One of the most popular warm yellow watercolors has long been known as Yellow Ochre. This earthy pigment is a nice transition color to seat in a palette between yellow and orange or red, or it can easily fit right in among the siennas and browns.
The most common pigment used in watercolors labeled “yellow ochre” is natural yellow iron oxide, also known as Pigment Yellow 43 or PY43. This pigment has been used in paints for hundreds of years and is a beloved favorite of many artists.
Yellow excites a warm and agreeable impression… the eye is gladdened, the heart expanded and cheered, a glow seems at once to breathe toward us.” Goethe’s Theory of Colours
I looked at three, top brands of yellow ochre watercolor— Daniel Smith, M. Graham, and Winsor & Newton (all are PY43)— and painted with each on a variety of papers. Below are my personal observations.
Please note that these observations are only my opinions, so these colors may look differently to your eye and react differently in your hand and with your instruments.
Winsor & Newton
Though most yellow ochre paints tend to be more opaque, Winsor & Newton’s yellow ochre is a very soft, creamy, slightly orangish yellow that is transparent when thinned and will even work as a glaze. Only when applied thickly on cold-pressed paper can I see a small amount of granulation.
M. Graham’s yellow ochre is the most opaque, and when applied thickly, almost looks like a gouache. In my eyes, this paint can sometimes have an almost greenish cast to it, but in most lighting it appears golden honey yellow, and I see little signs of granulation. True to its maker, it wets extremely well making it easy to apply a thick, dark layer.
Daniel Smith's yellow ochre appears the warmest, earthiest of the three; its has a strong orange cast yet it's not offensive. Like most DS pigments, the granulation is very apparent but not so much so that I found it difficult to control. It appears to be the most granulating of the three to me, though Handprint has it ranked equal to MG.
[Much thanks to Daniel Smith for sending a complementary 5 ml sample of their yellow ochre to try out!]
Some painters prefer an opaque, golden yellow ochre like MG produces. (My daughter flipped for it.) I can definitely see the attraction to the DS yellow ochre, especially when painting landscapes. It's what I used in the painting in the feature photo above.
When used alone, my preference is for the WN. I love its clear, warm creaminess. However, let’s see how these brands mix out. Sometimes that can totally change my perspective on a color.
Yellow Ochre Mixing Chart
With all mixing charts, try not to look at the colors. Those are just examples of what is possible with a mix. (You can learn more about that here.) When comparing brands and colors, it is more important to evaluate how the pigment/brand reacts with other colors and pigments in a palette. Ask yourself:
Do the colors mix easily? Does one color separate during drying? Does the mix hold its saturation or does it tend to wash out? Do I enjoy painting with this color? Does it play well with other colors in my palette?
These are all important considerations when choosing which works for you.
Yellow Ochre's Performance
Since I've used all three of these brands extensively (you can see my review and comparison of these brands here), they mixed out almost exactly like I expected... except for Daniel Smith.
I often have trouble with DS's granulating pigments misbehaving in mixes, but not this time! The Daniel Smith yellow ochre mixed out beautifully. It even handled fickle Cerulean and those bossy Phthalos just fine. You can see its granulation settling into the dips of the cold-press paper, but this resulted in a lovely effect that I don't find distracting in the least. Though at first glance I didn't care for the color of DS yellow ochre, it was my favorite of the three to paint with. If you want an earth-toned ochre that can hold its own, this is your yellow ochre.
Winsor & Newton's yellow ochre lightened significantly when mixed, but this watercolor brand is prized for its transparent lightness of being, not its boldness. WN yellow ochre still performed well and didn't once separate out or fight within the mixes. WN's most lofty trait is that it performs well without calling attention to itself. We introverts appreciate that! If you do too, this is your yellow ochre.
M. Graham's yellow ochre worked like it M. Graham usually does— with total aplomb. (I used MG for the Black Eyed Susan sketch above.) It mixed really well with all but Cerulean, but some may enjoy the effect that Cerulean's granulation produced during drying. (It really is pretty, isn't it?) MG stood strong in mixes and produced very opaque results, so if that's your thing, then this is your yellow ochre.
In practice, all three brands of yellow ochre performed extremely well. All wet, mixed, lifted, and painted easily. I would be happy with any one of these three yellow ochres in my palette.
P.S. DS also produces a deeper version of PY43 (or yellow ochre) called Goethite, which I have used extensively. There is a mixing chart with Goethite here.