Palette Profile: Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a Scotland-based landscape watercolor and gouache artist from whom I’ve learned a ton especially about gouache. She’s shared her palettes for each medium on Youtube, so I’m going to explore each of them!


According to Sarah’s video What’s in my 2022 palette?, last year she mixed up her longtime palette in favor of one with some fun (highly granulating, unusual) colors. In the video, she discusses the importance of having colors in your palette that call to you and that make you want to take out your paints!

Let’s take a look!

SlotSB HasSome Alternatives
BlackWN Lamp Black (PBk6)Lunar Black, Spinel Grey, Neutral Tint, Payne’s Gray
Granulating Dark BlueDS Sodalite GenuineNon-granulating dark blues: Indanthrone Blue, Indigo, Payne’s Grey, Prussian Blue, Mayacrom Blue.

Granulating dark blues: Ultramarine, Blue Apatite.
Dark BlueMG Anthraquinone Blue (PB60)Same as “non-granulating dark blues” above.
Violet BlueSH Ultramarine Finest (PB29)Cobalt Blue. I’ve also been known to use Indanthrone instead of Ultramarine Blue, but it’s darker.
Primary CyanSH Helio Turquoise (PB16)Phthalo Blue GS or RS; Cobalt Turquoise (but doesn’t get as dark)
Mixing GreenSH Phthalo Green (PG7)Phthalo Green YS (PG36)
Foliage GreenDS Diopside Genuine Sap Green, Hooker’s Green, Chromium Oxide Green, etc. For a Diopside dupe, consider PG7 + granulating earth orange.
Muted GreenDS Undersea Green (PB29, PY150, PO48)Mix from Ultramarine + Quin Gold
Dark TurquoiseCustom mix: PB60 + Diopside GenuinePerylene Green (PBk31), Prussian Green (PB27 + PG7), Cascade Green (PB15 + PBr7), Blue Apatite
Dark Blue-GreenSH Shire Blue (PY159, PB29, PG26)Same as above; or mix Ultramarine with a green to get the duochrome effect.
VioletCustom mix: Quin Magenta + Ultramarine + tiny bit of PG7Dioxazine Violet; Ultramarine or Indanthrone + Quin Rose mix
Primary MagentaSH Quin Magenta (PR202)PR122 Quin Magenta; PV19 Quin Rose
Granulator/MuterSH Potter’s Pink (PR233)Used for sand textures; you could perhaps use MANS, Indian Red, or Buff Titanium for something similar.
Granulating RedSH Volcano Red (PR108)Rare hue/texture combo; more muted granulating reds/oranges are available such as Indian Red or Transparent Red Oxide.
Granulating Earth OrangeDS Quin Burnt Orange (PO48)Transparent Red Oxide, esp. DV’s Burnt Sienna Deep
Transparent Earth YellowSH Transparent Ochre (PY42)DS MANS, DV Raw Sienna Deep
Yellow-OrangeDS New Gamboge (PY97, PY110)Isoindolinone Yellow Deep (PY110), Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65)
Primary YellowSH Vanadium Yellow (PY184)Imidazolone Yellow (PY154), Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97), Hansa Yellow Light (PY3), Lemon Yellow (PY175)

The video is worth a watch, especially Sarah’s comments about how she uses each color! (By the way – there’s more insight into her process in a previous palette choosing video.)

I like Sarah’s use of slots for custom mixes of existing paints; I need to remember that if I’m tempted to get, say, Diox Violet even though I don’t like it for a convenience purple, rather than mixing Ultramarine Blue and Quin Rose which I prefer but may be too much work in the field, I could just devote a slot to a mix of my exisiting paints. Or if I’m tempted to use two kinds of Indanthrone because one is better for mixing greens and one is better for painting shadows, I could premix the green with the greener one at home, and take the more violet one plain. Lots of possibilities!

Here’s my attempt to paint out a Sarah Burns-like palette with my own colors. Checkmarks are next to those where I used the same pigment/hue (not necessarily the same brand).

Sarah Burns inspired watercolor palette

For this, I mixed a Diopside hue with Phthalo Green and Quin Burnt Orange, and I mixed Undersea Green with Ultramarine and Quin Gold. I also replaced the custom Indanthrone + Diopside mix with Indanthrone + Rich Green Gold, and SH Shire Blue with Ultramarine + Rich Green Gold. I would say my replacement of Volcano Red with Indian Red (based on granulation) is unsatisfactory because my version lacks a bright/scarlet red, so if I were to do it again I’d replace Volcano Red with Pyrrol Scarlet or Quin Coral instead.


Sarah also has a great video about her gouache palette. Because I watched her video before choosing my gouache colors, it’s no surprise that my gouache palette is very influenced by hers.

Here are the Winsor & Newton goauche colors she has chosen. The bold ones are here “desert island” picks – the six colors she’d choose if she had to paint from a limited palette indefinitely.

  • Titanium White (PW6)
  • Jet Black
  • Perylene Black (PBk31)
  • Prussian Blue (PB27)
  • Ultramarine Blue (PB29)
  • Primary Blue (PB15)
  • Winsor Green (PG7)
  • Permanent Green Middle
  • Cobalt Teal (PG50)
  • Quinacridone Rose (PV19)
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson (PR176)
  • Cadmium-Free Red
  • Burnt Sienna (PY42, PR101)
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Cadmium-Free Yellow
  • Cadmium-Free Lemon Yellow

There are some caveats here. Some of these are colors she doesn’t plan to replace once they’re out. For example, she cautions that Phthalo Green (PG7) is actually not very useful as a gouache color because it’s too transparent, and you can mix tons of greens from the other colors. Also, Perm Rose and Perm Alizarin Crimson are sort of redundant. And she prefers using more chromatic dark colors such as Perylene Black to plain ol’ Jet Black.

The only place I sort of disagree is on Cobalt Teal being a crucial color. It’s so crucial to Sarah that she includes it in her five-color “desert island” limited palette. I guess it is nicer in gouache to have an opaque cyan than PB15, which is fine as a mixer but in gouache can look streaky and odd on its own. Still, it feels like a waste to use such an expensive pigment in gouache when you can mix a hue that I can’t tell apart with PG7/PB15 and white. I personally would also put Ultramarine Blue in my desert island list, because it’s my sky mixer!

Sarah Burns inspired gouache palette


Regardless of what colors you end up choosing, I really enjoy the chance to get a peek into an artist’s color box particularly when they are generous enough to explain why they chose each color and their process for choosing. Sarah Burns’ process involves a healthy combination of research and listening to your gut feeling, which I appreciate!