The current palette and brush

I’ve been looking forward to writing a more detailed post about the colours on my palette after Parkablogs asked the question a few weeks ago. It’s grey and damp in Montreal (January thaw) so instead of getting out to sketch, I made a little schematic of what I am currently using.

This comes with a few disclaimers:
1: There are no rights and wrongs with colour. Colour choices can be very personal and different people have success with different pigments. For example, I rarely use Phthalo or Prussian blue because they just don’t work for me. Or rather I can’t make them work. Other people use them to great success. Have a look at how successful Alvaro Castagnet is with reds or Milind Mulick is with pale greens.

2. Value is more important than colour, so if you can get the right value with whatever colour you are using, you will have a higher success rate in your paintings and sketches.

3. I’m not someone who studies the chemical compounds of colours to analyze how they are made. If I like the colour and it works well in my paintings, then I stick with it, even though there may be plenty of alternates. If you, on the other hand, are interested in the science of watercolour pigments, the most valuable resource you can find online is

Below is the list of the colours I am using these days and in case you want to know the brands there’s a photo of the tubes below. (Forgot to include the Daniel Smith Carbazole Violet in the photo.) Again, this is just my personal preference for the time being.



So let’s go over the colours one by one. Each one has a specific reason for being in the palette.

Azo yellow: transparent, cool, mixes well to make pale greens. And this from “is a very good “primary” yellow, leaning neither to red nor to green, with a bright, clear appearance.”
Gamboge: I like to have a cool and a warm yellow. This is the warm one.
Naples Yellow: very opaque, chalky yellow that is best used on its own rather than in mixes (turns them dull and milky). I love to use it as the warm tone in the sky close to the horizon line.
Pyrrol Orange: this is a transparent orange, one that I used a lot of recently in Costa Rica. It dilutes beautifully into a light salmon colour, is great in skin colour mixes and even works nicely for warmth in skies.
Azo Green: great for foliage because of the uniqueness of the green. Warm but not too pale.
Deep Sap Green: I have been searching for a deep, blueish green for a long time. This one works well for dark evergreen foliage in winter, especially mixed with Indanthrene or Alizarin.
Phthalo Green: describes this as the anchor green for many “convenience greens” (like the two I use above) so if you only have one green in your palette it should be this. Add a little yellow, you have spring green; add some burnt sienna to get a beautiful mid-green for trees. Just don’t use it on its own for foliage! There’s nothing in nature that looks like this.
Cobalt Teal: I’ve been looking for a good turqoise for a while. I used to use Manganese Blue but stopped because it was too runny. Beautiful to use for tropical seas, if you are lucky enough to be somewhere warm.
Cerulean Blue: for skies, greys, backgrounds. I only use Winsor Newton brand.
Cobalt Blue: wonderful in shadow areas, and of course for snow
Ultramarine Blue: great for making greys, especially mixed with Burnt Sienna
Indanthrene Blue: a fairly new addition to the palette for mixing darks
Carbazole Violet: another recent addition that makes beautiful shadow tints and rich darks
Permanent Alizarin Crimson: the cool red that is part of my favourite primary triad along with Azo Yellow and Ultramarine. If I could only bring three colours on an outing it would be these three
Organic Vermillion: another new addition to the palette to replace Cadmium Red, which I find too opaque
Burnt Sienna: This is in almost every sketch I do, but the only brand I use is Winsor Newton. I could do a whole post on this colour alone and all the great mixes you can make with it.
Burnt Umber: Mixed with Ultramarine, great for deep, rich darks

PaletteBrush2015The palette I’m using these days is one generously given to me by someone who took my workshop in Seattle last summer. It’s a little bigger than the one I travelled with last summer, and I find it works well because it’s light and has a generous mixing area. If you use a plastic palette like this one, be sure to wipe down the mixing area with an abrasive cream cleanser to avoiding having your paint bead on the surface.

The current favourite brush is one I’ve had for a long time but only recently rediscovered. It’s a Raphael Petit Gris Pur mop brush. It holds lots of paint, has a great point and feels perfect in the hand. More about brushes in another post since this one is now rather long.

40 Comments on “The current palette and brush”

  1. RENE MANNING says:

    Hola. Veo que usas DANIEL SMITH y también GRAHAM… Yo uso Grumbacher o Windsor And Newton. Los colores cambian mucho entre las marcas, unos son más brillantes y otros muy opacos. Uso Grumbacher para mis acuarelas y también pinto con esa misma marca algunos trabajos en Gouache. Soy Diseñador Gráfico (Graphic Designer).
    Un abrazo y felicidades por tus trabajos y los de tus compañeros. Hace tiempo que los veo y siempre descubro algo nuevo con ustedes. Hasta pronto.


    • Hi Rene,
      My Spanish is good enough to understand what you say but not good enough to reply without grammatical errors so I hope you don’t mind my response in English. Thanks so much for writing. Yes, I also find that there are many differences between different brands of the same colour. If you learn how to read in detail, you’ll understand why. I think the best way is to try out different brands and find what works best for you. I always try to stick with Artists Quality paints, rather than student quality.


  2. JoAnn says:

    Hi Shari. Do you know what brand your palette is, and/or its dimensions? I LOVE your posts and paintings and so appreciate your teaching blog. Hope you’re doing well!


  3. Linda Daily says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your palette and brand choices. I forwarded this to my sketch group jokingly telling them, “Now we can paint like Shari!”


  4. sandi says:

    Absolutely wonderful. Thankyou so much, especially for your comments on each of the colours. Thankyou for the links. And yes I am one who is interested in the science of watercolours. I’ve had a quick look at and I can see I am in for a lot of fascinating reading. Cheers.


  5. Billie Barton says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your talent and experiences, you have no idea how inspiring you are. I look forward to see what tomorrow brings. Big XO.


  6. george smith says:

    I really like comment #5. This blog is a welcome gift on a cold winter morning. Color itself is
    like the ocean with it’s unfathomable depth, yet you managed to make it’s complexities digestable. For all your work , thought and logic in this key watercolor lesson – I thank you.


  7. Ellen says:

    Thank you ! I love reading about color alongside seeing the artwork.


  8. Janice Kelky says:

    That’s an excellent and useful rundown of your colour palate Shari. Thank you for making the effort. I see Daniel Smith paints. Where do you generally buy your supplies. Ottawa is poorly served so most of us use Currys in Toronto. 🎈


  9. Ross Sutherland says:

    Thanks Shari this is very helpful


  10. I too would love to know the name of that palette, and where to get it.


  11. TR Duncan says:

    Carbozole Violet… the secret color I’ve been trying to figure out! Thank you for sharing this Shari… the whole list… thank you so much!


  12. Elaine Archambault says:

    how generous of you, so interesting and well explained, not long at all. thank you for sharing.


  13. I am always blown away when viewing others palettes. I have many of the pigments you have and they are in my not-so-much group. I tend to like transparent pigments, tho I love Cobalt Teal. I notice that you use a lot of M. Graham. I love the paints but found that they don’t dry as well in my travel box. Are you using your pigments from the tube on a palette (like oils) or do you have pans that you put your paints into and carry?


    • If you use M. Graham paints you need to let them dry for a few days before you go out. Or squeeze out a bit on site as I sometimes do. I use to squeeze out big blobs of paint that would go into freefall in the palette as I travel around but now I would rather use smaller amounts and refill more frequently.


  14. Reblogged this on D.Katie Powell Art and commented:
    Shari Blaukoft is one of my favorite painters to follow. Here is a recent posting of her current palette, and also links to Parkablogs, which is another great blog to follow if you are a painter (or like reading about them!)


  15. karinakuschnir says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all this in great detail!


  16. This is really useful, Shari, I think I’m going to substitute out a yellow, an orange and a blue for ones you have. Love that you say why you use these and the reasons run the gamut from “too runny” to (my favorite) “warms up the horizon line beautifully”: how could I not be totally sold on that one? :0 Looking forward to the brushes post… and please do one on burnt sienna!


  17. Connie Renaud says:

    Shari, I have just read your study on colour – thank you so much for sharing this study. I am still new at art and I need a guide on what colours can do. It makes it so much more fun!


  18. Barbara Beynon says:

    Notes on color–and the specificity–are so helpful. Cerulean has always been a favorite of mine and I’m sure I’ve bought a tube in every brand I’ve come across; Winsor Newton is the only one for me, too. Ditto, burnt sienna. Now I’m eager to try the DS organic vermillion. Thanks so much for your generosity in sharing your experience and expertise.


  19. Carlos Zubi says:

    Hi Shari,

    English is not my language but I will try to make myself clear.

    As I see you are a great artist and “acuarelista” (spanish for watercolorist), so let me ask you if you can help me or know somene who can help me with this issue.

    My father dies 6 years ago and left me his collection of brushes (among other things), and some of them are Arches A4 Petit Gris Pur in different sizes, but almost all of them carry a great amount of liquid but when you make pressure to them they can not return to it´s pointed shape, they stay bended, is this normal or they were stored too many years without any use.

    They have their plastic capsule so the hair was not squashed.

    I hope have been somewhat clear.

    Thank you for your time and keep the great work you do.

    Carlos Zubi from Mexico.


    • HI Carlos,

      It seems to me that your writing in English is excellent. My mother also left me many art supplies which I really appreciate.
      I’m really sorry to hear about your father.
      He left you some excellent brushes and they are probably fine. If you have a lot of water on the brushes and you put pressure on them they will stay bent. That is normal.
      But I think they are not meant for a lot of pressure so if you load them up with water and paint, then don’t press to hard. They paint beautifully. You can always put them back in their natural shape by hand. Don’t keep them in the plastic capsule after using them. They will disintegrate. Instead let me air dry. The capsule is only meant to keep them safe in the store and for transportation.
      These brushes are not that great for detail work but best for that big first wash. After that I usually switch to a finer brush with more “spring” like a sable brush.

      I hope that helps. Best of luck to you in your painting.


  20. […] a total triad champion –  has started using tube green. Her mention of Naples Yellow in this recent post reminded me of the colour and I just might end up sneaking it into the palette as […]


  21. portraitoons says:

    OH my…Shari, you are incredible, I just started doing watercolors in my retirement. I am a cartoonist and caricature artist, I have spent the last 45 years making a living at doing it at events and parties. I am now doing watercolors and found Milink Mulick and Dan Marshall and so many others. But now I found you…incredible. I was born in Longueuil PQ and moved to the U.S with my parents when I was 15. I did get excited when I saw your book all about Montreal. Can I ask why I get small pimples on my watercolor paper sometimes? I use 140 Fabriano. I would appreciate a reply. God bless you.


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