I've been watercolor painting for more than a year now, and it is time to drastically simplify my pigment choices. I have too many colors scattered across too many palettes, and this has become confusing and redundant.
This is the main reason I advise beginners to steer clear of watercolor sets and instead focus on collecting single pigments.
Take it from one who has learned the hard way: Very little is needed to watercolor paint, especially if you take the time to explore a few, basic color mixes.
Since I paint mostly in nature, brown and green are the colors that I use the most. Even though I'm a minimalist at heart, somehow I have amassed a mess of watercolors. And I mean that literally. Nine different greens is a mess, and I have at least as many browns!
It took me very little time to cull nine greens down to six. (I just looked at which ones I used the most; some of the greens had barely been touched!) Because of my subject matter, I tend to favor warm, muted shades of greens. However, I took Jane Blundell's advice and tried to choose a mix of cool and warm greens. With a few hours of experimental mixing, I was able to reduce the number of greens down to four.
To decide what pigments to mix the greens with, I chose several colors in my palette that I thought were possible keepers. Again, I looked to see what I used the most and tried to choose a mix of cool and warm colors. The chart below is what I ended up with.
Colors used [affiliate links]: Sennelier Phthalo Lt Green, Warm Sepia; M. Graham Phthalo Green, Sap Green, Ultramarine, Yellow Ochre, Pyrrol Red, Azo Yellow, Permanent Alizarian Crimson; Daniel Smith Olive Green, Raw Umber. (If you are itching to try a bunch of different colors, Daniel Smith offers their paints in trial-sized dot cards.)
Many artists don't buy premixed greens but instead mix green from various other pigments. However, since I use a variety of greens daily, having a few "convenience" shades saves me a lot of time in the field, though I would like to try to reduce the number of greens I use even further.
You can see in the color chart that some of the mixes look almost too similar to differentiate. Phthalo Green is highly staining so I've always avoided it, but I found the mixes from this hue to be too unique to ignore. For now, I'm going to set aside my occasionally used Phthalo Light and substitute the full hue in my palette. We'll see how it goes!
Interestingly enough, making this green mixing chart helped me to cull other pigments also. For example, I won't keep both the raw umber and warm sepia, but I wanted to see how green interacted with both these pigments, and doing so helped me decide which of these to keep.
In fact, I was pleasantly surprised at all the lovely shades of brown that resulted from the green mixes, so I'm already working on my next watercolor mixing experiment. Browns, you are going down!
For more on mixing greens, Catherine Anderson has posted a list of helpful green mixing recipes over at artistsnetwork.com. Also, I highly value the work of Jane Blundell who freely shares her green mixing experiments at her blog and website.