It amazes me the variety of colors that watercolor manufacturers can achieve from one single pigment, especially when it comes to the iron oxide labeled as PBr7, or basically brown pigment #7. This pigment can be altered to produce a huge range of earth tones ranging from warm yellows to rich reds to deep browns.
Since I’m a nature sketcher, PBr7 is one of my favorites. It's extremely lightfast and moderately transparent, plus it plays well with others... most of the time. Occasionally, its more granulating or opaque forms aren’t completely happy in mixes, but for the most part, it's a team player.
Earthen yellows are full of warmth and promise— the color of a fresh baked loaf hot from the oven, filtered sunshine, wild honey, and crunching autumn leaves, earth and heat and fire and toil, and the essence of craving on a deathbed. Because who doesn't hope to see golden light in those last moments?
Two of PBr7’s common colors, Raw Sienna and Raw Umber, are current staples in my palette. When I featured my 12-color palette, I had several folks ask why I chose Raw Sienna instead of Yellow Ochre (PY43), especially after my recent color and brand tests with yellow ochre.
It’s a great question, and I would love to offer an experty watercolorish answer, but really I just picked it because I enjoy using it. I'll share more experty reasons below, but for now, let's compare several earth tone yellows and see how they perform in mixes.
[Post contains affiliate links— thanks!]
Earth Tone Yellows
Let's start by comparing the two yellows in my stash that are both made from PBr7, M. Graham's Raw Sienna and Daniel Smith's Monte Amiata Natural Sienna. (Big thanks to a great friend who originally shared samples of these colors with me. She knows just what I like!) And for fun, let's also compare their swatches with another extremely similar earth tone yellow, PY43 or "yellow ochre."
(Please make allowances for scanner & monitor limitations.)
There are differences between these colors, but nothing that will make or break a painting, especially when viewed as a whole along with other colors in a painting. The PBr7 yellows appear more red or blue based (cool), and PY43 tends to relate more with an orange or green family (warm), but these assumptions aren't always true and can be subjective. For example, I think DS Yellow Ochre has a significant red cast.
One thing you can count on: Every single one of these colors centers around a pretty close range of peachy, orangish, golden, warm, earthy yellows. (Lots of adjectives, I know!) To more thoroughly answer the question of why I choose M. Graham's Raw Sienna for my palette's earth tone yellow...
One way to tell if a color works in your palette is whether or not you're constantly reaching for it.
With this one, I am. One small example is my Valle Crucis nature journal page in the lead photo. MG's Raw Sienna is the perfect pick for dry grasses, distant winter leaves, parts of a tree branch, and the lightly tinted feathers of a Song Sparrow. Raw sienna was also used to depict a glowing sky in the landscape below.
This paint is strong enough to hold its own yet transparent enough to fade into the background. (I like colors that are fine with playing second fiddle.) I can easily adapt this color by adding a touch of another color, and it mixes nicely with the other colors in my palette.
To be fair, I will say that I think Daniel Smith's Monte Amiata performs equally well. Below are some basic mixes.
I'm smitten with the fact that MG paints stay semi-moist in my palette— one of my favorite characteristics of this brand— but what made me chose MG Raw Sienna as my earth tone yellow above all the others is price.
Yep, I'm a cheapskate.
But I'm not cheap at the expense of quality. M Graham watercolors are exceptional paints for the money. Here's the breakdown:
- Daniel Smith's Monte Amiata (15 ml tube) retail $15.73 / online $10.04
- M. Graham's Raw Sienna (15 ml tube) retail $13.59 / online $8.15
*Prices are current online deals at Cheap Joe's, one of my favorite art stores. If you're ever close by, stop in and tell Joe that I sent you. By the way, never ever pay full retail for anything.
Though the prices of either of these paints won't make a huge dent in my budget, something had to be a deciding factor, and when in doubt, go for the least expensive. At least that's my motto, and it has served me well.
Sale alert! I don't know how long it will last, because God bless Amazon but this retailer is fickle (and that's my nice word) but MG Raw Sienna is currently a smashing $7.66 per 15 ml tube with Prime shipping. Of course if you can, buy local, because those folks tend to actually care about you. But for those who live in the boonies (like me), Amazon will do.
What's in an earth tone yellow name?
As you study watercolors, you'll notice the same pigments popping up again and again but with different names. In addition to Monte Amiata, Daniel Smith also produces a "Raw Sienna." Both of these earth tone yellows are made solely with PBr7. (I haven't used the DS version, so I can't compare it to MG.) Winsor & Newton makes a "Raw Sienna," but it doesn't contain PBr7.
Other watercolor manufactures also produce warm, earthy yellows with PBr7; for example, Old Holland's Italian Earth and Winsor & Newton's Brown Ochre. As I mentioned earlier in this post, depending upon the treatment of the pigment, PBr7 can be used to produce a massive range of colors.
Trying to figure out what goes on in watercolor manufacturers' marketing minds is fruitless. Never forget that they are in the business of selling you watercolors. I'm glad they are because I love watercolors, but watercolor marketers enjoy coming up with a thousand different colors because... well, to be completely honest, they hope you'll buy them. All of them.
All of the earth tone yellows I showcased above are fine brands and perform wonderfully well, so picking one boils down to nothing more than personal preference.
If you are building a palette and desire an earth tone yellow, to preserve your sanity and your budget, go with a tried and true workhorse like a single-pigment, artist-grade yellow ochre (PY43) or raw sienna (PBr7) or even a quin gold (PO49), and then put it to good use.
In other words, paint! You'll learn umpteen times more by painting with one color for a period of time than constantly switching between brands and paints.
P.S.. If you are interested in learning more about the differences between watercolor brands, I've profiled three major brands here.