Monday 12 September 2016


I missed out on a week of turquoise, which would have been the next logical colour, but added it in later. There's a fine line between a greenish-blue and a blueish green - when do they become turquoise/aqua/teal? And it's the same with the opposite of turquoise - a red-orange vs an orange-red, though there is no name for the in between colour.

There are many mixed greens available but I focussed here on more of the single pigment greens. I love the granulation of the Daniel Smith Primatek colours Green Apatite Genuine, Jadeite and Serpentine Genuine. I included DS Undersea green, even though it is a two-pigment mix, since it is one of my favourite convenience greens. I also included the DS Sap green - and other lovely useful hue.  Chrome green is an interesting more opaque green - not one I've used very often though I like it. Rare Green Earth is only just a green shade of grey - a gentle landscape green, that could be used in distant mountains in a landscape.
Greens can be neutralised by adding a red, though whether a warm or a cool red depends on how yellow or how blue the green happens to be.

For more greens, see my website here.

Saturday 10 September 2016

A 14-colour Granulating Earth pocket palette

Following on from the previous post about a 7-colour earth palette, I looked at the 'extras' I carry in my little Pocket Palette. (Note all watercolours are Daniel Smith)

I normally set it up with 14 of my Ultimate Mixing Colours as picture left (more information here and here), but my 'extras' version had hansa yellow light, phthalo blue RS and pyrrol scarlet (since they are not in my regular palettes and I sometimes need to demonstrate them) and a whole pile of earthy colours - almost a perfect earth palette in fact.

It had a number of pigments that I love for different reasons, and may want to paint with along with my regular palette - the basic 20 colours that I generally use. The yellows in my regular palette are Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Gold, Goethite and raw umber.

The extras were -
yellow ochre - which I like to use for landscapes or portraits
raw sienna - which mixes into a grey rather than a green with blues - good for skies, though also for skin-tones
transparent red oxide - which I love for its gorgeous burnt orange colour and crazy granulation
piemontite genuine - which is fabulous for rusty effects with transparent red oxide
cobalt blue - which is a beautiful colour that I don't use much (outside Santorini!) and want to get to know better
cobalt turquoise - which is lovely for copper effects and the sea
green apatite genuine - which is gorgeous for foliage, and is a multiplicity of greens in one pigment
serpentine genuine - which is perfect for grassy meadows
graphite - which intrigues me, though I don't often use it...
sodalite genuine - which has a little deep blue colour but lots of granulation
lunar black - which is the only black watercolour I use - fantastic granulation and texture

I wanted of keep most of these colours in their natural form, so they are still available when I need them, but turn the palette into a full stand-alone granulating earthy palette to paint with rather than just an extras palette.

So I added buff titanium, Indian red and cerulean chromium from my regular palette, instead of the hansa yellow, pyrrol red and graphite grey. I have also added the gentle potter's pink that is a long time favourite of Liz Steel that I have rarely used, as a granulating dusty rose (instead of the powerful phthalo blue RS that would overpower this new earth palette). It will mix gentle purples with cobalt blue. Purpurite genuine was another possibility here.

Cobalt blue is arguably too bright for this palette, and Blue apatite genuine would be a very fitting alternative, but I do want to get to know cobalt blue better so it is staying :-)

Outside the 14-colour palette paint-out, you can see that up the top I have also painted the lovely earthy mix of Quin Gold and Goethite, (I guess that would be Jane's Granulating gold :-) and the mix of Transparent Red Oxide and Burnt Sienna (Jane's Sienna) that are both in the 7-colour palette I posted about here.

Below are Graphite Grey, Hematite Genuine and Jane's Grey, which are alternatives for the dark colours, with VanDyck brown over on the right.

If I were suggesting a 12-colour granulating earth palette, it would have my Granulating Gold mix instead of Yellow Ochre and Raw Sienna, my burnt sienna mix, Indian Red alone (without Piemontite or Potter's Pink) and a deep granulating brown such as Van Dyck Brown instead of Lunar Black. Though of course Blue apatite genuine and Jadeite genuine are also gorgeous :-) The basic triad of a yellow earth, Indian red and cerulean are the starting point. How many you add to it is all about personal taste and what other pigments you happen to have or to like.

Now it's time to go out and paint with my new granulating earth pocket palette...

I went to a park in Rozelle and chose to paint the rocks on the shore. Not a challenging subject with an earthy palette I'll admit! It worked fine, but don't like to be missing Jane's Grey from my palette. Sodalite is interesting but not actually as versatile as my grey mix. Nor do I like missing ultramarine to be honest, even though cobalt blue works in a similar though gentler way. Nor quinacridone gold or goethite. So what have I learnt? That I am very stubborn! I have favourites because I love working with them. Why change? It's important to experiment and test things out, even if one returns to the status quo.

I'll keep my earthy 14 colour palette made up of course, but will continue to use them as extras to my usual set.

Thursday 8 September 2016

What colour next? (with an update)

I am setting myself a challenge. I made a palette that will have serious limitations, so that painting exactly the colour I see is not an this range. There is not a bright yellow to make greens, or a true red, or pink to make purples. It will force some interpretation. It is also full of granulating and some non-transparent colours.

I mixed Quinacridone Gold with Goethite to create a brighter mixing granulating earth yellow. (Jane's Granulating Gold); I mixed Burnt Sienna with Transparent Red Oxide to create a brighter Burnt Sienna. (Jane's Sienna). I initially chose Sodalite Genuine rather than Jane's Grey (burnt sienna + Ultramarine) as a dark to add even more granulation. It was also good for colour harmony since I didn't include ultramarine in the palette (!) I'll probably switch it back to Jane's Grey though...

It is based around a primary triad of Indian red, Cerulean chromium and the earthy gold so it's a very earthy palette. Without Ultramarine, my basic blue, it'll be really interesting to paint with, especially wet into wet with a large brush.
Buff Titanium, Jane's Golden Earth, Jane's Sienna, Indian Red, Cerulean Chromium and a space for ?

But my little palette has room for one more colour. I considered adding Green Apatite Genuine or Serpentine for a granulating green, but chose one from below that I think will fit in best to keep harmony with the set. What would you add?

Quinacridone gold and Goethite make Jane's Gold, burnt sienna and ultramarine make Jane's grey, transparent red oxide and burnt sienna make Jane's sienna. 

Update 2017. 

Thank you for the suggestions :-)

I did end up adding Cobalt blue - it was the best fit for a softer blue with the other palette colours, and then switching to my Jane's Grey instead of Sodilite. The cobalt blue will probably switch to ultramarine when it runs out - I'll have to think about that one. Ultramarine and cerulean chromium are such a lovely pair for skies, but Cobalt fits in very nicely with this more subdued palette.

The other change I made was to switch the Indian Red for Jane's Earth Rose - another custom colour made from Indian Red and Potter's Pink. It combines the gorgeous granulating pink of the PR233 with the strength of the PR101. It's a strong granulating dusty rose colour - very nice :-)
Potter's Pink and Indian Red make Jane's Earth Rose
I am not deliberately naming a whole range after myself but it really is the clearest way to explain that it is a colour I've created, not a commercial mix.

So here is the final palette painted out, with a 'mixed black' using the primary triad and a quick colour wheel. I like the balance of strength with this now :-)

Earth palette with Buff Titanium (DS), Jane's Golden Earth, Jane's Sienna, Jane's Earth Rose, Cerulean Chromium (DS), Jane's Grey and Cobalt Blue (DS)
Here is the palette and some of the mixes. The purples made with Cobalt Blue and Jane's Earth Rose are just lovely.
Mixing earthy greens, purples and neutrals with the earthy palette colours.

Sunday 4 September 2016

Using Daniel Smith watercolour sticks to make palettes.

Daniel Smith watercolour sticks cost less than a 15ml tube of DS watercolour paint but are made with 1.6 times the pigment load so they are a very economical way to buy watercolours - particularly the Primatek sticks which may be series 3 or 4 in tubes! Designed to be drawn with, they can also be cut up to create fast and convenient watercolour palettes, whether they are stuck into pans, half pans or directly into palettes.

Here I have cut one stick of Buff Titanium into 5 pieces. You could cut it into 6 but 1/5th fills the half pan nicely. (For full pans use 1/3 of a stick.) I added a drop or two of distilled water to the pans to soften the watercolour stick and then pressed it in. I used one piece in a Masters palette as well. The very convenient part of setting up pans or palettes like this is that you don't need to wait for them to dry.

You could just cut 1/5th off the stick for a palette and keep the rest to use as a drawing stick. They work best in less humid climates - they do tend to soften in humidity.

If you want to create my Ultimate Mixing Palette using sticks, here are the suggested sticks to buy
1. Buff Titanium 
2. Hansa Yellow medium (or Hansa Yellow Light if you want a cooler yellow)
3. Quinacridone Gold (or Hansa Yellow Deep if you want a brighter warm yellow)
4. Organic Vermilion (since there isn’t a Pyrrol Scarlet)
5. Quinacridone Red (since there isn’t a Quinacridone Rose)
6. Perm Alizarin Crimson (since there isn’t a Pyrrol Crimson)
7. Ultramarine Blue 
8. Phthalo Blue GS
9. Cerulean Blue Chromium
10. Phthalo Green BS
11. Yellow ochre (since there isn’t Goethite) or Raw Sienna
12. Burnt Sienna
13. Piemontite since there isn’t Indian Red
14. burnt umber (Since there isn’t raw umber)
15. Jane's Grey - you need tubes to mix Jane's Grey so could buy ultramarine and burnt sienna in tubes. Or use Sodalite Genuine watercolour stick, as it is a very similar colour.

If you want to create my suggested 12-colour urban sketching palette using sticks, you'd get
Buff Titanium
Hansa Yellow Light
Hansa Yellow Deep
Organic Vermilion
Quinacridone Red
Cerulean Chromium
Sap Green
Yellow Ochre
Burnt Sienna 
Burnt Umber
Sodalite Genuine (or get tubes of ultramarine and burnt sienna to make Jane's Grey)

If you are using tubes or watercolour to make up pans or palettes, make sure you shake the tube well before you open it and always open watercolour tubes cautiously - the paint can flow out very fast at times. Ideally, fill the pan half at a time and stir thoroughly to make sure the pigment and gum arabic are thoroughly mixed. Allow to dry in a warm place and you are set to paint.

Update 11/1/2017 - see more information, including the colours painted out here.

Saturday 3 September 2016


There are many wonderful blues. They vary in intensity, temperature and characteristics. In our blue week we had a fabulous range of blue objects to draw and paint and once again created the shadow colours by adding the opposite, orange. 

Burnt Sienna is of course a neutralised orange and a classic mixing colour with ultramarine. What is more surprising is that the opposite of phthalo blue is really a red - pyrrol scarlet or another warm orange-red - as phthalo blue is such a greenish-blue. Who says mixing a blue and a red will always make a purple?

I have included the beautiful genuine Old Holland Manganese Blue here even though it is no longer very easy to get hold of. The soft colour and pretty granulation is lovely. I have also included some Daniel Smith Primatek blues. I love the texture of Sodalite and Blue Apatite Genuine. I generally use ultramarine, cerulean chromium and phthalo blue in my palettes, perhaps with the lovely Indanthrone blue, but some of the others are fun extras :-)
You can see many more blue watercolours on my website here.

An Urban Sketching watercolour palette with Daniel Smith watercolours

I am often asked what colours to buy to start painting with watercolour. I created an 'ultimate mixing set' to address this question - a palette of 15 colours that will be suitable for mixing any colour and painting just about anything, and a book that shows how to mix them.

They are a great set for anyone, but this time I wanted to look more specifically at those who are urban sketching, and who may be new to watercolour. They are painting a largely man-made urban world and looking for a compact and portable palette. I also wanted to focus on more forgiving colours than the phthalos which are powerful and staining, so can be a little scary for beginners, though they are wonderful :-)

Here is a suggested 12 colour 'starter' urban sketching palette using Daniel Smith watercolours. I am focusing on the colours that are available as 5ml tubes and/or watercolour sticks so that the initial investment is not too high - then it is easier to get started with wonderful artist quality watercolours rather than student ranges. I'll look at other brands in separate posts.

This set of 12 contains a fairly classic bright split primary palette with an emphasis on transparent or semi-transparent colours that are non-staining so it is very forgiving - you can lift off 'mistakes' if you need to!

There is a cool and a warm yellow, then a warm and a cool red, then a warm and a cool blue. All are transparent or semi-transparent so your carefully drawn pen or pencil lines won't be covered when you paint - an important consideration for sketching.

This particular sap green is a very useful and realistic convenient green straight from the palette. It can be further neutralised with the addition of either of the reds or burnt sienna for more olive greens. Or it can be warmed further with either of the yellows, or cooled down with the blues. Other greens can be mixed with the blues and yellows.

Then there are the earth colours, which help to speed up your painting and create the colours you need for building materials and even skin tones - the yellow earth - yellow ochre; an orange earth - burnt sienna; and a deep cool earth - raw umber.

Suggested 12-colour starter set of Daniel Smith watercolours
Buff Titanium is an unbleached white pigment. It is perfect for creating the look of marble (with Jane's Grey) or sandstone (with yellow ochre and burnt sienna) and also for skin tones or pastel hues. It is a colour and texture exclusive to Daniel Smith and one of my favourite urban sketching pigments.

These colours can be bought either as sticks, 5ml tubes or 15ml tubes. Some, though not all, are available in all forms. Making half pans from the Daniel Smith watercolour sticks is very efficient and cost effective, as you can just cut 1/6 (or 1/5 if you want it really full) off the stick and press it into the half pan - no need to let it dry overnight like tube colours. They re-wet just like regular pan watercolours when you are painting. Then you still have the rest of the stick to draw with if you wish, or make some spare pans for extended travel. I would put a drop or two of distilled water in the bottom of the pan to soften the paint if you are in a very dry environment so the stick wedges into the pan perfectly.

* The watercolour sticks are all one price, regardless of the series number. Consequently they are a very affordable way to purchase series 2 or higher watercolours to make up into palettes. The pigment load is 1.6 times the tube colours and they contain no chalk or fillers.

The final colour has to be made with tube colours - it is a mix of the burnt sienna and ultramarine to make the very convenient 'Jane's Grey'. Instructions on mixing this here.

*The Daniel Smith Essentials set of 6 x 5ml tubes could certainly be used in this palette, then add Cerulean Chromium along with the other colours so you have a non-staining cool blue for creating skies anywhere in the world with or without mixing with ultramarine. New gamboge and hansa yellow deep are almost exactly the same bright warm yellow colour.

The Schmincke 12-colour metal sketching palette
set up with 12 half pans of Daniel Smith watercolours.
This is the Schmincke palette, available empty, designed to hold 12 colours, but you can easily add another 2 into the metal holding plate. A very similar version is also available for around US$15 or AU$25 (Art Basics from Art Scene in Australia.)

This gives you the option of adding 2 more of your own chosen colours at some time - another blue, such as phthalo blue; a deep green such as perylene green, a convenience orange such as quinacridone sienna; an earth red such as Indian red (which is excellent for brickwork and certainly one I'd add), a convenience purple such as Imperial purple - whatever you wish. I also love the mixing pair phthalo green and pyrrol crimson or Undersea green for Australian foliage. The point is, it's up to you.
Possible additional colours to personalise a 14 or more colour palette

A metal 12-pan palette st up with 14 half pans

Here I have set it up with space for perylene green (or phthalo green, or undersea green) and Indian red (or burnt umber). The half pans can be moved around easily, or stuck more firmly into place with blu-tac or you can stick magnetic strips to the bottom of each pan. 
If your collection grows, as they often do, the whole internal metal tray can be removed so either 18 half pans and a travel brush, or 24 half pans, or a mix of whole and half pans can be added to create a personalised palette. You can see a lot of other palettes on my website here.

Happy sketching!

Thursday 1 September 2016

Gamboge - what is it?

Many people are familiar with the name Gamboge, often called New Gamboge, but not so many will have come across the resin that made the original paint.

Gamboge chunks
NY24 is Natural Yellow 24 - natural gamboge, a resin from a few trees found in Asia from the Garcina genus, and particularly in Cambodia. the name is derived from cambugium - as is the name Cambodia itself. It is a strange substance, appearing as a dull earthy yellow lump but when you touch a brush to it a stunning yellow paint appears. Sadly, though, it is a fugitive colour, not suited to long-term use.

Most companies have a paint based on this pigment colour. It is generally a mid to warm transparent yellow.

PY153 was a popular pigment to use - available in Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton, but it is no longer available so alternative mixes are being used. You can read a great W&N article about it here.

Natural Gamboge painted out as a pigment

Here is the natural gamboge. A touch of a wet brush and the colour is a very pure and lovely yellow.

But it also fades. Here it is in my lightfast tests after just a few months. The left side was exposed to light, the right side wasn't.

Natural gamboge is apparently a powerful purgative/cathartic and/or diuretic depending what you read and is poisonous so not a substance you'd want to ingest by accident. Fascinating though :-)

Please note - this is not a recommended pigment, though traditionally used in Chinese painting.