Choosing My Watercolour Paints

There are many ways to work with any art media

Each of us needs to make personal choices that suit the kinds of work we do. Still, it can be interesting and sometimes very helpful, to also see what other people have chosen.

After adding four new tubes that were on sale this weekend, these are all of the watercolour paints I will be using for current projects.  The gaps in the circle, are for my wish list, to complete the circle, but for now I have everything I need.  There are also a few that I call “candy colours” because I love them, even though I could easily manage without them.

My choices so far – Sorry colour names are a bit hard to read! You can click to enlarge a little. I will also try to post a list and some photos of painted samples another day.


Making Changes

Choosing just the right new materials on a budget, can be challenging. I have built up a good collection of oils over the years and I know a lot about how they behave, but before last October, my watercolours were mainly just for sketchbook use. My watercolour kit  included only very basic primaries plus two neutrals. Now I am using more water media for finished pieces, so I have been adding colours a few at a time over the last few months.

Watercolour choices involve more than just finding the right hue:

Opacity, transparency, granulation, mixability, etc., are all considerations for different purposes so it is tempting to buy too many. Still, I don’t want to end up with unnecessary extras.

Testing for Ourselves

I wish our local supplier had a place set up for testing, like some in larger communities.  A dot card can be helpful, and worth the investment if they are available. From one company to another, there can be big variations in colours that use the same name. It can be confusing if you try to judge by label alone, or even by looking at colours online.

It is worth checking to see if your local art supply store has a binder or folder with actual paint swatches at the front desk. These can also be really helpful.

Palette choices are personal, so it can take some experimenting to narrow things down. For example, I use a few more semi-opaque earthy colours than watercolour purists, and I am working on clayboards more than on paper, so my choices might be quite different from some others.

The Colours I Won’t Be Using in My Current Palette

This photo shows some yellows I will NOT be keeping, at least not for everyday use:

W. N. Aureolin

  • One of these is an older tube of Aureolin from my sketchbook supplies. This is a very pretty yellow, and I think there are a lot of people who still use it. However, there have been some concerns about it turning greyish with light exposure. I am not sure it is worth taking a chance when there are other good choices available At this point I want to only use pigments with very high permanence, especially for work going up on walls, not just in the sketchbook.
D.S. Hansa Light
  • The Hansa Light is rated II for lightfastness, which is still quite good, but not as good as other choices. It is also not really a personal favourite. A more useful choice might have been a Hansa Medium. I will probably keep the light one in with extra supplies for kids, to use in sketchbooks.
 D. S. Yellow Ochre
  • I am setting this aside just because of personal preference.  Yellow ochre is a perfectly good paint, but I have a tiny tube of Winsor & Newton Raw Sienna that is beautiful and a little less opaque. It just seems to suit my palette a little better.
Winsor Raw Umber
  • The Winsor & Newton version of raw umber is also quite a lovely earthy gold, but I prefer their Raw Sienna for that place in my palette, at least for now.  The Umber is not very much deeper in colour. I might still keep this one in storage for now, but it is included here as an example of how labels can give the wrong impression. There are many variations of Raw Umber and each company makes it a little differently.  The brown label here looks nothing like the colour in the tube or on the paper. It is old labelling though so maybe this has changed.


Choices and Sharing Ideas

If even one little part of this post helps someone narrow down a couple of supply choices, then it was worth writing. What works for one person, can be very different from something that will work for someone else, but it still helps to share what we each learn in our own studios.


Coming Soon

I will be making a few more quick information or idea sharing posts here and on Instagram over the next few weeks, leading up to another couple of sketchbook workshops I will be teaching this spring.

I will also be posting information about a very special June artists’ residency position that I am very excited about!

Check back soon ?



Comments are closed

© 2006 - 2021 Susan Burnham Neilson

Visit Us On TwitterVisit Us On FacebookVisit Us On Instagram