When I first began watercolor painting and art journaling, I used what I already had on hand which was regular paper and the Pelikan watercolor palette pictured below. I have no idea where this set came from or how old it is; it was just something I grabbed out of our children’s art bin.
Regardless of this palette's mysterious past, I loved using it. It was lightweight, and the color choices worked great for me. I eventually used up most of the pans.
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I was new at painting, and I thought that it was normal for watercolor to fade a lot after the pigment dried.
Like a whole lot. Like I had to completely repaint layers. Constantly.
I began reading a bit about watercolor and decided to invest in "artist's grade" paints. I read tons of reviews and became completely overwhelmed. I preferred the portability of pans, so after a lot of debating, I finally purchased this pre-filled pan set by Sennelier.
I was thrilled to discover that fading was no longer an issue. And though I loved the vibrancy of the pigments and the softness of the paints, I didn't like the colors in this set nearly as much as I did in my old Pelikan set. They didn't work as well for nature and landscape painting which is primarily what I paint. The colors were also unpredictable; some were overpoweringly strong while some were very weak.
At the time, I didn't know how to mix colors. I didn't even know that I could refill the pans! But I used this set while I continued to learn, eventually adding colors in tubes and a larger palette (aka a 16-well stuffed egg plate from the dollar store) to keep at my desk.
As I began to learn a few basic mixes along with what colors worked best for me, I discovered that I didn't actually use a lot of colors. I still kept the egg plate at my desk, but I downsized to a smaller travel palette by Schmincke.
Though I'd love to try their watercolors one day, I bought this one empty. At this point, I was ready to pick out my own colors, and I loved it!
The Schmincke tin is very lightweight and durable. It pretty much stays in my minimalist field kit and travels with me everywhere. I removed the lift-out pan holder from the middle so I could fit in more full pans, and I find it works even better with the holder out of the way. (I just use Blu-Tack to keep the pans in place.)
As I continued to paint, the problem was that I never really cleaned out any of the old colors. I was constantly grabbing and going, and the idea of wasting pigment hurt my frugal heart. Eventually I grew tired of the chaos. It was time to overhaul my palette!
[Update: Since I wrote this post, we moved from the coast to the mountains, and I had to change my palette. My newest colors are here & they're still kept in this lovely little Schmincke tin!]
From top to bottom, left to right:
DS* Hansa Yellow Medium (PY97)
DS Quinacridone Gold (PO49)
DS Buff Titanium (PW6:1)
DS Burnt Sienna (PBr7)
DS Goethite (PY43)
DS or MG* Raw Umber (PBr7)
W&N* Olive Green (PY65; PB15:6; PR101)
DS Quinacridone Rose (PV19)
MG Pyrrol Red (PR254)
DS Manganese Blue Hue (PB15)
MG Ultramarine Blue (PB29)
MG Phthalocyanine Green (PG7)
DS Indanthrone Blue (PB60)
MG Sap Green (PG7; PY110)
[*DS is Daniel Smith; MG is M. Graham; W&N is Winsor & Newton]
I've spent the last couple of weeks trying out these colors— and only these colors— at home, in the field, and while traveling. I've found I can mix almost any color using these 14 pigments. (When I began, I thought my palette would never lack Ivory Black or Payne's Gray but I don't even miss them now!)
Below is a small sampling of mixes using these 14 colors. If you are interested in printing this chart for your own personal use, just click on the photo for a free download.
Since my palette at home can hold 16 colors, I occasionally pop in others. Permanent Alizarin crimson works well for a rose-tinted sky. Yellow ochre mixed with pyrrol red makes lovely terracotta shades. Cerulean blue, cobalt blue, or Daniel Smith's Undersea Green may also make an occasional appearance, but I haven't found another color that deserves a permanent spot yet.
So you can see that my palette isn't perfect, and I doubt it ever will be. As seasons, scenery, and skills change, I am sure my palette will also. Currently I'm having fun with all of the earth tones, but I doubt all of these will stay. I prefer full pans, so I'd like to carry even less colors in the field while keeping additional colors at home.
So cheers to the never ending goal of perfecting the watercolor palette, and I'd love to help you perfect your palette with a giveaway! I met a generous friend online who has become my paint pal. We are constantly sharing papers and pigments with each other so we can sample without buying. In honor of this wonderful lady who has blessed me immeasurably, I thought I would do the same for you!
Enter below for chance to win a watercolor palette filled with generous samples of all the colors I mentioned above, plus many others to try for yourself— a total of 28 colors in all!