Selecting paints for my new watercolor palette

Mt Hood (with sections of Payne’s Grey) between some Perelyne Green fir trees

My new watercolor palette arrived in the mail. Now it’s time to decide which colors to include.

My new palette includes 12 small pans (the containers for the paint). I have dozens of tubes of wonderful watercolor paint, but I can only choose 12 to include.

A big factor for me is that I do quite a bit of my painting outside on location – what is termed en plaine aire painting.  I’ve recently been painting outdoor locations, including the Sweetwater Wetlands Park, lavender fields in Portland and mountain scenes at Mt. Hood.

So I’m selecting colors that will work well for outdoor painting with landscape and different skies.

Which colors to select?

For their versatility, I’m going to include yellow ochre and Quinacridone gold.

Indian red works well on this worn door.

Yellow ochre works so well for painting outdoor scenes. Using yellow ochre and lots of water makes other pigments do interesting things, and I enjoy the unexpected surprises of the color combinations. Yellow ochre also provides an excellent warm base, especially for painting outdoor scenes in Florida.

Quinacridone gold is a little darker than yellow ochre. It plays well with other paints.

Sap green definitely will be in one of the pans. This dark (but not too dark) green works so well with other colors and really captures the look of leaves and other flora.

Yellow lime green is needed to work with the sap green for creating natural looking leafy trees or wetlands grasses.

Cobalt blue is a rich hue and I use it when painting lavender.

Marine Blue mixed with yellow ochre is a great wash to create dramatic skies.

Sap green foliage in foreground and perelyne green closer to downtown Portland. View from friends’ condo

Buff titanium and white gouache help me create skin tones, white feathers and the surf of the ocean. Gouache paints are opaque and paint over other colors, whereas buff titanium is translucent.

Opera pink is a vibrant pink for painting azalea blossoms and poinsettia blooms. In comparison to other pink and red watercolors, opera pink really pops.

I like Payne’s Gray. Even though I can mix my own gray with other colors in my palette, I like having a gray that’s ready to go. When I’m painting on location, I want to spend my time painting and not mixing paints. Especially when it’s a hot Florida day, the wash I’ve added to my paper will be drying while I’m mixing paint.

Ski lift at Timberline lodge on Mt. Hood. Called the Magic Mile. Indian Red rock in the background. Perelyne green firs in the foreground.

Most recently I’ve grown fond of Indian Red for rock formations in the Grand Canyon Perelyne Green for large fir trees at the base of Mt Hood and Amethyst Genuine (with a bit of sparkle in it) for painting lavender.

That’s a total of 13 paints — so I’ll need to part with one of them as my container holds only 12.

Once I’ve made my final decisions, I will add a little blob of paint from the paint tube into the little pan and then wait 2-3 days for the paint to harden before painting.

With the ease of changing pans in the palette, I can trade out colors for a specific painting location or subject.

Trail to ZigZag overlook. Walking in the fog. Payne’s grey is great for creating those trees covered by fog in the background

As a note for those who are interested in starting watercolor painting.

When you first begin watercolor painting, you may want to start with a palette that includes paint blocks. Those kits come with predetermined color blocks – typically 8, 12, 16 or 24 colors.

A watercolor palette with paint blocks lets you begin working with mixing colors to see which ones you use most. Using paint blocks is less expensive than purchasing the tubes of paint.