The time has come! I’ve avoided making a “what’s in your palette?” post since I started this blog because it has changed so rapidly that it would always be out of date between when I wrote it up and when I posted it. But since doing Liz Steel’s course, I’ve settled on a pretty great set of colors that has had more sticking power than my previous sets, so I thought: it’s time!
I’m not a brand loyalist, I enjoy picking and choosing colors from various brands. That said, I started with Daniel Smith, so they continue to be my default brand of choice. (Plus, they’re very available where I live.) My current palette contains colors from the following brands:
- DS: Daniel Smith (9)
- HO: Holbein (3)
- DV: Da Vinci (2)
- SH: Schmincke Horadam (1)
- WN: Winsor & Newton (1)
I’ll avoid waxing too lyrical about any of these colors (click through for more information), but focus just on their role in my palette.
Top Row: High Chroma Transparent Bright Colors
- WN Winsor Yellow (PY154): My favorite primary yellow! Bold, clean, bright.
- DS Transparent Pyrrol Orange (PO71): Great for mixes any kind of orange as well as making a lovely bold primary red with Quin Magenta, or a striking black with Indanthrone Blue.
- DS Quinacridone Coral (PR209): One of my “sparks joy” colors, a warm coral pink-to-red that is beautiful in fiery sunsets, mixes shockingly good purples, and makes a lovely Quin Rose hue with Quin Magenta.
- HO Quinacridone Magenta (PR122): Bold, vivid primary magenta, slightly on the purple side. I could reduce my number of colors by replacing both Quin Coral and Quin Magenta with Quin Rose, but I love the range of magentas and pinks so much that I felt it gave me more options to have both an orange-pink and a purple-pink.
- DS Indanthrone Blue (PB60): Deep, dark, purple-toned blue. This is an absolute workhorse color for me, a key element in my mixed black (with Transparent Pyrrol Orange), my gray shadows (with Transparent Red Oxide), my pine green (with Rich Green Gold), and basically all of my dark mixes.
- HO Marine Blue (PB16): Deep turquoise-teal with a huge range. A primary cyan as well as a “sparks joy” color.
- DV Phthalo Green (PG7): Vivid green mixer. Great base for mixing various shades of green.
I played around with having Viridian (PG18) in this slot, but since I use a lot of bold colors, it’s easier to mix with a Phthalo. PG7 is also a lot less expensive, and I use a lot less of it at a time.
- DS Rich Green Gold (PY129): Green-tinged gold. Very dispersive. Fabulous mixer; mixes like a yellow-gold. I usually it for the sunny side of foliage, for which it’s perfect unmixed, plus it’s perfect with Indanthrone Blue in my pine green mix.
Earthy Warms (Lower Left)
- DS Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (PBr7): My favorite earth yellow. Gentle granulation.
- DS Deep Scarlet (PR175): Dark, muted, orangey red, useful for darker red mixes. Makes crimson with Quin Magenta. (I originally had Daler Rowney Perylene Maroon in this slot, which is nearly the same hue; but DS is a lot easier for me to get.)
- DS Transparent Red Oxide (PR101): My favorite earth orange. Huge range of values. Wild granulation. Mixes deep browns with blue.
- DS Perylene Violet (PV29): Very dark, muted, reddish-purple. Useful for deepening magenta and adding a violet tone to browns. Useful for botanical painting, such as the deep purple-black berries of a viburnum shrub.
Granulating Cools (Lower Right)
- DV Cobalt Blue (PB28): Middle blue, neither purple-toned nor green-toned. Mildly granulating. My favorite cool, crisp, mid-sky color, or for frigid-feeling winterscapes.
- DS Serpentine Genuine: Granulating, light olive green with gold flecks that can paint a meadow in one stroke. (This is probably my most expendable and most expensive color. But you have to have some slots for nonsense, don’t you?)
- HO Ultramarine Deep (PB29): Purple-toned, highly granulating blue. Though it’s less of a palette staple for me than for many (I often use either Cobalt or Indanthrone where other people use Ultramarine), I use this when I want a lot of texture in my blue or for the irreplaceable bold electric-violet-blue color of unmixed Ultramarine. It’s wonderful to throw a bit in the zenith of the sky.
- SH Cobalt Turquoise (PG50): Opaque, granulating, very bold and bright light turquoise. Again, this is a “sparks joy” color for me because I love aquas and turquoises.
What I love about my current main palette is that it feels very complete, yet at 16 colors, I have fewer paints than ever, and room for a great big mixing well in the middle! Hard to believe that just a few weeks ago, I was struggling to get in all the colors I wanted with no mixing well.
All my staple colors are here, as well as so many “sparks joy” colors. Sometimes the favorites and the staples are one and same (such as Quin Magenta and Marine Blue which spark joy and are primary colors); sometimes not really (such as Cobalt Turquoise or Serpentine which are mostly just for fun). I feel luxurious having some overlap in role, such as Ultramarine Blue and Cobalt Blue, which are so similar that most people choose between them.
I also don’t have any colors at all that I dislike. Nothing is on here grudgingly. I’ve yet to find anything I can’t paint, or hues I struggle to make.
In addition to narrowing down the colors in my main palette, I’ve also narrowed down the colors in my extended paint bin, either by giving away colors I didn’t like, or by using up and not replacing 5ml testers of colors I sort-of-liked. Here are some additional colors I’m hanging onto that didn’t make the cut into the main palette, but I still consider them useful from time-to-time or in certain situations. Many of them are direct alternatives to main palette colors.
Brand key for the B-team:
- DS: Daniel Smith (4)
- HO: Holbein (4)
- DV: Da Vinci (3)
- WN: Winsor & Newton (2)
- MI: Mission Gold (2)
- MB: MaimeriBlu (2)
Here we go:
- WN Winsor Lemon (PY175) – Alternative to Winsor Yellow. Cooler and greener; perfect for pale crisp sunrises and neon acid green mixes.
- MI Green Gold (PY150) – aka Nickel Azo Yellow. Alternative to Rich Green Gold. A highly dispersive yellow that’s great for making fall golds.
- DS Transparent Brown Oxide (PR101) – Sometimes you just want a basic brown! I can mix a range of deep browns to grays with TRO + blue, but this single-pigment brown is more glowing and yellowy.
- HO Isoindolinone Yellow Deep (PY110) – A similar hue can be mixed with Winsor Yellow + Transparent Pyrrol Orange, but this single-pigment yellow-orange is just so cheerful and fun.
- WN Winsor Orange Red Shade (PO73) – Red-orange with a hue somewhere between Transparent Pyrrol Orange and Quin Coral, but more opaque. A “sparks joy” color for me.
- DV Burnt Sienna Deep (PR101) – Same pigment as Transparent Red Oxide, and similar hue/role; but not granulating, and more yellow. Similar hue to a traditional Burnt Sienna.
- DS Quinacridone Burnt Orange (PO48) – Alternative to Transparent Red Oxide; equally or more granulating, brighter, less value range range. Combine with PY150 for a Quin Gold mix.
- DS Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (PR206) – Alternative to Deep Scarlet. A bit more muted. Great for neutralizing blues. My only problem is it’s a bit too low-tinting-strength.
- DV Alizarin Crimson Quinacridone (PV19) – Cool crimson, darker and redder than a magenta but not as orangey as Deep Scarlet. This is the closet in my mind to a “true red.”
- DV Red Rose Deep (PV19) – Alternative to Quin Magenta. Deep rose-pink hue is similar to a combination of Quin Magenta and Quin Coral. Wonderful botanical color, great primary magenta, minimalist alternative to having both QM and QC.
- DS Bordeaux (PV32) – Deep magenta, like a slightly darker/more muted version of Quin Magenta (but not as dark as Perylene Violet). Not as versatile as QM but another “sparks joy” color for me.
- MI Brilliant Opera (PR122 + BV10) – Fluorescent special effects color. Fugitive, but unmatchable.
- MB Potter’s Pink (PR233) – Another weird color that is totally its own thing, uncomparable to anything else. Muted, dusty pink that’s super granulating. Great for granulating mixes and what Liz Steel calls “watercolor magic,” but not one I typically reach for in the course of everyday painting.
- HO Prussian Blue (PB27) – Alternative to Indanthrone Blue. A dark blue that is much greener-toned. I really like this color, but it’s not as much of a favorite as IB, and is less lightfast.
- DV Cerulean Blue Genuine (PB36) – Granulating, pale blue sky color that’s a bit on the muted side and is a classic favorite for skies. I tend to prefer Cobalt Blue for very cool bright skies, but Cerulean is nice for warmer and more muted sky tones; it makes me think of autumn. It’s also an interesting granulating mixer.
- MB Neutral Tint (PBk26) – Inky black. I don’t like mixing with black, but this is a useful color to have for silhouettes and things. Could also use black gouache.
- HO Primary White gouache (PW6) – Opaque gouache for special use case like stars, water foam effects, and so on. I don’t keep this in my palette because gouache tends to crack and dry and fall out of the palette; I squeeze out a bit wet when I need to use it.
These colors may, over time, be bumped in or out of the main palette; used to style alternative mini-palettes; or grabbed for specific situations where they’d be perfect. Even after all that decision-making and optimizing of the main palette, I also like having a nearly-as-extensive back catalogue of colors I also really like, that I can swap in and out to provide novelty!