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.
You can read the FB post about this palette here. 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.
About Watercolor Brands
Though I do have other brands scattered throughout my stash, the main brands of watercolor that I currently use are American Journey (AJ), Daniel Smith (DS), and M. Graham (MG). To save my fingertips from typing the full brand names out each time, throughout the rest of this post, I’ll use these acronyms.
While I'm happy to share the brand of each color that is currently in my palette, this is subject to change. Though I do have my favorite brands, I’m not brand loyal. Instead, I try to focus on 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.
For additional information, I highly recommend Bruce MacEvoy’s site, Handprint, an excellent resource for the various brands of watercolor pigments available. Just click across the top row of this page to be taken to a wealth of pigment and brand information. I also recommend Jane Blundell’s site and blog for comparing various brand’s color swatches.
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 and the brand that I prefer, read on after the list. For an explanation of the letters and numbers after each color, see this post.
[List contains affiliates.]
UPDATE: Each color below links to the color/brand I was using at the time I posted this palette. This is still a great 18-color palette, but I've also shared an updated version at my current sketching tools post. I only share my favs so you can pick the best colors and brands for you!
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 (brand tbd; PV19)
- Cerulean Blue (PB36)
- Cobalt Blue (PB28)
- Indanthrone Blue (PB60)
- Hansa Yellow (PY97)
- Indian Yellow (PY110)
- Azo Green (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.
AJ Joe’s Red (aka Pyrrol; 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 for this one, I shoot for the best price.
MG 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 AJ’s Raw Umber Violet (see below) and was intrigued by RUV’s base pigments. I’m currently experimenting with several brands of this pigment and don't know if this color will stay in my palette, but for now, I'm having fun with it. I've profiled four brands of Quin Violet here.
MG 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.
MG Cobalt Blue (PB28)
I recently switched from Ultramarine to Cobalt, and PB28 has won me over. I prefer MG’s honey-based version because it’s 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.
DS Indanthrone Blue (PB60)
This is hands down my favorite blue. I’ve tried MG’s version (Anthraquinone Blue) but I didn't like it in dilution, and I prefer the color of DS. 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 rich, smoking hot teal. Update: I recently tried Da Vinci's Indanthrene Blue and fell in love with the color, and the price is super nice. You can see more PB60s including Da Vinci here.
MG Hansa Yellow Deep (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 PY97 suits me. I’ve used DS and MG and haven’t noticed much difference, so I've stuck with MG because of its price and honey-based quality. (Plus, for some odd reason DS constantly shrank in my palette.) However, I'm itching to try AJ’s version labeled “Bumblebee," so we'll see!
MG Indian Yellow (PY110)
Oh my how I LOVE this single pigment, 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.
MG Azo Green (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. The first PY129 I purchased was MG, so it's still in my palette. I also really like AJ's version, and it usually has the better price.
DS Serpentine Genuine
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!
MG Sap Green (PG7/PY110)
MG’s Sap Green is a convenience green, and I can easily mix it myself, but this blend is so perfect for me that I don’t really want to. And I do have plenty of room for it in this palette! If space is limited, I tend to forgo multi-pigmented shades, but when MG’s Sap Green is in my palette, I reach for it constantly. This color is also an excellent mixer, which is rare for convenience shades.
Joe’s Green (aka Phthalocyanine Green; PG7)
Many painters avoid straight up 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 can be used to create a ton of other colors from teals to olives to blacks. I highly recommend Joe's Green; the 37ml price is fantastic! I've used MG but this potent of a pigment does not need to stay moist in my palette. I was constantly finding it smeared on my clothes and nose.
DS 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 may eventually switch over.
AJ Raw Sienna (PBr7)
Oh how I love Raw Sienna! I've got a thing for all the earth tone yellows, but this is my favorite. And it seems to be a fantastic pigment across brands. I've used DS, MG, and AJ, and all perform brilliantly (though DS granulates the most, of course). Because the AJ 37ml price is particularly nice, it's a keeper in my palette.
DS Goethite (PY43)
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.
AJ 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. When I tried AJ's version, it was love a first sight. However, there are numerous PR101 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 brands of this pigment here.
DS Raw Umber (PBr7)
I’ve tried numerous raw umbers, but DS is the only raw umber I’ve liked. If you are into rich, cool, coffee browns, this is the RU for you. It performs perfectly, mixes easily, and I use it in almost every single painting I do. However, I recently had the pleasure of trying out AJ’s Transparent Oxide Brown, which is actually PR101. It's slightly warmer but similar in strength to my favorite, and its 37ml price is tempting indeed, so stay tuned!
AJ Raw Umber Violet (PBr7/PV19)
This convenience blend of raw umber and quin violet is so fabulous, I’m trying to convince Joe to rename it after me. The minute I tried it, this color instantly became my favorite color ever. (Yes, it even tops Raw Sienna, but pair them together for a landscape match made in heaven.) 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. If Joe made a 50ml tube, I'd buy it!