I recently purchased a first aid kit for our car, and in the process, I accidentally stumbled across a nifty watercolor palette idea. I was also able to find several more of these compact kits at the dollar store. Not only is this container the perfect size for an 18-color watercolor palette, but it's also great for storing extra pans. Plus, it only cost a buck, is lightweight, compact, and highly portable.
Pictured below is the original container alongside the repurposed palette filled with 18 Schmincke full pans and my chosen watercolors. The top isn't the best mixing surface, so I keep it at my desk where I already have a porcelain mixing plate.
I’m a minimalist at heart, so I really had no idea how to stock an 18-color palette. However, I quickly realized that I was having way too much fun filling all these pans. Below, are the colors that I finally settled on—at least for now! Color is so much fun, and I enjoy experimenting and discovering new color techniques.
I’ve already profiled quite a few of the pigments that I chose for this palette and have shared mixing charts to help you put together your own perfect palette. In upcoming posts, I’ll be highlighting many more of these colors along with their good looking cousins—like that massive quin family, oh my! I’m looking forward to much more color fun in my future, so stay tuned.
To find these resources more easily, I’ve set up a watercolor page with a list of related articles. (See the "Color" section.) To keep up with future watercolor tips and tutorials, you are welcome to follow this blog by email.
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About Watercolor Brands
Though I do have other brands scattered throughout my stash, my main brands of watercolor are American Journey and Da Vinci. However, nearly all of my palette's colors are available in other brands. The most important factors in a paint are pigment characteristics, cost, and performance. I’ve learned which brands make the pigments that look good and perform well for me.
But I’m open to change, and you should be also. Brand information is simply a loose recommendation and is not to be taken as the gospel truth. I may like one brand’s color, and you may hate it. And I’m totally okay with that!
Always be willing to explore what colors & brands work best for you.
18-Color Watercolor Palette
Look at all those gorgeous earth tones! I'm a nature and landscape painter at heart, so my color choices are highly influenced by my subject matter. (These colors probably wouldn't work for a floral painter.) The 18 colors that I chose for this watercolor palette are listed below.
If you’re interested in more information regarding each pigment, read on after the list. For an explanation of the letters and numbers after each color, see this post.
Listed according to color's location in my palette (above), from top to bottom, left to right:
- Pyrrole Red (PR 254)
- Quinacridone Rose (PV19)
- Quinacridone Violet (PV19)
- Cerulean Blue (PB36)
- Cobalt Blue (PB28)
- Indanthrene Blue (PB60)
- Hansa Yellow (PY97)
- Indian Yellow (PY110)
- Green Gold (PY129)
- Serpentine Genuine
- Sap Green (PG7/PY110)
- Phthalocyanine Green (PG7)
- Buff Titanium (PW6:1)
- Raw Sienna (PBr7)
- Goethite (PY43)
- Transparent Oxide Red (PR101)
- Raw Umber (PBr7)
- Raw Umber Violet (PBr7/PV19)
Additional Information on Colors
Below are more details about each color along with my experiences with them. It's a long read, so if you can't digest it all today, feel free to bookmark or pin this post for future reference. The colors are listed in the same order as they are above and in the same order as they occur in my palette, from top to bottom, left to right.
Pyrrol Red (PR254)
PR254 is an intense yet neutral, fire engine red, and I love it! It looks great on its own but is also an excellent mixer that can be used to create a wide range of oranges, purples, and darks. I’ve tried several brands, but PR254 seems to be a fairly stable pigment across the board, so I shop for the best price.
Quinacridone Rose (PV19)
I don’t know what I’d do without PV19 in my palette, especially when painting skies. It’s clear, bright, transparent qualities are gorgeous in application. Plus, it's an excellent mixer that produces a beautiful range of purples, peaches, oranges, and more. You can view common Quin Rose mixes and learn more about the various brands of this pigment here.
Quinacridone Violet (PV19)
Quin Violet is brand new to my palette, so I’m just getting to know this color. I added it after discovering American Journey’s Raw Umber Violet (see below) and was intrigued by RUV’s base pigments. I’m currently experimenting this pigment so I don't know if it will stay in my palette, but for now, I'm having fun with it. I've profiled four brands of Quin Violet here.
Cerulean Blue (PB36)
I've been through the blues, so to speak, and really enjoy using Cerulean as a light blue. It's pretty much the only granulating, opaque pigment in my palette but it's perfect for skies, snow shadows, and more. You can learn more about this color and see various brand comparisons here.
Cobalt Blue (PB28)
I recently switched from Ultramarine to Cobalt, and PB28 has won me over. This blue is smooth, strong, and can hold its own in mixes. You can view common cobalt mixes and read more about the various brands of this pigment here.
Indanthrene Blue (PB60)
This is hands down my favorite blue. I use it constantly in dark skies, mountain streams, distant ocean waves, and more. It makes an instant black when mixed with brown, or add a touch of Phthalo green to gain a smoking hot teal. This color varies according to manufacturer, so I've profiled several brands of this pigment here.
Hansa Yellow (PY97)
PY97 is usually labeled as some sort of Hansa (deep, medium, etc) and is a clear, warmish yellow with excellent lightfast ratings. As a nature sketcher, I'm not partial to lemon yellows so this yellow suits me. However, it can be rather expensive so I'm keeping my options open.
Indian Yellow (PY110)
Oh my how I LOVE this warm, orangish yellow. Mixing it with Phthalo green or Cobalt produces a huge range of greens and earths. Mixing it with Pyrrol red, Quin rose, or red oxide produces a shocking range of oranges. It’s also a great color to use on its own and perfect for painting the warm undertones of yellow wildflowers and sunset infused landscapes.
Green Gold (PY129)
This green (though technically, it's a yellow) looks like pea soup on steroids and is a fairly new pigment to my palette. So far, I’ve only used it in landscapes, but wow, it makes a fantastic sunlit treetop color. I look forward to getting to know this pigment better. It seems this color is fairly stable regardless of manufacturer, so I usually shop for a nice price.
I often refer to these type of pigments as designer shades because they are pricey splurges and totally unnecessary in a palette. However, I'm currently enjoying this light green. It has a pleasing reddish-umber granulation that works extremely well with leaves and landscapes. Because of the cost, I doubt it will stay in my palette, but it's fun for now!
Sap Green (pigment varies)
I paint so much with green that I really appreciate having a premixed green in my palette. If space is limited, I tend to forgo multi-pigmented shades, but I certainly have room for it in this palette! Most of the convenience greens that I've tried even work well in mixes; I've got more about mixing with greens here.
Phthalo Green (PG7)
Many painters avoid PG7 because its intensity can be overwhelming, but it's a pity if they do, because this pigment is the best mixer in my palette. This clear, rich green looks rather horrid by itself but it can be used to create a ton of other colors from teals to olives to blacks.
Buff Titanium (PW6:1)
Buff Titanium is basically a dirty white, and I keep this color around for one reason: mushrooms. It’s the perfect color for a fungi base coat, and since I’m constantly sketching and studying mushrooms, I use it often. (Or at least seasonally; I rarely touch it in the winter.) This color also makes an excellent base color for sand, seashells, bird eggs, and other not-quite-white things. Because plain old titanium white (PW6) is a lot cheaper, I'm sure I'll eventually switch over.
Raw Sienna (PBr7)
Oh how I love Raw Sienna! I've got a thing for all the earth tone yellows, but this is currently my favorite. It's a perfect color for painting winter grasses, autumn trees, and even sun kissed skies. Though this color varies slightly according to brand, it seems to be a fairly stable pigment and performs well regardless of manufacturer.
This pigment may be more familiar as Yellow Ochre, but PY43 can also be used to produce a warm, light brown. This is another perfect mushroomy color, and it's also a great color for mimicking dry leaves. I could probably recreate this color with raw sienna and a touch of umber, but I enjoy the convenience and granulation of Goethite in my palette.
Transparent Oxide Red (PR101)
PR101 is available in a seemingly infinite variety of brands, colors, and names, and all display a huge range of shades and transparencies. However, American Journey's version was love at first sight. However, there are numerous choices available so it’s a fun pigment to play with. You can view common TOR mixes, download a mixing chart, and learn more about this pigment here.
Raw Umber (PBr7)
If you are into rich, cool, coffee browns, this is the brown for you. It performs perfectly, mixes easily, and I use it constantly. If you prefer a brown with golden hues, try American Journey's Transparent Oxide Brown (PR101) or Da Vinci's Burnt Umber (PBr7).
Raw Umber Violet (PBr7/PV19)
This convenience blend is so fabulous, I’m trying to convince Cheap Joe's to rename it after me. I see this color everywhere in nature and use it to mimic distant forests, deep rocky outcroppings, creek shadows, or the cooler shades within grasses and leaves. Pair it with Raw Sienna for a landscape match made in heaven!
UPDATE: This is still a great 18-color palette, but since I wrote this post, I've made a few changes to my color choices. I've shared a newer version of my 18-color palette at this post.