Getting Started With Watercolors

Anawanitia’s watercolor box

Many people say boo about having watercolor pans in their painting arsenal. For me, it is the ultimate tool, as you have so many colors at the ready – no fuss, no muss, just open up watercolor box and off you go. The pan colors last a long time too, even when creating larger paintings. Plus, you do not have to fight with glued caps.

You can use watercolor tube paints in the little pans too. Just squeeze out a bit at a time and let it dry in layers, it takes a few days, but once dried, the pan lasts seemingly forever. I have a few of those in my box.

I personally prefer the metal tin watercolor box more than the plastic watercolor boxes such as my Winsor & Newton field box, although the W&N watercolor box is really cute. The tin holds up to 38 colors, has three large mixing areas with deep wells for the washes and holds a few brushes, yet it is still very compact.

My personal watercolor case contains a variety of different watercolor manufacturers. Once you get painting, you will find the right colors for you. The watercolor box shown has watercolor paints from Winsor & Newton, MaimeriBlu, Rublev, and Daniel Smith. Winsor & Newton has the smallest pans, but the highest pigment content. Daniel Smith comes in tubes and watercolor sticks, but they sell the empty watercolor box.

If you know your colors and know what you like, definitely recommend purchasing an empty tin of any size and filling it with your favorite colors. There are several sizes. If you are not very apt to choosing your own colors but are serious about watercolor painting, both the Winsor & Newton Artist Colours 24 pan set and the MaimeriBlu 24 pan set have professional colors and are a joy to play with.

Both Maimeri and Rublev state they use tube colors to fill their watercolor pans, and as such, it may be the reason that the pigment strength appears lower. Winsor & Newton has been perfecting watercolor cakes since the 1800s.  I had begged them to sell the watercolor box here in the U.S., but at the time, the only watercolor metal box I could get was from Maimeri. Winsor & Newton told me it was an English preference to have pans, and that the Americans do not purchase watercolor pans nearly as often, and as such that is the reason it is more difficult to find a decent watercolor set in the States.

If you are a watercolor lover but the cost of professional watercolors makes your stomach churn, the Winsor & Newton Cotman pans cost less than half as much as the professional grade, but are still fun to work with. Those are the PAN set only, the tube colors are a pain to work with, and feels like working with glycerin tinted color. AWFUL.

Alternately, you can choose a handful of colors (tubes or pans) also called a ‘limited palette’, like the ones that are presented below for an affordable cost.

Today I am going to use Winsor & Newton Titanium White, W&N Cadmium Yellow Pale, W&N Quinacridone Red, MaimeriBlu Phthalocyanine Blue, MaimeriBlu Black.

We are going to mix all the three colors and the two shades to create both full strength colors, subdued colors, earth colors and dark colors.

Format your palette light to dark for this lesson:

White, yellow, red, red-violet, blue, indigo and black.

For pigments, there are a variety of names, however if you choose Winsor & Newton, the names are easier for watercolors, oils and acrylics:

Titanium White

Cadmium Yellow Light

Cadmium Red Light

Quinacridone Magenta

Ultramarine Blue (green shade) this is our indigo/blue-violet

Winsor Blue (green shade) this is phthalocyanine blue

Mars Black

The reason I have it arranged that way is because with watercolors working light to dark is easier than working dark to light. Generally, that is. There are no hard rules with painting, hence – art, you can do whatever you please. This is just to get you started and if nothing else, it is easier to remember where everything is if you choose a set way of setting up your palette. But that is a different post.

When you lay out the colors, please look at them, get to know them. Do a few color tests on your palette and on paper. All of the colors will look drastically different from one area to the other, and once dry. Hence, get to know the pigments well.

Once you have become acquainted with  your watercolors, the color guide below will get you started. Please see the below video for color mixing. 

Yellow and red to make orange.

Red and blue to make purple.

Orange and purple to make brown.

Yellow and purple to make ochre but it also makes a gray when mixed 50/50.

White and red to make pink.

Indigo and brown to make a deep colorful gray near black.

White and black to make a neutral gray.

Black and yellow makes a weird green.

Blue and yellow makes a bright green.

Although you can omit ultramarine and the cadmium red light from the palette, the ultramarine provides a full color range. If you choose to remove those two pigments for money saving purposes, choose Quinacridone Red rather than Violet or magenta. The Winsor Blue, Quinacridone Red and Cadmium Yellow light mimics the CMYK of a printer.

Use variations of white with the pre-mixed colors to make the shades. Darken the colors with an opposite color.

Black can be used to darken colors, however, it also changes the properties of the color. I recommend learning how to use the opposite colors to make grays first and then learn to mix with black paint.