Getting Technical – Paint

Many research roads are leading back to Bruce MacEvoy’s truly excellent site.  This is a watercolourist’s dream site, covering every subject from papers, paint, brushes through to theory and artist’s particular colour palette.  For a ‘big picture’ person, his infinitesimal detail (he lists the tube mouth size), is exhausting, but so useful.  I am finding it difficult to approach his site in a methodical way.  My eye is constantly attracted to yet another interesting sub site, making a logical approach quite difficult.

I am trying to see the wood for the trees.  Just how important is it to fully explore the minutiae?  Pigment ratings?  Extensive lightfastness tests?  The difference between paint brands?  Or do I focus on the paints I have, what is missing, the recording and analysis of these colours and their interaction?  Returning regularly over the next few months for the modern take, as read through the colour ‘bibles’ of Joseph Albers’ Interaction of Colour, David Batchelor’s Chromophobia, and Johannes Itten’s The Elements of Color, not forgetting Kandinsky and Mattisse.

After reflecting, I have decided on route two, starting with the product providers.  I mainly use professional Winsor & Newton with one Daniel Smith.  This turns out to be an excellent choice, albeit W & N are at the expensive end.  I will review the DS range and the MaimeriBlu, which MacEvoy considers to be excellent value, remembering that he is based in the US.

It is now an intensive week later.

I have completed my research and ordered the paints I have deemed to be missing from my palette.  W & N, a UK manufacturer proved to be cheaper than US Daniel Smith.  Watercolours are expensive and priced according to series number.  I decided to use series 1 where  practicable and bought the largest tube available, 37ml.  The remainder were determined by pigment code.

The process was  very detailed, and I am hoping, a one off.  It gives me a core palette of warm and cool yellows/reds/crimson/blues/earths and mixing greens.  I used a distillation of MacEvoy’s research and Jane Blundell’s excellent UK web site

I first listed all my existing paints by index code.  This is the industry  name for the pigments contained in a colour, eg French Ultra is PB29, Indigo is PBK6/PV19/PB15.  A single code means a pure pigment and an easier to predict outcome, when mixing colours.

Working in the layered way I do, it is important that the colours are as transparent as possible.  I selected from W & N and DS’s transparent and semi-transparent range, matching Blundell’s recomended pigment codes.  I was also mindful of the granular effect and staining properties of each pigment.

Using Blundell’s palette as a guide I created a matrix of yellow/red/blue/green split by cool/warm/earth/dark.  There will always be other colours that work well and can be added, but this approach has given me the structure I need to go forward.


My chosen palette is highlighted in the central column of the spreadsheet above.  The other two charts are the colour ranges from W & N and DS.

My next task is to produce pigment and colour interaction reference swatches.

Author: susanmilleruk

Watercolour painter living, working and loving Hastings and St Leonards on Sea. MA in Fine Art.

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