My First Watercolor Palette

My First Watercolor Palette

While moving some of my watercolor stuff, I found the key to the first complete watercolor palette I put together from professional paints after I switched from Cotman student grade! I made it in an Etchr ceramic mini-palette with 19 wells. I carefully researched what I was going to put in here, picturing that it would be my “permanent” palette (spoiler alert: it was not). 

Judging by when I bought this palette, it would have been about a year and a half ago, in May 2021.

These colors were heavily influenced by Oto Kano’s Top 8 (2018), as well as by the Daniel Smith starter kit that was my first set of colors; Jane Blundell’s Ultimate Mixing Palette; and the Just Add Water, Silly! 2019 palette.

What I love about these colors is that they’re a pretty good representation of colors I love! You can tell just by looking at this set that I love bright, bold colors. My priorities for this palette were:

  1. Bright colors that I love unmixed
  2. Mixing flexibility, e.g. coverage of many parts of the rainbow
  3. Mostly single pigment colors

I think I achieved that! However, as I can now see with 2 years of experience, there’s room for improvement in some of the specifics; some colors are too similar, some could be swapped for better versions, and some things are arguably missing.

I’ll go through each color category and make anachronistic suggestions to my past self. My goal is to subtly improve the flexibility of my color choices while still retaining the bright, fun spirit of the original. I will also attempt not to make “lateral moves” (e.g. swapping a perfectly good color for another perfectly good, almost identical color because I have some nitpicky reason for preferring it now).

The Colors

Pink/Red Wedge

I still love all these colors! Quin Rose (or some sort of PV19 pink) and Transparent Red Oxide are still palette staples for me.

These days, I would probably tend to put PR122 magenta on a palette only if Quin Rose wasn’t already on it, since they’re so similar.

Organizationally, I would now classify TRO as an earth orange rather than a red (I was confused by the naming). I would also classify Pyrrol Scarlet (in the next wedge) as a red rather than an orange.

What to Add

My fave Quin Coral (PR209) would go on here now.

It’s useful have some sort of scarlet for muting blues (Quin Coral won’t do it). On this palette, I do have Pyrrol Scarlet (PR255) in the next wedge; I could pull it in here, or leave it where it is – let’s see how the rest of this wedge shakes out.

Given the boldness of the rest of this palette, I think Opera Pink belongs in it, and this is the best place for it!

Final Wedge Recommendation

A pink wedge of Quin Rose, Quin Coral, and Opera Pink

Orange Wedge

None of these are really orange. New Gamboge and Quin Gold function more like yellows in practice (and are similar enough in palette role that I could pick between them). Pyrrol Scarlet is a red, but since I used the previous slot for pinks, I guess don’t mind having scarlet reds here.

Transparent Red Oxide belongs here.

What to Add

I don’t often use other oranges, though Transparent Orange (PO71) is a nice-to-have that is bold enough to go thematically with these other colors.

Final Wedge Recommendation

A scarlet/orange wedge of Pyrrol Scarlet, Transparent Red Oxide, and Transparent Orange

Yellow Wedge

I like all of these yellows!

In practice there’s not a ton of difference between PY3 and PY154, so these days I would probably advise a newbie to pick a cool/warm yellow split (e.g. Hansa Yellow Light and Hansa Yellow Deep or New Gamboge), or choose a middle yellow (e.g. Hansa Yellow Medium or Pure Yellow); you don’t need all three. 

Rich Green Gold is an interesting color, though it didn’t turn out to be as crucial as I thought it would be.

What to Add

I was especially averse to earth tones starting out, so this set doesn’t include an earth yellow (Quin Gold, in the previous wedge, is the closest). These days, I would probably include Monte Amiata Natural Sienna, but I feel like loading it down with earth tones is not entirely in keeping with the spirit of the original bright palette.

Either of the deeper yellows New Gamboge or Quin Gold could be pulled in here. Probably both are not strictly necessary, since they serve similar palette roles, but I use them enough for slightly different purposes that I often have both on my palette.

Final Wedge Recommendations

A yellow/gold wedge of Hansa Yellow Light, Quin Gold, and New Gamboge

Green Wedge

Both Phthalo Greens are overkill. I think my aim was to extend the “cool/warm” split to my green category as well. These days I don’t buy into the split primary system, but even for people who do, I think it’s generally agreed that you can easily warm your cool green or cool your warm one with yellow or blue.

Amazonite was a total failure. I knew as soon as I got it. It’s just so weak. It’s pretty much impossible to use. I’m not sure what I was going for; a granulating green, I guess? This is what comes of looking up colors on a paint brand website without reading reviews, painting it out from a dot card, etc.

What to Add

Viridian would have been a more classic choice for a granulating green, though I also found that too weak, especially at first. Plus, its hue is extremely similar to Phthalo Green BS. I later tried other Primateks that I preferred, including Serpentine and Jadeite, but I think these too are unnecessary (and pricey!)

There are many options for other greens to add, most of them more muted (e.g. Perylene Green or Chromium Oxide Green), or mixed (e.g. Phthalo Yellow Green, which is Phthalo Green plus yellow; Sap Green, which is often Phthalo Green plus Quin Gold or another earthy yellow; Hooker’s Green, which has many formulations but usually amounts to blend of Phthalo Green + lots of yellow + a small amount of red). But none of these are really right for the spirit of this set; and anyway I currently don’t use many greens besides Phthalo Green.

I think I would use the rest of this wedge for turquoises, since I love them and I’ll need all the room I can get in the next two wedges for my many blues.

Cobalt Turquoise (PG50) is more or less exactly what I wanted from Amazonite (just more on the bluey side); turquoise, beautiful, bold, granulating. It is also one of my most bright and fun “neon” type paints, so perfect for this set!

I’ll also go ahead and keep DS Phthalo Turquoise (PB15/PG36), my bonus color from the middle of the chart, even though it’s a mix that I can make from other colors. I knew that at the time and clearly I liked the color enough not to care. A PB16 Phthalo Turquoise (e.g. Holbein Marine Blue) is another option, but I find this too reduplicative with Phthalo Blue Green Shade that I’ll have on the next wedge.

Final Wedge Recommendations

A green/turquoise wedge of Phthalo Green BS, Cobalt Turquoise, and Phthalo Turquoise

Blue Wedges

I have two blue wedges, so I’ll just consider them together.

I really can’t fault myself for having so many blues since I love blue and continue to overrepresent blue in most palettes! There are definitely some strong choices here. Phthalo Blue GS is a classic bold cyan that absolutely belongs on this palette. Indanthrone Blue was originally a “maybe,” but I grew to find it one of my most crucial colors, with its dark, moody tones and ability to easily mix dark brown (with earth orange TRO). French Ultramarine is also a good bold blue that brings some purple tones and granulation to the party.

It’s probably unnecessary to have both Phthalo Blue shades. I also increasingly find that Prussian Blue is reduplicative with Phthalo Blue GS, since it’s just a slightly more muted hue. I think I included it as a “cool” version of a dark blue, but the more I use it, the more I realize it’s really rarely as dark as I expect it to be – Indigo is a better choice.

Cerulean is a good slot to have, but I made a whoopsie here – I didn’t understand what “hue” meant, so I accidentally got a mix of Phthalo Blue GS and white when I meant to get genuine cerulean. This is the first Da Vinci paint I got and it took me months to get over the disappointment and try another one. It also took me awhile to get on the cerulean bandwagon, because the version I tried after this, DS Cerulean Blue Chromium, was too granulating for my liking. (I now realize that DV’s actual Cerulean Genuine is wonderful, and I would have probably really liked it if I’d gotten the right thing to begin with!)

What to Add

These days, my most-used blue (after Indanthrone) is Cobalt Blue (PB28). This one is also bright and fun and a great option for this palette, perhaps even better than Cerulean Genuine which is always slightly more muted than I expect it to be.

Another option I am increasingly getting into for level-setting is Indigo (or Payne’s Gray by Winsor & Newton, which is very blue-toned for a Payne’s Gray). Indanthrone Blue is still great, but an even darker, nearly black blue is also great for setting dark darks. One of the difficult things about a bright palette is getting value range, and I think a convenient dark color like this would just make it easier on my past self.

Final Wedge Recommendations

  • Cool/Green-Toned Blue Wedge: Phthalo Blue GS, Cerulean Genuine, Indigo
  • Warm/Purple-Toned Blue Wedge: French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Indanthrone Blue

Missing Categories

Categories not represented on this wheel include earth tones; neutrals (e.g. black, white); and purples. I don’t have a lot of problem with this, since I still don’t use many paints in those categories. A super-dark blue or blue-gray takes the place of black very nicely (you can always make it more neutral-hued by mixing in scarlet or earth orange). White is unnecessary in watercolor. And great purples are easy to mix from paints in my Pink and Warm Blue categories.

Revised Version

Here’s the new version of this map I made (more wonky since I drew it myself). My nod to practicality is moving my most-used colors to the middle/larger sections, even though it makes them look less like a nice rainbow since they tend to be the more muted ones. When I was done, it was missing some lightness and brightness, so I added another yellow to the middle/bonus slot: Holbein’s Permanent Yellow Deep (PY74/PY83), a bold deep sunflower yellow in the hue space between Hansa Yellow Light and New Gamboge.

Updated “First Palette”

The “revised” palette contains 11 of the 19 or original colors: Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Quin Gold, Transparent Red Oxide, Pyrrol Scarlet, Quin Rose, French Ultramarine, Indanthrone Blue, Phthalo Blue GS, Phthalo Turquoise, Phthalo Green BS.

8 colors have been changed:

  • Dropped: Rich Green Gold, Pure Yellow, Purple Magenta, Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Cerulean Hue, Prussian Blue, Amazonite Genuine, Phthalo Green Yellow Shade
  • Added: Permanent Yellow Deep, Transparent Orange, Quin Coral, Opera Pink, Cobalt Blue, Indigo, Cerulean Genuine, Cobalt Turquoise.

Conclusion

I still love the colors I chose a year and a half ago!

It’s important to note that my “revisions” aren’t necessarily improvements, they’re just different choices I would make now with my current level of experience. Sometimes I “corrected” errors I made in the past accidentally (like ending up with a different Cerulean than the one I actually intended to buy), but mostly I just made different aesthetic choices. I could do the same exercise in another eighteen months and probably make different choices then, too.

While I’d make some adjustments here or there, I mainly think I made good choices. The original palette is definitely usable. It also has a good range of values and hues. It contains some of my favorite colors, and even colors that turned out to be my favorite mixers, although I didn’t have much experience mixing them yet.

The main thing I would advise my past self to do differently is to choose a physical palette box with movable wells to give myself more scope to make adjustments on the fly without the stress of building my “permanent” palette. It will never be permanent, and that’s okay!

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