The way I set up colors on my palette as well my choices on the paper are probably one of the most commonly asked questions I get. Perhaps it’s because color is so personal. This is why I decided to make a series of articles discussing my choices and considerations that are behind the process. In this series of articles on setting up a palette and looking for the perfect set of colors, I am going to explain and demonstrate my thinking behind my personal paint organization and selection.

A post discussing my actual (physical) palette recommendations is going to be posted separately later, so I won’t be getting into it here. Most likely you already have a palette, or if you like your tools like so many of us do, palettes. What I will say is that I currently use Frank Webb watercolor palette. The palette features 25 open wells, it is made of fairly durable white plastic and has a convenient lid that keeps the paint relatively moist. There’s a large undivided mixing area in the middle of the palette seamlessly connected to the wells, allowing an unrestricted access to all colors.

Even though I use just a handful of paints in each painting, I find that having 25 wells for paint is not too much. I use around 20 wells. Of course, I have just a few staples which I use most often, but I personally like the variety and freedom this setup offers.

Studio Palettes: Frank Webb Watercolor Palette
My Frank Webb watercolor palette paint setup

Following is a list of my personal paint choices. Pigment is indicated as well as my preferred manufacturer. That, say, two manufacturers use the same pigment doesn’t necessarily mean that the resulting paint will be of the same hue, value or behavior. You have to try various manufacturers for yourself and “feel out” their approach to their paint composition. For me personally, on of the most important considerations is that the paint has a high pigment load. This means that the pigment to vehicle (gum arabic) ratio offers good value and of course, richer, stronger washes. Therefore I list not only the marketing name (which doesn’t say much at all in many cases), but the make and pigment code as well.

My Personal Palette

  1. Cool Yellow: Azo Yellow (Aureolin) by M. Graham – PY151
  2. Warm Yellow: Carr Yellow by American Journey – PY10/PY154
  3. Warm Red: Joe’s Red by American Journey – PR254
  4. Cool Red: Alizarin Crimson (Quinacridone) by American Journey – PV19
  5. Warm Violet: Permanent Rose Quinacridone by American Journey – PV19
  6. Cool Violet: Dioxazine Violet by Winsor & Newton – PV23
  7. Warm Blue: Ultramarine Blue by M. Graham – PB 29
  8. Blue: Cobalt Blue by American Journey – PB28
  9. Cool Blue: Cerulean Blue by American Journey – PB36
  10. Green: Mint Julep by American Journey – PG7/PY3/PW6
  11. and Joe’s Green (Phthalo) by American Journey – PG7
  12. Earth Yellow: Raw Sienna by American Journey – PBr7
  13. and Gold Ochre by Winsor & Newton – PY42
  14. Earth Red: Indian Red by American Journey – PR101
  15. and Maroon Perylene by M. Graham – PR 179
  16. Dark Earth Hue: Sepia by LUKAS – PY42/PBk7
  17. Black: Ivory Black by Winsor & Newton – PBk9
  18. White: Chinese White by M. Graham – PW4

If I were asked to list a limited palette of only the core hues I have to have on my palette, the following would be my selection:

  1. Cool Yellow: Azo Yellow (Aureolin) by M. Graham – PY151
  2. Warm Red: Joe’s Red by American Journey – PR254
  3. Warm Violet: Permanent Rose Quinacridone by American Journey – PV19
  4. Cool Violet: Dioxazine Violet by Winsor & Newton – PV23
  5. Blue: Cobalt Blue by American Journey – PB28
  6. Green: Joe’s Green (Phthalo) by American Journey – PG7
  7. Earth Yellow: Gold Ochre by Winsor & Newton – PY42
  8. Earth Red: Maroon Perylene by M. Graham – PR 179

What I want to stress is that these are my personal choices. This is not a “universal” palette.

Recommended Palette

If I were to recommend a standard starting palette regardless of my own preferences, it would go something like this:

  1. Cool Yellow (Yellow): PY151 or PY154 (Azo Yellow, Winsor Yellow, Aureolin, etc.)
  2. Warm Yellow (Orange-Yellow): PY153 (Gamboge hue, Indian Yellow)
  3. Warm Red (Orange-Red): PR254 or PR108 (Pyrrol Red, Cadmium Red)
  4. Cool Red (Red) or Warm Violet (Violet-Red): PV19 (Alizarin Crimson, Quinacridone Red, Quinacridone Rose, Quinacridone Violet)
  5. Warm Blue (Violet-Blue): PB29 (Ultramarine Blue)
  6. Blue: PB28 (Cobalt Blue)
  7. Cool Blue (Green-Blue): PB35 or PB15:3 (Cerulean Blue, Phthalo Blue BS, Manganese Blue hue)
  8. Green (Blue-Green): PG7 (Phthalo Green)
  9. Earth Yellow: PY42 (Gold Ochre)
  10. Earth Red: PR101 (Burnt Sienna)

Notice that I list my paints as pigment codes and hue names, with the emphasis on cool or warm. It is important for us to learn to think in relative terms when we speak of color. As artists we have to adopt the usage of correct terminology, because consequently we will adopt the correct mindset. No longer we can afford referring to our paints as red, blue, yellow, brown or green. We need to describe their relative warmth by saying either “warm red”, or even more accurately “orange-red”. We also need to take the marketing names of paints with a grain of salt and start thinking about paint in terms of pigment codes. Composition of the paint itself is also an important factor.

All of these questions and concerns are going to addressed in a series of upcoming articles, so stay tuned! These should be of benefit to you when you’re simply looking for a new paint, or if you’re trying to troubleshoot your current palette. If you have any additional questions you’d like me to cover, please leave them in the comment section down below.


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