Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Watercolour Sticks from Daniel Smith

I wrote about making palettes using Daniel Smith watercolour sticks here.

I thought I'd add some more information, with photos, since I have noticed that watercolour sticks are now more readily available, including in Australia :-)

Here is my collection of watercolour sticks after my trip to the US last year. Some I have cut down to add colours to my students' palettes, some to add to my own palettes. I guess you could use them straight from the stick and not put them in a palette at all but that certainly isn't my suggestion. Once there is only 1/5 left of a stick I press it into a half pan, and, of course, write on the side what colour it is in a permanent pen.

20 colours - buff titanium, hansa yellow light, hansa yellow medium, quinacridone gold and hansa yellow deep - not that you need all four; organic vermilion, quinacridone red and permanent alizarin crimson; ultramarine, cerulean chromium and phthalo blue GS; phthalo green BS, undersea green, sap green and serpentine genuine; yellow ochre, burnt sienna, piemontite genuine, burnt umber and sodalite genuine.

My 'travel sticks' ready to go again.
Three half pans made up with 1/5 of
a watercolour tube squished in.
With watercolour sticks, unlike tube colours, there are no lids to screw on, no tubes to worry about leaking and no need to declare as liquids as part of your on-board luggage - they are very travel friendly. Though they do need to be stored in a dry container and can, of course, dirty each other if allowed to rattle around loose in a pencil case. They are formulated with the same ingredients as the tube colours, though with more pigment and less water so the drying has already been done. Even if you are not travelling with them, the ease of making up palettes is apparent. You simply cut off 1/5 of a stick and press in into the palette or pan. Done.

The only disadvantage is that you can't make up custom colours with them.

Note, though they were designed to draw with, I don't choose to use them for drawing. This is in part because I prefer to work with pencils and pens, but it is also because I live in a humid climate and I find they go soft so are not suitable for drawing where I live.

You don't need all of those yellows - I'd suggest hansa yellow light and hansa yellow deep (or you might prefer hansa yellow medium and quinacridone gold.)

Here's the set of 14 painted out, including three of the yellows, three reds, three blues and some lovely earth colours. Sodalite genuine is a dark blue pigment that is very similar to my Jane's Grey. I scribbled on the paler with the sticks and brushed water over them, though in the palette you would just touch a wet brush to them as with other watercolour pans.

A basic palette of 14 colours using watercolour sticks. Or switch out one of the yellows and add Piemontite as an earth red.

And here are some of the gorgeous extras.
Serpentine genuine is normally an expensive colour in a tube but all the sticks are priced the same. I love it for grassy meadows.
Undersea green is a wonderful olive green that works beautifully in Australia as it perfectly captures our dull gum leaves. It can be a distant green too, watered down for atmospheric effects.
Sap green works the world over as a convenient realistic foliage green - add more light yellow to brighten it up further.
Piemontite genuine is an earthy red. Really lovely with yellow ochre and cerulean chromium as an earth triad. Indian red has more colour but isn't available as a stick.
Burnt umber is a colour that I like to have as a pair with raw umber (also not available as a stick). It isn't an essential colour since you can create this hue by mixing a little ultramarine with the burnt sienna, but it can be useful to have convenient darks.

Lovely extras.
The 12 colours that are asterisked are a suggested 12-colour sketching palette if just using watercolour sticks.

An finally an 18-colour palette option.

Happy travels :-)


  1. Great idea using the sticks for an addition to the palette! I love the sticks but it is so humid here they become like stiff bubblegum that really isn't stiff at all!


  2. After reading your previous post, I ordered some sticks to try in a new travel palette I am setting up... This post just confirms that this is the way to go with my portable kit! Thanks for the update and doing the hard work!

  3. Wow! I had always wondered what was the point of the sticks. Thanks for the great tip, I am going to give this a try!

  4. I often read about artists that don't have greens in their palettes because they prefer to mix them. Sure, you can mix wonderful greens (as I've seen in your book!), but over time I have accumulated many tubes of green paint all the same, especially Daniel Smith's greens. Your stick collection includes greens that I also wouldn't be without now. It's a comfort and a consolation to see. Cheers!

    1. My feeling is that as long as you like the premixed green, and know how it is made, you can use if for convenience when it fits into the palette you are using without losing any colour harmony. Where it gets tricky is where someone uses a super-bright commercial green in a landscape that totally looks out of place. You can, of course, premix your own greens with your yellow and blue (or other) colours. Painting with watercolour has enough issues - saving the whites, not easily being able to cover or hide mistakes etc - so I don't think you need rules about not using convenience greens :-)
      My palette usually has at least 4 greens. It makes it so much faster to paint foliage when painting plein air, and to make all the leaves on a plant look as though they belong when painting botanicals.

  5. Thanks for this post!!! What do you think about Winsor and Newton sticks? Have a good day and congratulations for your work! :-) :-)

  6. What colors would you use for a floral palette using Daniel Smith sticks.