Choosing Watercolours, Part 3: Colourholics Anonymous

Colour Chart

The thing of great beauty shown above is my massive Mega Watercolour-Mixing Chart.  It so it hangs neatly on the door in my studio space.  The door is right next to my worktable, so I can gaze adoringly at my soothing rainbow collection of colours whenever the frustrating #&$#%@ technical illustration I’m working on gets under my skin.  Ahem.

In earlier segments of this series I talked about my process and preferences and the differences between brands

In this segment of my Choosing watercolours series, I will review each of the colours shown in the top portion of my colour chart. I will refer to colours first by their pigment name, then by the manufacturer/paint name.  Most colours shown are available from several brands- if you already have the same pigment from a different manufacturer, there’s usually no sense in rushing out to get the brand I used.

IMG_4090In a later piece I will go over the “extras and oddballs”, some of which are shown in the bottom of this mixing chart – mostly dark or opaque and granulating colours which are useful for shadows and mixing effects.

I hope to also update with pigment swatches for easier reference.

Highlighted in green are my favourites, highlighted in red are colours I recommend avoiding:

PY3 Hansa Lemon (YSP) : No lemon yellows are truly transparent, but pY3 is a useful semi-transparent.  Used alone it reads as an intense highlighter yellow, but can be muted with violet-blues for useful green mixes.  It does not have the highest lightfastness rating, so proceed with caution.

PY97 Hansa Yellow Deep (MG):  Called Hansa Yellow Medium by other manufacturers, this warmer semi-transparent yellow is useful for mixing olives and punchy oranges.

PY 150 Nickel Azo Yellow (MG):  Called Transparent Yellow by most other brands, PY 150 is a hidden jewel, the only transparent primary yellow pigment.  It looks like literal poop squeezed into a pan, but is a bright clear yellow in washes, and builds up to a deep golden ochre applied thickly, and mixes a beautiful range of greens, oranges and golden browns.

PY 110 Indian Yellow (MG): An M. Graham exclusive as a single-pigment, PY 110 is a transparent, non-granulating rich orange-yellow.

PO 71 Translucent Orange (Sch): A relatively rare pigment, Schmincke’s translucent orange is a bright fiery orange that is transparent in washes and mixes beautiful warm yellows, reds and browns.

PR 112 Naphtol Red (MG): Transparent and lightly granulating, Naphtol red is a bright fire engine red.  Very dominant in mixes, just a tiny dab goes a very long way.

PR83 Alizarin Crimson (WN): Though a useful colour for mixing fleshtones and florals in my sketch kit, Alizarin Crimson is a fugitive pigment which will be replaced once it runs out.

PV19 Quinacridone Rose (YSP) : Usually a warmer rose colour, the Yarka version appears closer to a magenta.  I have the WN Permanent Rose version in my sketch kit and will switch to M. Graham’s redder PV19 when both run low.  Nice transparent, non-granulating, permanent floral colour

PV122 Purple Magenta (Sch): True primary magenta – transparent, non-granulating, and permanent.  Deep and saturated and mixes wonderful violets and reds.

PV23 Winsor Violet (WN): The most common single-pigment violet – called Dioxazine by other brands.  Transparent and non-granulating but may be less-than-lightfast in tints.  Will switch to the supposedly more lightfast PV37 version of dioxazine offered by M. Graham when I run out.

PB60 Indanthrone Blue (DS):  Deep dark violet-blue, transparent, non-granulating and lightfast, excellent for mixing emerald greens and deep shadows of all kinds. I think I am a bit weird about blues, I prefer alternates to all of the common favourites.  I use Indanthrone Blue more frequently than Ultramarine

PB29 Ultramarine Finest (Sch):  Called French Ultramarine by most other brands, PB29 is one of the most common violet-blue pigments.  The Schmincke version is more finely milled than others, which reduces it’s granulating properties.  This makes it a cleaner/more predictable mixer.

PB27 Prussian Blue (MG): A dark, slightly dulled primary-blue – the M. Graham version reminds me of a phthalo blue with more personality, one of the rare cases where I don’t prefer the clearest brightest colour, perhaps because pure primary blues and the highlighter greens they mix don’t occur much in nature.  Has a tiny bit of flocculation with doesn’t impact mixing but gives the paint some depth.

PB 15:3 Winsor Blue Green Shade (WN): Known as Phthalo Blue in other brands, this is the common “primary” transparent blue.  This is the clearest mixer, but not my favourite blue alone or mixed.

PB 16 Phthalo Turquoise (WN): A deeper, greener variant of Phthalo Blue with similar mixing properties but much prettier.  Be careful to check pigments when purchasing Phthalo Turquoise paints as many brands (including my usual favourites M. Graham and Daniel Smith) sell a convenience mix rather than the single pigment PB16.  Luckily unlike some of their other pigments, the WN paint re-wets very readily.  Again, filed under “I’m weird about blues”, I’ve eliminated the ubiquitous opaque chalky cerulean in all of my palettes in favour of phthalo turquoise.

N/A Amazonite Genuine (DS):  DS Amazonite genuine is a transparent, non-granulating teal from Daniel Smith’s Primatek line of real mineral paints.  It waters down to a clear blue-turquoise in tints, I find it useful when I need a less intense green-blue for mixing or water effect than my usual “pow” picks .  Plus, made of ground up real amazonite, how cool is that?

PG18 Viridian (MG): My usual impulse would be to go for a more powerful, non-granulating Phthalo Green with nearly identical hue in the emerald spot.  However, a bit of granulation can make mixed greens more leaf-like and real, and so I am experimenting with using Viridian instead.  This is one of the few cases where brand really matters in a common pigment – Viridian has a reputation as being very difficult to rewet and a weak tinter. M. Graham’s higher pigment load and moist honey formulation make it more rewettable and a deep tinter.

N/A Serpentine Genuine (DS):  Another Primatek, serpentine is a  very realistic mossy sap green colour with purple/brown flecks.  Mixes well with blues and yellows and oranges for a range of realistic neutralized greens and browns, but I love it on it’s own.

PY 129 Azo Green (MG):  Pigment is called Green Gold in most other brands (Rich Green Gold in Daniel Smith).  Nearly transparent and non-granulating, this paint ranges from a strong green lemon in tints to a neutralized apple green  applied full strength.  It makes a great glowing glaze.  The M. Graham paint is greener and brighter than other brands made with the same pigment, which I really enjoy.  However, this is the wettest/stickiest of my M. Graham paints.  In a travel palette, a different brand might be a safer alternative.

P049 Quinacridone Gold (DS): Daniel Smith is the only remaining supplier of this genuine pigment which has been discontinued by manufacturers.  All other Quin Golds are convenience mixes.  Transparent and non-granulating, Quin Gold is a useful glazing colour, as well as a transparent/non-granulating alternative to traditional earth tones.  

PO48 Quinacridone Rust (MG): Called Quinacridone Burnt Orange by other manufacturers. A transparent and non-granulating burnt orange, this yummy pigment is the perfect earthy fall colour.  Appears more brownish full-strength but is nearly a pure orange in tints.

PR101 Burnt Sienna (WN): Eerily similar to PO48 applied full strength but granulating and more opaque and less pretty in tints.  Previously a favourite earth tone but since I discovered Quin Rust I can’t think of many situations where I would prefer a PR101 based burnt sienna.  Will consider switching to a browner PBr7 based Sienna.

PBr7/PR101/PY42 Burnt Umber (WN):  This one shouldn’t be included at all, I mistakenly thought it was a single pigment.  ‘Nuff said.

PBr7 Raw Umber (DS): There is huge natural variation in natural earth tones.  Daniel Smith’s raw umber is an uncommonly dark cool brown that mixes a range of perfect rocky greys and very neutralized greens and plums.  This is one of those cases where I LOVE the granulation and neutral character of a paint.  

I hope this guide has been helpful to you.  Of course, the best way to learn about colours is to try some mixing of your own, but if you’d like a colour mixing chart reference without the effort and expense, prints of my chart are available through my  Redbubble shop .  I’ve also added some fun extras for those of you who have always secretly wanted watercolour mixing chart leggings.  I think I might treat myself to a scarf after all this hard work painting.

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