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Choosing Your Watercolours

Watercolour Painting Hints & Tips - Choosing Your Watercolour Paints

If you're just starting out with the medium, the amount of choice in watercolour ranges can be a little overwhelming. Should you go for pan colour or tube colour? Which colours should you include in your palette? Will you choose student or professional quality? Here you will find some hints and tips to help you with these tricky decisions and get you well on your way to creating the perfect palette!

Choosing Between Pans, Tubes and Sticks

Even though there are so many different brands and manufacturers of watercolour materials, their paints are commonly available in two different variations; pan colour and tube colour. You may find that some brands, such as Winsor & Newton, offer even more variation in their ranges with products like watercolour sticks and markers. All watercolour products in a manufacturers range will be made using the same high-quality artists' pigments. although sticks and markers may have additional binders or ingredients added to enhance their working properties. Artists may find that particular paint formats are best suited to their technique, but it is always a good idea to try the different options available and see what best suits you.

Pan Colour

Panned watercolour is manufactured in a solid 'cake' form and is commonly available in Half Pan or Whole Pan formats. Each watercolour cake is encased in a small plastic case which can easily be removed and transferred over to other palettes. Half pans are generally around 1.5cm x 1.7cm x 0.9cm and Whole Pans 2.2cm x 1.7cm x 0.9cm, but this may vary slightly between manufacturers. Pan watercolour can vary in its consistency from very dry to slightly tacky, but the colour is always activated by gently swiping a wet brush over the surface of the pan. They are a great option for artists who paint on the go and offer a convenient way for paint to be transported on painting trips or holidays. Artists that use only a modest amount of colours may also found that their palettes will even fit into their pockets! Half pans offer a convenient way to carry a larger amount of colours, but artists that create large washes may find that Whole Pans are more suitable for their technique.

Tube Colour

Tubes contain wet watercolour that can be squeezed directly onto the palette. They are more popular overall especially with artists who use high volumes of colour, and offer a great way to quickly create highly pigmented washes. Wet colour can also be put into empty half or whole pans; this can be a great way to pre-mix colours and eliminate the need to spend time mixing them on your palette!

Watercolour Sticks

Watercolour sticks are essentially a dried watercolour thathas been shaped into an easily usable pastel-like stick. These sticks are easily portable and allow you to bring together the best of your drawing and painting techniques. We stock watercolour sticks from two different brands; Winsor & Newton Watercolour Sticks and Daniel Smith Watercolour Sticks. The consistency of each is considerably different.

Winsor & Newton Sticks feel almost like a hard pastel and when used directly on paper the colour is quite dry. Colour can be activated by using a wet brush to wash over the pigment on the paper, or colour can be lifted directly from the stick using a wet brush.

Daniel Smith Sticks are much more malleable; almost like pan colour. Like Winsor & Newton sticks, colour can be applied dry, straight from the stick onto your painting surface, or can be used from the stick using a wet brush. An added extra with the Daniel Smith Sticks is that they can be cut using a sharp knife and squeezed into a whole pan.

Watercolour Markers

Watercolour Markers are the newest development in the Winsor & Newton watercolour range. They offer colour matched to the Cotman range and use the same quality pigments. Made in the convenient form of a marker, these pens combine the beauty of watercolour with your favourite mark making techniques. They are completely intermixable with Winsor & Newton's watercolour range.

Watersoluble Watercolour Pencils

Watercolour Pencils deliver great watercolour effects, but with the convenience of a pencil. Although they are considered a medium in their own right, many find that they are a useful tool for adding in fine detail to their watercolour paintings. Much like sticks, they can be used either wet or dry and activated on the paper or directly from the colour strip. The pencils can also be dipped and applied to paper to create vibrant linework. We currently stock watercolour pencils from two brands; Derwent Watercolour Pencils and Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle Pencils.

Choosing your Colour Palette

The colours you choose to include in your palette will depend largely on the subject matters that you paint, but if you are a beginner there are some great rules of thumb to follow. Your initial palette should cover a large spectrum of colour and contain a good balance between transparent and opaque pigments. It is also a good idea to have a mixture of strong and weaker tinting colours.

Basic Colour Palettes

With the ideal basic colour palette you should theoretically be able to mix almost any hue from between six to twelve colours. A common practice is to begin with a basic palette and then add more colours depending on your specific requirements.

Restricted palettes of only six colours are useful for both beginners and seasoned professionals that are looking to develop their understanding of colour. A six colour palette will use two reds, two yellows and two blues as a 'primary' palette. Each colour should have a warm and cool variant, which will ensure clean colour mixes for violets, oranges and greens. Adding additional colours to this six colour palette will introduce a wider range of tones and greater variation in opacity and tinting strength.

Some recommended palettes for our most popular professional and student ranges are included below.

Winsor & Newton Professional Watercolour Paints

  • Winsor Lemon
  • Winsor Yellow
  • Scarlet Lake
  • Permanent Rose
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson
  • French Ultramarine
  • Winsor Blue (G/S)
  • Winsor Green (B/S)
  • Raw Umber
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Chinese White

 

Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolour Paints

  • Lemon Yellow Hue
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue
  • Cadmium Red Hue
  • Permanent Rose
  • Alizarin Crimson Hue
  • Ultramarine
  • Intense Blue
  • Viridian Hue
  • Raw Umber
  • Yellow Ochre
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Chinese White

 

Expanding Your Palette

As you expand your painting repertoire you may find that you wish to add additional colours to your palette. A great way to get an accurate example of the colours from a manufacturers range is to invest in a hand-painted chart or dot card. More accurate than a printed colour chart, these charts give an exact example of what the paint will look like painted out on paper. Dot cards go one step further; these cards contain small dried blobs of colour which can be reactivated with a wet brush and used to paint your own samples.

Adding Secondary Colours

By mixing the colours in your basic six primary colour palette you will be able to create a variety of green mixes, but it is always good to have some single pigment greens included in your palette too. Using your green mixes to combine with other colours can result in muddy washes, but by using a single pigment green, like Winsor Green (B/S), you can achieve some bright and vibrant tertiary hues. Some secondary colours to bear in mind for your pallete include:

  • Winsor Orange
  • Quinacridone Magenta
  • Permanent Magenta
  • Thioindigo Violet
  • Cobalt Violet
  • Permanent Mauve
  • Ultramarine Violet
  • Winsor Violet (Dioxazine)
  • Cobalt Turquoises & Greens
  • Viridian
  • Winsor Greens
  • Oxide of Chromium
  • Green Gold

 

 

Lansdcape Painting

Introducing new colours to your palette can really expand your painting volcabulary. Adding new yellows, blues, greens and earth colours can prove really useful and expand your painting practice. Some great colours to try out include:

  • Nickel Titanium Yellow
  • Transparent Yellow
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale
  • Indanthrene Blu
  • Cobalt Blues
  • Winsor Blue (R/S)
  • Prussian Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Manganese Blue Hue
  • Cobalt Turquoises
  • Cobalt Greens
  • Viridian
  • Winsor Green (Y/S)
  • Terre Verte
  • Oxide of Chromium
  • Hooker's Green
  • Permanent Sap Green
  • Olive Green
  • Green Gold
  • Naples Yellow Deep
  • Raw Sienna
  • Light Red
  • Caput Mortuum Violet
  • Burnt Umber
  • Payne's Gray
  • Davy's Gray
  • Ivory Black
  • Titanium White

 

Portrait Painting

Portrait painting in watercolour requires the mixing of subtle tones that can be difficult to achieve with a basic palette. Adding some additional pinks, violets and earth colours to expand your existing palette will make it easier to create clean, crisp colour mixes and tones to bring that spark of life and character that portraiture needs! Why not try a few of these colours and see how you can integrate them into your palette:

  • Lemon Yellow (Nickel Titanate)
  • Nickel Titanium Yellow
  • Cadmium Yellow Pale
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Cadmium Scarlet
  • Cadmium Red Deep
  • Rose Dore
  • Quinacridone Red
  • Permanent Carmine
  • Rose Madder Genuine
  • Purple Madder
  • Permanent Magenta
  • Cobalt Violet
  • Permanent Mauve
  • Cobalt Blue
  • Cerulean Blue
  • Cobalt Turquoise
  • Naples Yellow
  • Naples Yellow Deep
  • Raw Sienna
  • Light Red
  • Venetian Red
  • Indian Red
  • Caput Mortuum Violet
  • Burnt Umber
  • Davy's Gray
  • Ivory Black
  • Titanium White

 

Do I need to include white in my palette?

Traditionalists and purists often state that white paint has no place on a watercolourists palette. Traditionally the white of the paper provides a background that gives watercolour its luminosity, and can be left unpainted to create stark white highlights. Although many watercolour artists choose to forgo a white on their palette, it should certainly not deter you from using the colour if you find that it benefits your technique. Chinese White can be used for toning down colour mixtures and for transparent highlights. Titanium White offers a more opaque colour with a greater covering power, ideal for rescuing small areas or for achieving bright whites on tinted paper.

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