The Neon Palette

Travelers Paper Co x Art Toolkit green pocket palette, loaded with neon colors.

I’ve decided to dedicate my new, vibrant green Travelers Paper Co x Art Toolkit Pocket Palette to a Neon Theme!

As I’ve mentioned before, I really love bright colors and, in some moods, all I want to do is paint a big, beautiful, Lisa Frank style neon psychedelic dreamscape! When I made a color mood board for Liz Steel’s class, I found that this type of bold, bright color dominated.

Samples from my Color Mood Board on Pinterest

Yet, last week, when I told you what’s on my palette, I omitted some of my best bold brights: colors like Opera Pink that lack versatility and are only really useful if you’re painting in that highly vibrant style.

At first, I had all my “second tier” colors in one palette that I called the B team, but lately I’ve been breaking them up into theme palettes. In part, this is to have something cool to do with my limited edition Art Toolkit Pocket Palettes. But I’ve also found that it’s more fun and leads to more use of my B-team colors, since instead of dipping into a random group of unsorted colors, I’ve got complete palettes (which may include B-team or copies of A-team colors), which I can grab for specific situations.

The specific situation for my neon palette? Just a fun mood!

Let’s take a look at the colors I chose.

Brands

I enjoy choosing colors from various brands. Here’s the key to the brands represented below:

  • DV: Da Vinci (3 colors)
  • WN: Winsor & Newton (3 colors)
  • DS: Daniel Smith (2 colors)
  • HO: Holbein (2 colors)
  • MI: Mijello Mission Gold (1 color)
  • SH: Schmincke Horadam (1 color)
  • MB: MaimeriBlu (1 color)

In most cases, the specific brands chosen represent the brightest and most vivid version of the colors I could find.

Colors

Neon Theme Palette in Travelers Paper Co x Art Toolkit Pocket Palette.

There are 14 colors in the palette because that is what fits in the Art Toolkit standard quarter-pans in my Pocket Palette. In case you want to build a similar palette but have less room, I will divide them into colors I find crucial to painting bright; colors which are not crucial but useful; and colors which are totally optional and mainly just there because I needed a place to stow them.

Opera Pink is the only color in the palette that actually has a fluorescent element (and the only multi-pigment color). Although other fluorescent special effects paints exist, I find that a little goes a long way when it comes to fluorescents and just having one can mix up a whole range of fluorescent colors. The rest of the colors, while not technically being fluorescent, are the brightest high-quality single-pigment watercolors I know of!

Crucial Colors

Not all these colors are as necessary as others. In my palette building advice, I suggest that all you need is a primary trio, plus a dark color for value contrast. Accordingly, the core of this set is a vibratingly bright primary trio, plus a dark blue. You can paint a glorious neon masterpiece with just these four colors!

  • #1: WN Winsor Lemon (PY175). Cool, hi-chroma yellows make the best neon greens. You will want either a PY175 Lemon Yellow or a PY3 Hansa Yellow Light for your neon palette. I chose PY175 because I like more transparent colors (PY3 is more opaque), but they’re both bold and make wonderful neon greens and oranges.
  • #5: MI Brilliant Opera (PR122 + BV10). The ultimate fluorescent special effects color, Opera Pink is an in-your-face pink that makes wonderful electric oranges and purples. This works as a primary magenta if you don’t mind everything being fluorescent. (In the neon palette, why not?) Note that Opera Pink is considered fugitive because the fluorescent element fades with enough exposure to light; after it fades, you’ll be left with just the PR122 magenta, which is also a good primary magenta, but not so bright.
  • #11: SH Cobalt Turquoise (PG50). An opaque, bold aqua that you can use as a super-bright stand-in for a primary cyan. It is not as versatile as Phthalo Blue because it doesn’t get dark, but it’s sooo bright that it definitely belongs in the neon palette. With Lemon Yellow or Hansa Yellow Light, makes extremely vivid neon greens. With Opera Pink, it mixes vibrant pastel lilacs (though go with Ultramarine if you want a deeper purple). Ultramarine and CT together make a vivid, middle blue, great for bold blue skies. The contrast between them is also great for turquoise seas.

    #8: HO Ultramarine Deep (PB29). Granulating, violet-toned electric blue. A crucial component of this palette because it’s the only color that really gets dark, so it’s great for shadows and contrast. It also makes the best bold purples when mixed with magenta. Avoid using it for green if you’re going for neon colors; because it is so purpley, when mixed with yellows, it tends toward gray.

Also Useful

These colors provide flexibility and convenience to the palette without skimping on chromatic brilliance. Plus, they look amazing on the palette.

  • #2: HO Isoinodolinone Yellow Deep (PY110). Bold, feisty orange-yellow. Sure, you can easily mix up a similar hue with your Lemon Yellow and WORS below, but this is a great convenience color for sunsets, and makes a striking fiery orange with Opera Pink.
  • #3: WN Winsor Orange Red Shade (PO73). Semi-opaque, super-bold orange. A nice addition for the red/orange area of your color wheel, deepening red and orange tones beyond what you can get from the Creamsicle orange of Opera Pink + Lemon Yellow.
  • #6: DV Red Rose Deep (PV19). Any PV19 rose makes a wonderful primary magenta from which you can mix all sorts of bright, bold purples and oranges, without the fluorescent element of Opera Pink. PV19 rose gets darker than Opera Pink and so can be used to deepen or shadow your Opera mixes. PR122 magenta (Quin Magenta) would also work, but might be a bit too similar to Opera Pink (which is PR122 + a fluorescent element).
  • #10: HO Marine Blue (PB16). Transparent primary cyan with a huge range, from aqua to dark teal blue. Nearly as good as Cobalt Turquoise for making your electric, neon greens and teals, but more versatile because it has a dark end. You could replace PG50 Cobalt Turquoise with this if you can’t find or don’t want it; or you could use it to augment PG50 and add much darker, but still bold and brilliant blue-greens. Fabulous mixer who transparency contrasts with PG50’s opacity. (You could also use PB15:3 (Phthalo Blue Green Shade) in this slot.)
  • #13: DV Phthalo Green (PG7). Good for mixing a range of greens and teals, and nice and bright in its own right. (Non-bright-color lovers often object to it for being too bright unmixed!) Not necessarily crucial because you can make similarly bold greens by mixing Lemon Yellow with your PB15/PB16 phthalo blue. A nice convenience color for scenes with a lot of foliage, or to add a jewel green tone to your sparkling seas.
  • #14: MB Neutral Tint (PBk26). A striking black, useful for silhouettes and outlines, which may be elements of bold graphic art depending on your style. You could also use ink or permanent marker.

Optional

Mainly these are here because I needed someplace to put them, or because they look nice in the palette. I’d be happy to replace these if I found more appropriate colors for the palette, or even to make one of the other pans bigger if needed. Don’t rush and buy these to complete your set, is what I’m saying.

  • #4: DS Pyrrol Scarlet (PR255). Semi-opaque bold orange-red. Useful for warm mixes and a staple of many palettes, though in this context, when I see it painted out, I can see it’s mainly a duller alternative to WORS. I do like how it looks in the palette, though.
  • #7: DS Bordeaux (PV32). Deep, juicy, dark magenta-red. Darker and redder than Opera Pink or Quin Rose, but much more bold than typical shadow colors like Perylene Violet. Could be used to deepen pinks or purples.
  • #9: DV Cobalt Blue (PB28). Granulating bright blue. Similar palette role to Ultramarine. I personally just love it as a bright “primary” blue (i.e. what I learned in elementary school was primary but not really), or for vivid skies in a light wash. Much brighter than Cerulean for skies. Still, you can mix a similar hue with Ultramarine and Cobalt Turquoise.
  • #12: WN Cobalt Green (PG50). Opaque pastel green. Same pigment, and similar role to Cobalt Turquoise, but in comparison to the other PG50 it just looks pretty dull. Another one that I like better on the palette than on the page.

What can I paint with the palette?

Pretty much anything since there are primary colors in the palette, but I made the neon theme specifically for painting very bright paintings, like tropical sunsets!

Tropical Sunset painted with Neon Theme Palette. Colors used: Winsor Lemon; Isoindolinone Yellow Deep; Opera Pink; Cobalt Turquoise; Ultramarine Blue.

I didn’t do too much mixing here, to really show off the ultra-bright base colors of the yellows, Opera Pink, and Cobalt Turquoise. The darker Ultramarine Blue is really crucial for providing much needed contrast and structure, but because it’s also bright and fun it doesn’t break theme the way something like Indanthrone Blue might.

Of course, you don’t need to paint so brightly with this palette – you can make more muted colors from this palette as well! For example, I used the Neon Palette to make two versions of a Blue Ridge Mountains painting; one more muted and realistic, and one more bright.

Two versions of a Blue Ridge Mountains painting: more muted, and more bold.

Both paintings use the same colors (Lemon Yellow, Isoindolinone Yellow, Winsor Orange Red Shade, Quin Magenta, Ultramarine, Marine Blue, and Cobalt Turquoise). The more muted versions simply involved more mixing. I mixed some orange and red into the yellow to make an ochre hue. I mixed some blue into the red for a muted crimson, and some yellow and red into the blue for a muted dark teal.

I would not have been able to do the reverse with a muted palette; there’s nothing you can mix Yellow Ochre with, to get back to a bright yellow.

This means a bright palette like the Neon Palette is not only perfect for garishly bright paintings, but it’s also super versatile and can be mixed and adapted to many situations!

What are your favorite super-vivid, fluorescent/neon or intensely bright, hi-chroma colors?

4 thoughts on “The Neon Palette”

    • Great idea! I often use white gouache in conjunction with these colors (especially when painting night skies, for star splatter, or tropical seas, for seafoam), but I don’t like to carry it in my palette because it can harden and crackle out, so I tend to overlook it in my color list. It’s around in the background, though!

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      • I don’t think QoR white completely replaces gouache for say, star-splatter and that thick opaque highlight sort of thing, but it definitely works as palette-friendly pastel-izer! It also makes it easy to replicate those mouthwatering candy daydream pastel tubes like Holbein’s Brilliant Pink and every brand’s Lavender.

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