Thursday 1 November 2012

Travel palette in action

Coral sketch

Shell sketch
These sketches were done in the pocket sized Moleskine watercolour notebook I keep with me, using the limited colours in the travel palette  I posted about earlier. You can see the 'bistre' in the shadows - the combination of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine, the Buff Titanium and Goethite in the sand and a hint of Quinacridone Gold.

Gorgeous Greys in Watercolour

To make a gorgeous series of useful greys without adding black, which will dull your painting, try mixing Burnt Sienna PBr7, a neutral orange-brown, with Ultramarine PB29, a warm blue. 

Burnt Sienna (left) mixed with Ultramarine Blue (right) with various amounts of water.

This will create an invaluable range of light greys, light blue greys for skies or water, deep browns, deep stormy greys as well as indigo and burnt umber hues. It is a useful mix for shadows and, with lots of water, for painting white objects in shadow.

Note that Ultramarine is a granulating pigment, so don’t expect smooth washes, but enjoy the granulation as the pigment settles into the paper.

Other options for creating blacks and gorgeous greys include Transparent Pyrrol Orange DS mixed with Phthalo Blue RS, and Phthalo Green mixed with Pyrrol Crimson DS, Anthraquinoid Red DS or most crimsons, and Ultramarine mixed with a bright Orange as seen here.

Burnt Sienna

Burnt Sienna, Daniel Smith watercolour.
Burnt Sienna is a wonderful natural orange- brown. Warm and versatile, this is an ancient pigment known as PBr 7 - i.e. a burnt or roasted version of Raw Sienna.

It varies considerably form one manufacturer to another. The Art Spectrum Natural Burnt Sienna is slightly more red and very granular - really wonderful for achieving a very granulated appearance. Schmincke make a browner version. Some manufacturers make it using mixes with Indian Red, PR101, an opaque red brown which is not the same thing at all, and really should be labelled as a hue. You have to read the label carefully so you get the characteristics you are expecting. I like this Daniel Smith version as it is a lovely neutral relatively transparent orange brown.

It is fantastic in mixes, and would be my number 4 colour in a limited palette. With Ultramarine it makes an amazing array of gorgeous greys, indigo, browns and deep blues. I'll post a chart of that combination later. You can also find it on my website.

Travel Palette Options

Split primary palette - almost

Alternate palette
I keep a watercolour palette with me all the time, with a brush, a pencil and a small notebook. I have changed the colours in it from time to time.

Here is the almost classic split primary palette - two yellows (Cadmium Yellow Light and Quinacridone Gold) and two reds (Cadmium Red Scarlet and Anthraquinoid Red), but only one blue, which can be moderated with Phthalo Green to make a cool blue.

Phthalo Green is also useful to make grassy and other greens mixed with the yellows or blue, and with Pyrrol Crimson or Anthraquinoid Red (or another permanent Alizarin option) to make a fabulous black.

There is also Quinacridone Rose, four earth pigments and a mixed grey (which I call Jane's Grey :-) for convenience. This palette could be used for almost anything from landscapes to flowers to people.

However, I found I didn't need the lemon yellow, and replaced it with a mid yellow (Hansa Yellow Medium), and replaced the two reds with Permanent Red Deep and Quinacridone Violet. I can still make a bright fire engine red or an orange-red by adding quinacridone gold, and pinks using the two red/violets with water. I added Cerulean to save time when painting skies and water, removed Indian Red because it is easy to mix and replaced phthalo green with two useful greens, since I paint a lot of landscapes - Undersea Green and the highly granulating Jadeite. Goethite, a granulating raw sienna/yellow ochre substitute and Buff Titanium (great for beaches, shells and corals) make up the rest of the palette, along with my premixed Bistre or Jane's Grey. Once again, it can be used for just about anything. There is no right or wrong with a choice of colours, just a lot of trial and error, and gradually working out what works the best for your purposes. What are your choices?

Happy plein air painting!

Ultramarine Blue

Ultramarine Blue is one of the most useful blues for watercolour painting, and probably for any painting for that matter. It is a warm blue, so on the purple side rather than the green side, and will mix with crimsons to make wonderful purples, with warm yellows to make realistic greens, and with oranges/orange-browns to make great neutrals, as well as a whole range of other colours. It granulates nicely and is great when sprinkled with water or salt for special effects. If you only want one blue, make it this one!

Ultramarine Blue, Daniel Smith Watercolour.

Buy artist quality, and look for PB29 in the pigment section of the tube.

I have added a lot more information on mixing with Ultramarine Blue under Palette Building in my website.

You can also see a number of brands of Ultramarine blue compared here.

To see it in a limited palette see here

Artist's tools - a sketch

My favourite tools - a pencil and a travel brush. Along with some watercolours and paper, what can't you do? Where can't you go? 

I am a watercolour artist and teacher, and I plan to share some of my sketches, studies, favourite colours, techniques, books and so on. 

You can see more of my work on

Still thinking about colours...

One of the joys of watercolour as a medium is that you have the ability to play not only with hue or colour, but also with the other properties of the pigments. In oil and acrylic paints you may be aware of a pigment being opaque or transparent to a greater or lesser degree, but it is in watercolour that the other qualities become visible. Does it granulate? Can it be lifted? Is it heavy so it sits on the paper in a wash, or light so it flies all over a wet page?

Consequently I find water-colourists tend to have a number of paints to be able to explore these variations. A cadmium yellow for opaque work as well as a transparent yellow; a granulating blue as well as an opaque blue and perhaps a highly staining phthalo blue and so on. Limiting ourselves to just looking at hues seems a shame.

Just three colours?

Playing around with colours again, I remembered something I'd heard about a watercolour artist who only uses 3 pigments in her work. Quinacridone magenta, Quinacridone gold and Ultramarine all by Winsor and Newton. The W&N Quinacridone Gold is a three pigment mixture and not as pretty as a colour as the Daniel Smith PO49 version, but nor is it as warm - a bit more of a neutral orange/yellow. The W&N Quin Magenta is the wonderful PR122, a great primary red option. I experimented with Daniel Smith, with single pigment colours, and you can see the results below.

This combination makes beautiful purples, as you can see, but with these colours the oranges are dull and the greens useful but neutralised. DS Quin Magenta PR202 is not as clean for mixing as the W & N PR122 colour, though it has a better lightfast rating. So what is the perfect trio of watercolours?
Quinacridone Magenta, Ultramarine and Quinacridone Gold

Living in Australia, Ultramarine Blue is the perfect blue. Our sky is often almost purple in hue. Sunsets have a tinge of pink, and often a golden glow. Australian trees are largely a dull green so the warm Quinacridone gold is a great choice. But for the red I think a more crimson colour is needed. I tried Permanent Red Deep (Daniel Smith watercolour), as this makes brighter reds and oranges, great purples as well as neutralising greens to make greys. The colour is less pink than it looks on my screen though - more of a bright crimson red. Other options are Quinacridone Red PV19 and Carmine by Daniel Smith. (2014 update - Permanent Red Deep is a lovely colour but the lightfast ratings are not as great as they should be. Carmine or Quinacridone Rose is a better option)
Quinacridone gold, Ultramarine and Permanent Red Deep

In Europe, the Phthalo Blue (red shade) might be a better blue. And perhaps a mid yellow to create the lush greens of Europe. I've tried it here with Hansa yellow medium and Phthalo blue red shade.
Permanent Red Deep, Hansa Yellow Medium and Phthalo Blue (R.S.)

But is three colours enough? I think I would be spending all my time washing my brush. I wonder what three colours others would choose? 

To speed up the mixing process, I would add at least a burnt sienna and a yellow earth - yellow ochre or raw sienna, along with a mixed grey. You can mix a burnt sienna hue and a raw sienna hue with just about any RYB triad, so they would speed up mixing, without losing colour harmony.