Photo for Angela Fehr's article for DANIEL SMITH, 4 Strategies for Building Limited Palettes Even with 100 Colors!

100 Colors AND a limited palette? It can be done!

Here’s how watercolor artist and instructor Angela Fehr indulges her DANIEL SMITH color addiction while avoiding color overload in her paintings:

I love thinking about the role of value and color in a painting as two hands clasped. Value is the right hand, the structure created as light and dark contrast and guide the eye through the painting. Many artists will insist that if your values are good, the colors you choose do not matter. But just as we use both hands thrown out to balance on a narrow path, the left hand of color serves an important purpose that is remarkably impactful; the role of creating mood in the painting.

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Photo of Angela Fehr's landscape studies, experimenting with limited palette color
Landscape studies, experimenting with limited palette color.

One reference photo can have thousands of iterations when the smallest color change turns the scene from morning to evening and sunny to stormy.

Photo of many tubes of DANIEL SMITH Watercolors from Angela Fehr's DANIEL SMITH Watercolor collection
Some of Angela Fehr’s DANIEL SMITH Watercolor collection.

With my 100+ collection of DANIEL SMITH Watercolors, one would assume that I would never consider myself as working with a limited palette! But I do! Instead of working with a dozen or fewer traditional colors, I have thousands of limited palette options to choose from as I mix and match from my stash of pigments, and I use a variety of strategies to help me choose the right colors for my paintings.

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Here are four strategies you can use to help you work with a limited palette (and still own lots of colors!)

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Photo of a Flower painted with a limited palette of 3 DANIEL SMITH Watercolors, Quinacridone Sienna, Cobalt Teal Blue, Perylene Violet

Triads from a Key ColorQuinacridone Sienna, Cobalt Teal Blue and Perylene Violet

Strategy 1 – Triads from a Key Color

Triads from a key color. I love building a painting around a single color and then creating a triad or a near-triad to give me a wide range of mixing options. In the abstract floral painting above, I’ve chosen Quinacridone Sienna, an orange-brown. Pairing it with a cool turquoise Cobalt Teal Blue and rich Perylene Violet, I get an “almost primary triad” with a sort-of red, a kind-of blue, and an if-you-really-squint yellow that creates a beautiful earthy palette with a pop of energy.

Image of 6 colors, Magenta, Cyan, Yellow with DANIEL SMITH watercolors Perylene Violet, Cobalt Teal Blue, Quinacridone Sienna

Primary Near-TriadPerylene Violet, Cobalt Teal Blue and Quinacridone Sienna

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Photo of a color exploration by Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Quinacridone Gold and Phthalo Turquoise watercolors

Analogous EnergyQuinacridone Gold and Phthalo Turquoise

Strategy 2 – Analogous Energy

Analogous energy. As much as I like mixing colors, I often feel like pure colors are too vibrant when used all together in a painting. A combination of magenta, lemon yellow and blue, while balancing nicely on the color wheel, often feels too jarring and bright to me, so when I’m working with these types of vibrant colors, I like to choose an analogous color scheme. A vivid warm yellow (Quinacridone Gold) harmonizes beautifully beside Phthalo Turquoise; with the weight of color on the cool side of the color wheel, I still get lots of energy, but it feels a little less “candy store.”

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Photo of a color exploration by Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Nickel Azo Yellow and Indigo watercolors

Complementary PowerNickel Azo Yellow and Indigo

Strategy 3 – Complementary Power

Complementary power. Pair two complementary colors, or near-complements gives a painting simple drama. I can work with the colors unmixed for strong impact as they play off each other, like in my painting “Storm Over Canola,” a two-color landscape featuring Indigo and the warm golden tones of Nickel Azo Yellow. While a true complement to Indigo might be more of an orange, this yellow not only complements as a near-opposite on the color wheel, but as a contrasting light value against Indigo’s near-black.
 

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Photo of a color exploration by Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Moonglow, Rose of Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue watercolors

Duets of AmazingnessMoonglow and Rose of Ultramarine (with Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue

Strategy 4 – Duets of Amazingness

Duets of amazingness. So many of my favorite tubes of DANIEL SMITH Watercolor are the granulating, multi-pigment mixes like Moonglow, Rose of Ultramarine (shown above with Cadmium Yellow Medium Hue) and Undersea Green, or the sedimentary textural beauties of the Primatek colors like Hematite Burnt Scarlet Genuine, Zoisite Genuine and Sodalite Genuine. These colors are so beautiful on their own that they need very little accompaniment. For paintings built around these incredible colors, I might choose only one single color to support my prima donna color, or use value to create a monochromatic scene that reveals the delicious color and texture of the paint.

Photo of watercolor swatches from Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Undersea Green, Rose of Ultramarine and Moonglow watercolors

Swatches of Undersea Green, Rose of Ultramarine and Moonglow

Photo of watercolor swatches from Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Hematite Burnt Scarlet Genuine, Sodalite Genuine and Zoisite Genuine watercolors

Swatches of Hematite Burnt Scarlet Genuine, Sodalite Genuine and Zoisite Genuine

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Photo of a monochromatic watercolor landscape by Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Sodalite Genuine watercolor

Sodalite Genuine is beautiful in a monochromatic value study.

I try not to get too crazy at the art supply store when adding a new DANIEL SMITH paint to my collection. I have learned that I am most likely to use a color when I take the time to get to know it, so adding a bunch of new colors at once is not going to be the best way for me to create dynamic new color palettes from my collection. I like to give myself time to get to know one or two new colors at a time, using them obsessively in the first few weeks as I learn how they play and interact with my existing palette of old favorites. From there, I can bring in new colors and be excited all over again with the wealth of possibilities that is created every time I pick up a tube of DANIEL SMITH watercolor paint.

Photo of a watercolor landscape by Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Moonglow and Prussian Green watercolors

Second version of the scene above, now with Moonglow and Prussian Green

Photo of a watercolor landscape by Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Moonglow and Lunar Earth watercolors

 Third version of the same scene above, now with Moonglow and Lunar Earth

Why I love DANIEL SMITH Watercolors

As I’ve grown familiar with the variety and diversity of DANIEL SMITH Watercolors, I’ve fallen in love with color over and over again. Rich from the tube or squeezed to dry in the pan, every painting session becomes a journey of discovery and delightful experimentation.

My loose, intuitive painting style is highly dependent on choosing colors that mix beautifully and flow vibrantly, and I am never disappointed when I choose a DANIEL SMITH color to partner with me in creating flow and vivid color in my paintings, layering transparent colors or adding a pop of semi-transparent “exclamation point” detail at the end of a painting.

When I discovered that many DANIEL SMITH Watercolor paints (especially the Primatek colors) granulate to create beautiful, multi-dimensional texture, my watercolor paintings became even more exciting, and I can hardly be restrained from adding Primatek texture to every painting I create.

Photo of watercolor landscape, Christina Falls by Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Watercolors
“Christina Falls” by Angela Fehr, 21 x 29 inches.


I use DANIEL SMITH Watercolors in almost every lesson I create for my YouTube channel, and I’m honored to be able to share a few of my favorite hues that I chose for my DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Dot Card. The only difficulty was narrowing my favorites down to a mere 18!

-Angela Fehr

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Angel Fehr’s DANIEL SMITH Watercolor Dot Card colors

Photo of Angela Fehr painting in her studio
Angela Fehr painting in her studio


About 

Photo of watercolor artist and instructor Angela Fehr

A twenty-five year love affair with watercolor has taught Angela Fehr that it is the heart that gives life to our art. 

“There is something about the fluidity of pairing paint and water, and allowing them to collaborate on a page that is so captivating. It’s never boring, and always unexpected.

I want something more for my paintings than simply to copy what I could see with my eyes. I want to show my heart in my paintings.”

In 2013, this rural Canadian artist found her calling when her first online course “Loose & Fluid Watercolor” was released on the internet. During these early days of online instruction, Angela’s gentle, open and authentic approach to teaching watercolor won her fans and dedicated students around the world. Since then, Angela’s courses have inspired thousands of students on the journey to becoming their own favorite artists. Her Fearless Artist student community is full of lively students exploring heart-led expression, posting their experiments and discussing ways to break out of fear and paint more authentically.

Angela’s message for her students is one of freedom; freedom to paint from the heart without fear. With a foundation in good technique as taught in her online classes, YouTube videos and workshops, students can embrace the enjoyment of a heart-led, intuitive painting style that is as unique as each artist. 

Angela lives in northern British Columbia, Canada with her hot-rod builder husband Wade and three creative teenagers. Her art is deeply rooted in her love for the Peace River and northern Rocky Mountain region of home and time spent exploring there with family. 

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Photo of watercolor landscape, "Whispered, Murmured" by Angela Fehr painted with DANIEL SMITH Watercolors
“Whispered, Murmured” by Angela Fehr, 15 x 21 inches

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Photo of a watercolor painted by Angela Fehr titled Plenty, and then a Bit More, painted with DANIEL SMITH Watercolors
“Plenty, and then a Bit More” by Angela Fehr, 13 x 19 inches

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Photo of Angela Fehr demonstrating how to do a watercolor wash for one of her instructional videos
Angela Fehr demonstrating a watercolor wash during one of her instructional videos.

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