Saturday, 3 September 2016

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!