My Ultimate Mixing Palette is designed to be a universally useful range of colours, without the idiosyncratic colours that are often found in recommended palettes. I chose each colour not only for what they could do alone, but also how they mixed with the other pigments to create more colours. It is designed so that usually only two colours are needed so it is easy to create whatever colour is desired. I included some my own palette choices, of course, but I wanted to explore other options to see if there were better ways to work. I wanted a relatively small number of colours with excellent mixing options. I wanted colours that are readily available and didn't cause confusion. I really wanted to focus on yellows, reds, blues and some interesting granulating earths but also added phthalo green for its versatile mixing potential.
I tend to start with blues. Ultramarine is a basic blue in a watercolour palette and a real favourite. If I only had one blue that's what I'd have. My second would be Cerulean Chromium as it is great in skies, then I look at the phthalo blues as a strong, staining cool blue. Here I was comparing warm blues including different brands of ultramarine blue. The various ultramarines are largely interchangeable though the DS version once again is my favourite because of how it mixes with DS Burnt Sienna to make my Jane's Grey. I like the less granulating Schmincke version and Da Vinci paints are always excellent. I liked the M.Graham colour too but I don't like the gooey M.Graham paints for plein air work. I also love the richness of Indanthrone Blue, which is the fourth blue in my 20 colour personal palette, though it is not an essential colour. Cobalt is beautiful but doesn't have the depth of Ultramarine.
At the bottom of the above page I was looking at the various Burnt Umber options. I have this in my 20-colour palette simply because it is faster than mixing ultramarine and burnt sienna to make its hue. It is not an essential colour but a useful convenience colour.
In the next tests I was trying to decide whether it was perhaps worth having an orange rather than a warm red in the palette. Burnt Sienna is a basic neutral orange in my palette so I was looking at whether a bright orange would also be useful. I concluded that it doesn't add as much as a warm red. A bright orange can be mixed very easily, and I find that burnt sienna is more useful as a base colour. In this case I was looking at Transparent Pyrrol Orange as my warm red. I also looked at Pyrrol Scarlet later. The first mixed explorations on this page were looking at what combination of a warm red and a crimson would make a bright 'fire engine' red - useful to be able to mix but not an essential palette colour.
I don't choose to have a purple in my palette as they are so easy to mix but I do need the right pigments in the palette to be able to make a beautiful clean purple. I planned to have a cool red - either Quinacridone Rose PV19 or Quinacridone Magenta PR122 as the cool red for making purples. The blue was going to be Ultramarine so I tested DS Quin Red, MG Quin Rose, DS Quin Rose, Schmincke Purple Magenta, DS Carmine and DS Pyrrol Crimson to compare the purples they created. I settled on DS Quin Rose as it is a lovely colour for floral works.
The yellow explorations are to see whether a warm yellow, such as New Gamboge or Hansa Yellow Deep is necessary. I tested Nickel Azo yellow here but elsewhere I also tested other cool and mid yellows and chose DS Hansa Yellow Medium as the most useful primary yellow, along with DS Quin Gold as the warm yellow as it mixes such gorgeous greens.
The next mixes are the opposites from the colour wheel mixed together. Most neutralise each other beautifully, creating wonderful neutralised red, oranges and yellows which are of course Indian and venetian red hues, yellow ochre, raw sienna and raw umber hues and burnt sienna and burnt orange hues. If you know how to mix them, you don't need to have the earth pigments in a palette, though painting is faster and simpler if you do.
Another really important mix is shown above - number 9. This mix of Phthalo Green BS and Pyrrol Crimson creates a fabulous black, along with a range of deep aubergine and plumb colours that are otherwise not easy to create. It also creates a deep perylene green hue - fantastic for deep foliage shadows. I have other pages that test out different crimson mixes but chose the single pigment Pyrrol Crimson. So I find that 3 reds - a warm, a crimson and a pink/rose red really is ideal for maximum mixing options.
Here is the same idea using Phthalo Blue RS and Transparent Pyrrol orange with Schmincke Purple Magenta (PR122 - Quinacridone Magenta in most brands) this is a gorgeous set if you only want a few colours, but you need a lot of mixing space. Notice again the lovely mixtures you can make with Transparent Pyrrol Orange and Phthalo blue GS. The mixes would be similar with Quinacridone Rose instead of the PR122 magenta.