Monday, 17 June 2013

My Palette. Updated December 2015

I use a beautiful hand made brass paintbox made by John of Littlebrassbox for my regular studio palette of 20 colours. It contains a really useful selection of paints along with some great convenience mixes.

For travel I have two smaller portable brass palettes made by David of Classicpaintboxes. One is a lovely size to take with me for plein air painting and it holds 24 colours. (Pictured left).

The other is much smaller, still with 24 colours, and lives in my handbag all the time.

I also have a small travel palette with 16 colours.

Below is my travel palette, and how the colours are laid out. The 20 on the left are the same as my basic studio palette. The 4 extra colours on the right are colours I may choose to change around over time. These are all Daniel Smith, though other options are mentioned below.

My regular 20 colour 'studio' palette colours, plus the 4 'fun' extras in my 'plein air' palette.


I use 4 yellows, as you can see on the left column. The first is a transparent mid-yellow. I find limited use for a lemon yellow so am more interested in a mid-yellow that can go warm or cool and will make lovely oranges or greens. I am using Daniel Smith Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97) but I also liked Da Vinci Arylide Yellow Medium, Schmincke Pure Yellow (PY154), M.Graham Azo (Aureolin) Yellow (PY150) and Daniel Smith Quinaphthalone Yellow (PY138). Hansa Yellow Light (PY3) is an excellent alternative if you are looking for a cooler yellow, or Cadmium Yellow Light if you like an opaque cool yellow.

I use Quinacridone Gold (PO49) by Daniel Smith for my warm yellow. It is a little more neutral than other versions of a warm yellow and will double as a transparent earth yellow. It mixes with blues to create realistic greens and adds a lovely glow to washes. Other lovely brighter warm yellow options are New Gamboge (PY153) by Daniel Smith,  Gamboge Hue by Daler Rowney, Cadmium Yellow Deep Hue by Daler Rowney and Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65) by Da Vinci or Daniel Smith. If you like opaque colours you can't go wrong with Cadmium Yellow Deep from any manufacturer really. I am not so fond of cadmiums but keep a couple of pans in my studio for special purposes. For an even deeper orange-yellow try Permanent Yellow Deep.

For my earth yellow I use Goethite by Daniel Smith rather than the more usual Raw Sienna or Yellow Ochre. I love the colour but even better is the wonderful granulation. I have the other traditional colours in my studio - Yellow ochre (PY43) if I need a neutral opaque yellow, Mont Amiata Natural Sienna for a transparent version of a yellow ochre colour or Raw Sienna (PBr7) if I want a transparent warm earth yellow that doesn't make greens in a wash, or a basis for skin tones - but for most of my work, whether landscape, plants or buildings, Goethite is perfect.

My cool dark brown is Raw Umber (PBr7) by Daniel Smith, though Da Vinci is also excellent. This neutralised yellow should be a dark, cool colour made with PBr7, but in some brands it is closer to a yellow ochre so of little use. M.Graham also has a lovely version, though the M.Graham range has honey as an ingredient so will not set in a palette - best used in a studio rather than for plein air work.


I have chosen 4 reds, as you can see in the next column. I have opted for a red-orange and a rose to create a huge range of bright red and crimson mixes. I tried the versatile PR122 as a primary magenta, settling on Schmincke Purple Magenta for this colour, but I have reverted to the more useful Quinacridone Rose PV19 Daniel Smith for my cool red (Permanent Rose in many brands) as I find I need a pink more often than a magenta in my painting. Another alternative is a PV19 Quinacridone Red by Daniel Smith. The important function of a cool red is to make purples. A crimson alone won't usually work so well, with a few exceptions, so a rose is a good choice.

I tried a huge number of warm or scarlet reds from many brands and there are many excellent choices including Scarlet Lake or Winsor Red by Winsor & Newton, the gorgeous bright Pyrrol Scarlet by Daniel Smith, Permanent Red by Da Vinci, Schlev. Red Light by Old Holland and many cadmium reds if you like opaque colours, but I chose Transparent Pyrrol Orange by Daniel Smith for this colour. Going with an orange as my 'warm red' means I can create even more warm browns, but I can't create an Indian Red hue mixing with a cold blue as I would be able to do with a more red version such as Pyrrol Scarlet. That's not a problem in this palette as I have included Indian red. The other advantage is that this orange creates a perfect black with Phthalo Blue as well as a lovely range of other neutral greys along the way.
Note - in my teaching I use and recommend Pyrrol Scarlet as the warm red, rather than Transparent Pyrrol Orange. It is more versatile than my personal choice, and is featured in my book The Ultimate Mixing Palette: a World of Colours

Indian Red is my earth red. There are some other lovely options for this position in the palette too, including Venetian Red, or the Primatek Piemontite by Daniel Smith, but I like the depth of the Daniel Smith Indian Red. This is the place for PR101.

I experimented with the very powerful and deep Perylene Maroon PR179 as my fourth and deepest red. It is an earthy red in many ways and makes a wonderful triad with Indanthrone Blue and Quinacridone Gold, or another mixed black and grey range with Perylene Green. However, I don't like it alone and I'd rather have pigments in my palette that I love. I found it far more useful to have a strong crimson in the palette and mix the deeper hues as needed so have placed Pyrrol Crimson by Daniel Smith in this spot. Permanent Alizarin Crimson by Daniel Smith is a lovely alternative though it is a three-pigment mix. The same pigment is found in W&N Winsor Red Deep and Mission gold also make a crimson with PR264.


The third column has 4 blues starting with Phthalo Blue RS (PB15) which is a more mid-blue and a very beautiful colour for Australian skies. The usual choice for a cool blue in the palette is Phthalo Blue GS, which is a beautiful almost cyan colour - powerful and staining. I recommend Green Shade generally and use in my teaching, as it is cooler and more different from ultramarine

My next blue is Ultramarine (PB29) by Daniel Smith or use Da Vinci, or if you want less granulation, try Schimincke Ultramarine Finest. Schmicnke French Ultramarine was released in 2017 and is also lovely. This is a fabulous warm blue for mixing realistic greens, beautiful purples and great greys and browns. Some prefer Cobalt but I like the depth of Ultramarine. This is my favourite blue, and my choice for a single blue in a limited palette, though Phthalo Blue would also work.

Cerulean Blue Chromium (PB36) is my earth blue. I don't use many opaque or semi opaque colours but I do like this one by Daniel Smith. It has real body and granulation. I also liked Old Holland's Cerulean Blue Deep. A lovely alternative granulating green-blue option is Cobalt Turquoise (PB36) made by Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton or Cobalt Turquoise Deep by Da Vinci.

Indanthrone Blue (PB60) Daniel Smith has different names from different manufacturers. It is a deeper blue than Ultramarine, and not an essential colour, but a gorgeous deep non-granulating blue that will mix with a warm yellow to make deep greens. It makes a wonderful powerful triad with Pyrrol Crimson and Quinacridone Gold. Mix with Quinacridone Gold to create a Perylene Green hue.


Many artists don't have greens in their palette but mix them all. This is great advice as it is important to know how to mix greens that will work in a painting, however I find having a basic green speeds up the mixing and painting process tremendously, especially when painting botanicals. In this 20 colour palette I find it useful to also include some convenience colours. Phthalo Green PG7 is made by most companies, though is called Winsor Green by W&N, and Blockx Green by Blockx. It is a powerful staining transparent colour. I don't use it alone but it mixes with a crimson colour to create black, a range of greys, deep greens and aubergines, and with a warm yellow creates lovely sap green hues. It will also make lovely purples with a quinacridone Rose, Magenta or Violet so it is a very useful mixer, and will mix with Phthalo Blue or cerulean if I need turquoise water colours.  Lovely alternatives are Viridian PG18 by Winsor & Newton, Da Vinci or Daniel Smith (though you may need to add a drop of glycerine or use fresh from the tube as this colour can be tricky to reactivate) or Jadeite (Daniel Smith) for a granulating treat that can double as a phthalo green and a perylene green. I use Jadeite in my more limited 16 colour travel palette.

My favourite green for Australian gum leaves and landscapes is a mixture of Ultramarine and Quinacridone Gold, and Daniel Smith Undersea Green is exactly that mix. It saves me time while painting to have this ready-made deep olive green.

The next green is Sap Green by Daniel Smith, which is a convenience mixture of Phthalo Green and Quinacridone Gold. I find this useful for many floral works as it is a realistic green. Green Apatite Genuine is another Daniel Smith Primatek colour that could be used in this spot (and I do in my 16-colour palette). It is a multitude of greens in one - a lovely grass green in a wash, a sap green in stronger dilutions and an earthy olive green in mass-tone. It is a more expensive option than Sap green but really wonderful.

Perylene Green can be mixed easily with Indanthrone Blue and Quinacridone Gold or a warm yellow, but I do a lot of landscapes and botanicals so enjoy this convenience colour. It is actually a black pigment PBk31 but I find is very useful. In my travel palette, I use Jadeite in place of Phthalo Green and Perylene Green since it is another very versatile granulating pigment.


I love Buff Titanium (Daniel Smith), though it is an unusual choice in a watercolour palette. It granulates beautifully and creates the perfect effect for beaches, rocks, sandstone and shells mixed with Goethite or other earth colours. I use is all the time.

Burnt Sienna PBr7 is my other favourite earth colours. It is a wonderfully useful colour to have for creating a range of browns and greys with Ultramarine and for skin tones. Some people prefer the brighter and less earthy versions made with PR101 such as the W&N Burnt Sienna (which is actually a hue), or even use Quinacridone Burnt Orange for the same orange earth position on the palette, but I'll stick with Burnt Sienna. I prefer Daniel Smith or the slightly more orange Da Vinci version. Transparent Red Oxide (Daniel Smith) is another great option for a brighter orange with even more granulation, though it is wild in a wash and less predictable. This is one of my favourite 'extra' pigments.

Burnt Umber PBr7 is another convenience colour as it can easily be mixed using Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine so I don't have it in my 16 colour travel palette, but I use it as my deep warm brown in my regular palette. It should be a deep warm brown and my preference is, once again, Da Vinci or Daniel Smith for this colour.

The final colour is a custom mix that I call Jane's Grey. I make it up in 60ml tubes every couple of months for myself and my students. It is a mixture of Daniel Smith Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine, in almost exactly equal amounts, stirred up well and allowed to dry. This saves so much time when painting as it is an instant dark that can be washed out for lovely soft greys for shadows or clouds. Others may prefer Payne's Grey, or Neutral Tint, but these usually have black in them which will look dull in a painting. Originally Payne's Grey was made without black. (See more here.) Jane's Grey is granulating and liftable and is my most used colour :-)


I have added four extra pigments to my basic 20 colour palette for my plein air palette and these are shown at the right. I have a large range of other gorgeous pigments and mixes in my studio but wanted to include a couple more in my palette, the first being Green Gold PY129 (called Rich Green Gold in Daniel Smith), which is an interesting yellow/olive that I find useful in landscape and floral work. This spot may some day get filled with Green Apatite Genuine, which, as mentioned above, is a gorgeous Daniel Smith green, or Serpentine Genuine, an alternative grassy green. (I have these two as extras in my tiny Pocket Palette :-)

The next colour down is a fun one. I don't often use it and it may not stay forever, but Cobalt Turquoise PB36 (Daniel Smith or Winsor and Newton) or Cobalt Turquoise Deep in Da Vinci is a gorgeous colour - granulating and interesting. Lovely with yellow for copper effects. I could change this to Cobalt Blue some time...or Raw Sienna.

Next down is Transparent Red Oxide (PR101), Daniel Smith, a granulating alternative to Burnt Sienna that I use to give the glow to sandstone and Australian landscapes. A great pair with this is Piemontite, as together they make wonderful rusty effects.

The final colour is a wonderful three-colour mix by Daniel Smith called Moonglow. Made with Ultramarine, Viridian and Anthraquinoid Red (a crimson), this is a gorgeous shadow violet colour that separates and granulates beautifully. It is lovely in florals and as a background colour for a range of subjects. 2016 - This has been changed to Piemontite.

Other favourite extras are Yellow Ochre (PY43) and Raw Sienna (PBr7). It is a fiddle to change colours in this palette so I don't do it often.

So that's my choice of colours for my palettes, but I keep many others in my studio just in case :-)

There are so many different pigments and mixtures available and every artist has to choose what suits them best for what they are painting.

2015 update - I have created a book 'The Ultimate Mixing Palette: a World of Colours' to show how 15 of these palette colours can be mixed to create almost any hue you might wish for. See the Ultimate Mixing Palette tab in my website for more information.