Artist Palette Profiles: Liz Steel

Liz Steel is an inspiring contemporary watercolor artist known for landscapes and urban sketches, perfect for this series because she has written a lot on color and has shared her 17-color palette. Let’s take a look!

  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Naples Yellow (WN)
  • Quin Gold (old PO49 version)
  • Transparent Pyrrol Orange
  • Quin Rose
  • Potter’s Pink (WN)
  • French Ultramarine (SH)
  • Cerulean Blue Chromium
  • Indanthrone Blue
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Cobalt Turquoise Light (WN)
  • Sap Green
  • Monte Amiata Natural Sienna
  • Transparent Red Oxide
  • Van Dyke Brown
  • Buff Titanium
  • Steele’s Gray (personal mix of Cobalt Blue, Quin Burnt Orange, and Quin Rose)

There’s a lot to love about Steele’s palette (aside from the fact that some of my favorite colors are on there). There’s an intentional, well-though-out variety of pigment types: transparent, opaque, granulating, non-, etc. There are almost no “on the nose” colors (my pet peeve). It’s quite a limited palette but also includes some wacky ones, like Potter’s Pink, a pigment so extremely low-tinting and high-granulating that to me it enters the realm of a special effects paint.

As a color nerd, my absolute favorite thing is that she provided reasoning for every color! (I may or may not feel the same, especially about subjective things, but I love reading the reasoning!) Go check out her blog for all the explanations.

My Version

As is my wont in this series, I will attempt to replicate a similar palette from my own library of colors, without buying anything new.

SlotLS HasI Have
Primary YellowDS Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97)Winsor Yellow (PY154)
“I Just Like It” YellowWN Naples YellowLemon Yellow (PY175)
GoldDS Quin Gold (old PO49 version)Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150)
Red-Orange (Warm Red)DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange (PO71) but mine is the newer formula that is a bit less red.
Primary MagentaDS Quin Rose (PV19)Holbein Quin Magenta (PR122)
“I Just Like It” PinkWN Potter’s Pink (PR233)DS Quin Coral (PR209)
Granulating Violet BlueSH French Ultramarine (PB29) different brand (Holbein Ultramarine Deep)
Granulating Green Blue/Australia SkiesDS Cerulean Blue Chromium (PB36)I use non-granulating Holbein Marine Blue (PB16) for my cyans
Dark BlueDS Indanthrone Blue (PB60)
Mid Blue/Luminous Shadows/California SkiesDS Cobalt Blue (PB28)
“I Just Like It” TurquoiseWN Cobalt Turquoise Light (PG50) different brand (SH Cobalt Turquoise)
Natural-looking Mid GreenDS Sap Green (PG7 + PO48 + PY150)DS Serpentine or mixed greens from Phthalo Green (PG7)
Raw SiennaDS Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (PBr7)
Burnt SiennaDS Transparent Red Oxide (PR101)
Raw UmberVan Dyke BrownNone (mix browns from TRO + Indanthrone)
BuffBuff TitaniumNone (just don’t like it)
GraySteele’s Gray (personal mix, TRO + Ultramarine)None (mix blacks from TPO + Indanthrone or grays from TRO + Ultramarine or Cobalt)

What’s especially interesting to me in any limited palette is the colors that are left off – that the artist can do without – even though I may consider them essential. For example, Steele does not have:

  • Any Phthalo Blues! All her blues are granulating, and most of the colors are lower tinting strength. I can see how a Phthalo color would throw off the balance of the set. When I was taking Liz’s class, I tried to get along without a Phthalo Blue, but ended up re-adding Marine Blue (a PB16 Phthalo Turquoise) to my set as soon as the class was over.
  • By the same token, Phthalo Green (although it is a component of Sap Green).
  • A middle red. Liz mixes them with TPO + Quin Rose.
  • A dark crimson or scarlet like Alizarin Crimson, Deep Scarlet, or Perylene Maroon. Liz makes dark reds by adding a bit of blue to her middle red mix, but personally I find it impossible to get a good crimson this way – they all go purple.
  • Perylene Green – she mixes dark greens with Indanthrone Blue.
  • Burnt Umber or Indian Red equivalents (though she has many other earth tones).
  • Any purple (she mixes them with Quin Rose and Ultramarine).

I love a palette that leaves off some of the “must have” colors and still finds a way to include some fun ones!

Even though Liz Steele and I have different styles (and her palette reflects that), I am totally in awe of her color knowledge and reasoning, as well as her attitude toward creating “watercolor magic” with unusual, granulating, or oddly-mixing colors. What an inspiration!

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