine would create cool warm-toned pastel mixes – but in watercolors, I’m not sure I really care about light colors.

My Takeaways: I guess Permanent Brown or Transparent Brown Oxide if I had to. But I don’t!


Daniel Smith grays, blacks, and whites

Home stretch! This page is more interesting to me, because I do want to add a black or gray to my palette for creating dark, shadowy shades of existing colors, and just plain for convenience. I often want to paint black silhouettes, and it can be time consuming to mix up red, yellow, and blue in the exact right balance!

I have tried Payne’s Gray, and I did not love it. I knew it would be a cool, dark blue rather than a true gray, but I didn’t expect it to be so granulating! If I had looked at the pigments ahead of time, I could have known: it’s Ultramarine (PB29), granulating, plus Ivory Black (PBk9), also granulating! Now, no shade on granulating colors, which can create really cool texture, but it’s just not what I’m looking for in a workhorse shade like gray/black. I want something that will mix smoothly and that’s bloomable. So that rules out most of these options right away.

My non-granulating options are:

  • Lamp Black
  • Neutral Tint
  • Graphite Gray

Both Lamp Black and Graphite Gray are opaque, which doesn’t appeal to me so much. I’m looking for something transparent that gets really dark but can also go really light and mix smoothly with other colors. So, Neutral Tint it is! Works for me – I love the idea of a really neutral gray that doesn’t change the hue of the color I’m adding it to.

I do not care about white. I occasionally use opaque white gouache for things like snow and stars, but I don’t see the point of a semi-transparent white at all.

My Takeaway: Neutral Tint is going right into my shopping basket.

I have to say overall that I was surprised by how much I got into this and how lovely I did find some of the earth tones, but I’m not sure how many I will realistically add to my palette beyond Quin Gold and Neutral Tint.

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