Watercolor Top 8

Dr. Oto Kano has a recommended color wheel palette, which I showcased in the previous Artist Palette Profile, but the colors they actually use most of the time – their subjective favorites – are the subject of their Top 8 list. They’ve actually done two Top 8 videos – the original Top 8 (2018) and a new updated top 8 (2022). I thought it would be fun to make my own top 8 list, comparing the colors I liked most when I was first starting out with professional-grade watercolor in 2020, and the ones I like now, as we hurtle to the end of 2022.  

My 2020 Top 8

My First Watercolor Palette

I have no proof, because I didn’ t take as copious notes at the time, but as far as I remember, this would have been my top 8 in 2020 when I put together my first “library” of professional watercolors. I chose these from amongst the colors in My First Watercolor Palette.

  1. Daniel Smith – Quinacridone Rose (PV19) – From the Daniel Smith starter kit. A wonderful color because not only do I love pink, but it’s a color theory primary so it’s also useful. But more importantly, I love pink. 
  2. Daniel Smith – Phthalo Blue GS (PB15:3) – From the Daniel Smith starter kit. Another color theory primary, as well as a very beautiful blue-green/teal color. I love teal!
  3. Daniel Smith – Hansa Yellow Light (PY3) – I love the crispness of a cool yellow, perfect for sunrise skies, and this one is as bold as candy.
  4. Daniel Smith – Phthalo Green BS (PG7) – This was a clear choice for me when I decided I needed to add a green to my primary palette, because in addition to being highly regarded, its unmixed shade is extremely beautiful to me. It is such a gorgeously bright, blue-toned green, the perfect counterpart to Phthalo Blue GS. As I said, I love teal!
  5. Daniel Smith – Phthalo Turquoise (PB15:3/PG36) – Speaking of loving teal! I knew this was a mix of two colors I already had, and I still put it on my limited palette, that’s how much I love teal.
  6. Daniel Smith – Quinacridone Gold (PY150/PO48) – I just adore(d) the bright glow of this gold, which I found far more beautiful than any traditional earth tone. Where yellow ochre put me to sleep, Quin Gold woke me up!
  7. Schmincke Horadam – Purple Magenta (PR122) – I used this more as a purple mixer, and I still think its mixed purples are more beautiful than any commercial purple I’ve ever bought. I currently find it too similar to Quin Rose but as I said, I love pink, so I didn’t really mind the overlap.
  8. Daniel Smith – Transparent Red Oxide (PR101) – I fell hard for this one off of Oto Kano’s Top 8, as well as their comparison video with other earth oranges. After the success of Quin Gold, it was important to me to find other bold and glowing alternatives to traditional earth colors, and this was a total success! Over time I found even more uses for it. 

I still really like all these colors! Whenever I feel I have strayed too far in the direction of colors being versatile or realistic or textured or mixable or lightfast or unusual or whatever other attribute is considered good by pigment nerds, it’s handy to me to look at these and remember what I selected when I was going almost entirely on the basis of “Ooh that one’s pretty.”  

My 2021 Top 8

Layered mountains, from day 2 of Kolbie Blume’s 10-Day Challenge.

Again, I never made an official top 8 list before, but I’ve been doing this blog for over a year now, so I can make an educated guess as to my 2021 Top 8 colors based on earlier posts. I cobbled together this list from the colors I used most in Kolbie Blume’s 10-Day Challenge. This was the point in my painting life where I began to actually paint prolifically enough to make choices based on mixability and usefulness in landscapes, in addition to how much I liked them in swatches.

  1. Daniel Smith – Indanthrone Blue (PB60) – My most used color in the 10-Day Challenge (in eight out of ten paintings!) This is where I fell in love with Indanthrone Blue, unlocking its power to mix really dark darks. A problem with my earlier palettes was a lack of value variation, and with IB I was able to more easily create contrast, shadow, night skies, etc. I began to realize that I liked moody muted colors as well as brights!
  2. Daniel Smith – Quinacridone Gold (PY150/PO48) – My second-most used color in the 10-Day challenge (7/10). I used it for all sorts of things from a primary yellow (especially in dilute) to a warm earthy tone to a mixer of naturalistic greens.
  3. Daniel Smith – Transparent Red Oxide (PR101) -TRO’s star rose as I realized it formed the perfect red equivalent for my “earth trio” with Indanthrone Blue and Quin Gold.
  4. Daniel Smith – Quinacridone Rose (PV19) – Still a classic.
  5. Schmincke Horadam – Pure Yellow (PY154) – I moved away from the “split primary” cool and warm yellows of the Daniel Smith starter kit, finding this bold middle yellow more versatile and useful.
  6. Daniel Smith – Pyrrol Scarlet (PR255) – One of the original Daniel Smith Starter Kit colors that didn’t grab me at first as much as other ones did, but turned out to be really useful in practice, especially for muting blues.
  7. Schmincke Horadam – Purple Magenta (PR122) – Still my go-to purple mixer.
  8. Daniel Smith – Prussian Blue (PB27) – Another dark blue, one I used often because it occurred frequently in Kolbie Blume paintings and because it mixed such lovely deep green-toned muted blues. Another great night sky color.

My 2022 Top 8

My palette from Liz Steel’s Watercolour course

As 2022 draws to a close, let’s take a look at my present-day most-used colors. This time, I was able to observe myself reaching for the same colors over and over in Liz Steel’s Watercolour course as well as another Kolbie Blume project, “Swatchtober,” a monthlong challenge for her Artist’s Co-op group.

  1. Daniel Smith – Indanthrone Blue (PB60) – Indanthrone Blue is still my favorite dark color, perfect for creating atmosphere, setting dark values, and mixing a range of dark, earthy browns and grays with my next entry: 
  2. Daniel Smith – Transparent Red Oxide (PR101) – This earth orange has just proved so super-useful over time, and combined with other colors (especially blues and violets), it makes a wide range of earth colors so that I hardly need any others. 
  3. Daniel Smith – Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (PBr7) – This year I went all in on this cheerful, yellowy earth tone – found via Liz Steel – that took the place of Quin Gold in my landscapes. I initially resisted adding an earth yellow because they are “boring” and Quin Gold is more feisty, but MANS has a few advantages such as not going green in skies and making gentler textured greens. Though in doing these lists I feel I’ve also rediscovered my love for Quin Gold…
  4. Daniel Smith – Quinacridone Coral (PR209) – This dropped off Oto Kano’s list between 2018 and 2022, but for me, it went from a marginal side player to a major star. It’s just so wonderful in sunsets. Nothing can be it for alpenglow. Mixed corals don’t come close. And I like its orange mixes better than any single-pigment orange I’ve tried. The only scarlet job it doesn’t do is mixing gray with blue, since it makes muted purples, but you could see that as a positive if you like muted purples. 
  5. Da Vinci – Cobalt Blue (PB28) – My go-to sky color. Its dilute color is brighter than Cerulean and it makes the perfect cloud edges.
  6. Winsor & Newton – Winsor Lemon (PY175). A cool yellow that’s not as bold as Hansa, but I just like it! Whenever I have this on my palette along with some more useful-on-paper yellow, like Pure Yellow (PY154) or Nickel Azo Yellow (PY150), I find myself still turning to Lemon again and again. 
  7. Da Vinci – Red Rose Deep (PV19) – I still love PV19 rose, but I moved away from the Daniel Smith version to a warmer, redder Da Vinci version. (Again, I’m having second thoughts after reminiscing about how important DS Quin Rose was to me in past years; there is just something so chaotically femme about the cooler, pinker color.)
  8. Schmincke Horadam – Cobalt Turquoise (PG50) – Most of my Schmincke colors have dropped off because I got increasingly frustrated with the hard edges they tend to develop, but Cobalt Turquoise has only raised higher and higher in my estimation. It’s remarkably easy to handle, and so gloriously bold!

What’s changed over time?

There is a lot of overlap between my lists, which I think means that I made some good choices starting out and that my tastes have remained more or less consistent. The basic thing about me is that I like a combination of bright modern CMY primaries and glowing, fiery earth tones (like Quin Gold and Transparent Red Oxide).

One neat thing about this exercise is that it’s been a chance to reconnect with former loves. I think my ideal palette isn’t necessarily my current one, but a mix-and-match from past and present years.

It will be interesting to see if my color tastes change in another! In the meantime, I’ve listed my top most useful colors in my Supplies Guide, which I added to the top navigation. I can only hope that my explorations help someone else the way Oto Kano’s have helped me!