Watercolour Mixes

When one gets started out in watercolour (or in any artistic medium) it is easy to be overwhelmed by the multitude of brands and colours available and get sucked into thinking that you absolutely must have every single one you can get your hands on, for if you don’t, all your paintings will be rubbish and you will never be able to paint like <insert favourite artist here>. Likewise many people buy pre-arranged sets of colours, only to find that two thirds of the colours go unused while a few often-used favourites must frequently be replenished.

I was no different; after seeing the different palettes recommended by artists in every painting instruction book I read, I went nuts on eBay and in local art supply shops and other online art supply retailers. My response to receiving art supply sale coupons was “Buy ALL THE THINGS!” I got pan sets of various sizes (from 12 to 48). I threw in several tubes whenever I ordered anything else online. I even spent the better part of an hour in the campus bookshop at uni, rummaging through their art supply clearance bins like a hobo in a dumpster as I made sure I had dug out every last tube of discounted watercolour.

But when it came time to actually do a painting, I spent more time digging through tubes and trying to work out which colour I should use than actually putting paint on the paper. After reading more and more about limited palettes, I decided to go through all my paints and see which ones should become part of my working palette and which ones could easily be replicated by mixing other colours. I thought I’d post the results of my experiments online so that anyone else trying to decide whether they really need that extra tube of colour could hopefully save themselves some money if they can mix it themselves. These experiments will be on-going so I will post more swatches as I work out how to duplicate more colours. At this stage most of the colours I have are Winsor and Newton but there are usually similar (if not identical) colours across all brands (eg. the Holbein Leaf Green is almost exactly the same as May Green from the Lukas or Schmincke lines), so you can still use these mixes as a guide regardless of which paints you own/intend to buy.

Brand Guide
AS = Art Spectrum
DR = Daler Rowney
HWC = Holbein
WN = Winsor Newton

I have broken my mixes up by hue for convenience. Click any of the images to see a bigger version.


Colour Mixes - Greens

Some people prefer to mix all their greens from a yellow and a blue, while others prefer to start with a ‘base’ green and then alter it by adding yellows, blues or earths. So far I have used the latter method but either works equally well; it just depends on the preference of the artist. I have used Winsor (phthalo) green (Yellow Shade) as my base, but you could also use the Blue Shade version if you wished; it might just change the mixing ratios slightly. Also, as I have shown, you can replicate either phthalo green by adding a touch of blue (to YS) or yellow (to BS). The trick is working out the exact amount of each colour to add, and this can take a bit of tinkering. For the Leaf Green, you need to only use the tiniest amount of green. Hooker’s Green appears in most brands’ line-ups but is often made of completely different pigments, and sometimes has slightly different hue/shade. However there are as many ways to replicate these variations as there are variations themselves. Perylene Green could also have been mixed using Winsor Green and black, but I like the more vivid hue of the Payne’s Grey mix.


Colour Mixes - EarthsBurnt Umber is one of those colours that seems to have a different pigment formulation in many brands. Though the ‘expected’ BU pigment is PBr7, I have seen some that include PR101, Pbk9 and other random guests, including Winsor and Newton’s Burnt Umber, which for some reason is a three-pigment mix. Some artists care less about the pigment and more about the actual appearance of the colour, so it is just a matter of what they think works best. I actually prefer MaimeriBlu’s Burnt Umber to the WN paint; it is a good, deep, dark brown and it is what I envisage a Burnt Umber to look like, as opposed to WN’s slightly orange-hued BU. But the WN one serves its purpose, so for now it remains in my palette. Mars Violet was a bit tricky to mix (and I still didn’t get it 100% accurate) so if it is a colour you use often, it might be worth just having a tube of it rather than having to mix it all the time.


Colour Mixes - Darks

Payne’s Grey seems to have a completely different pigment combination in every brand I have looked at, being composed of variations of blacks, blues, violets and even earths. Some lean towards blue while others are more neutral. Luckily it is fairly easy to mix; most dark blues mixed with an earth brown will usually give you what you want. The grey I have mixed here has a bluish cast but this could be neutralised by adding a bit more Burnt Umber.

So before rushing out to buy a Shiny New Tube, first look to the tubes in your own collection; you may find that you can easily mix that tempting colour from paints you already have.


About Rebecca J Fleming

Some random geek on the Internet who likes playing with coloured things. Also, I like to put Easter eggs in the microwave.
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