I am often asked what colors I recommend for people to buy to get started in watercolor or to upgrade to artist quality watercolors. I created my ‘Ultimate Mixing Selection’ to address this question. It is 15 colors, consisting of 14 single pigment colors and one convenience mixture.

I have recommended and used DANIEL SMITH watercolors for almost twenty years so this set is entirely DANIEL SMITH and some of the colors are fascinating DANIEL SMITH exclusives. They are all light fast rated at I or II and they re-wet beautifully so can be set up in the palette of your choice.

My Ultimate Mixing Selection is intended as a universal palette, suitable for any subject. It is also suitable for anyone from a beginner to an experienced artist. It is rather a Goldilocks palette – not too few colors so you have to spend the whole time mixing everything together, nor too many so you lose track of what you have and how to mix them. They are chosen to work well together for harmony in a painting.

My goal was to find single pigment colors that would mix together efficiently so that most colors could be produced by mixing just two pigments. Many people find that if they mix too many pigments, they end up creating ‘mud’. With this set, generally two, but at most three pigments may be needed to create any hue you want. The palette colours are also useful alone. Here are the colors painted out using DANIEL SMITH professional watercolors. Notice the wonderful granulation of many of them, especially the Goethite.


  • Buff Titanium
  • Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Quinacridone Gold
  • Pyrrol Scarlet
  • Pyrrol Crimson
  • Quinacridone Rose
  • Ultramarine Blue
  • Raw Umber
  • Indian Red
  • Burnt Sienna
  • Goethite
  • Phthalo Green BS
  • Phthalo Blue GS
  • Cerulean Blue Chromium
  • Jane’s Grey (mix of Ultramarine & Burnt Sienna

The Ultimate Mixing Selection is not intended as a limited palette, though it can be, but as a basic set to work with. You only need to buy 14 tubes of paint. You may wish to buy other colors for convenience, or you may choose to create you own custom-mixes of convenience colors with these original tubes by making up a mixed-orange or a mixed-purple or some mixed-greens if you work with them a lot. You should find you can make pretty much any hue you choose.

The selection is designed to incorporate the full range of watercolor characteristics – some colors are granulating, some staining, some opaque and so on, so you can explore not just hue but characteristics as well.

The colors in detail:

Buff Titanium

     – this is a rather unusual as it is a granulating semi-opaque creamy color. It is fabulous for marble, sandstone, skin-tones and beaches (especially with Goethite) and is one of my most used colors and a DANIEL SMITH exclusive.

  • Hansa Yellow Medium is my favorite primary yellow, neither warm nor cool. It is bright and beautiful and very clean in mixes. Alternatives include Hansa Yellow Light if you want a definite cool yellow, or you might use Azo Yellow or Quinaphthalaline Yellow.
  • Quinacridone Gold made from PO49 is only available from DANIEL SMITH as they have all the pigment. It is a gorgeous transparent warm and slightly neutral yellow. If you prefer a brighter warm yellow, options include the lovely New Gamboge or Hansa Yellow Deep or the even warmer Permanent Yellow Deep. I love the glazing and mixing possibilities with Quinacridone Gold, and it will create new gamboge hues when mixed with Hansa Yellow Medium
  • Pyrrol Scarlet is a lovely warm red. Alternatives include Organic Vermilion, Anthraquinoid Scarlet or Perylene Scarlet. Transparent Pyrrol Orange is another wonderful ‘warm red’ option but Pyrrol Scarlet is the most pure in hue and the color I use in my teaching. Note – if you choose Transparent Pyrrol Orange as your warm red, choose Phthalo Blue Red Shade as your cool blue as they neutralize each other perfectly.
  • Pyrrol Crimson is a rich crimson with good light-fastness. Alternatives include Permanent Alizarin Crimson (a great colour though a three-pigment mixture) or Anthraquinoid Red.
  • Quinacridone Rose is a beautiful bright rose red. It is a very pure mixing color and makes gorgeous purples. Quinacridone Red is a very similar alternative.
  • Ultramarine Blue is a beautiful granulating warm transparent blue. DANIEL SMITH also make a French Ultramarine, but I prefer the series 1 Ultramarine as it makes my ‘Jane’s Grey’ color. This is my most used blue.
  • Cerulean Blue Chromium – There are two pigments used for Cerulean – PB35 and PB36. I prefer PB36 – the Chromium version – as it is cooler and richer. The characteristics I enjoy with this version are the ‘liftability’ (it’s not a word but it should be!), the opacity and the granulation as well as the hue. Terrific for skies or for mixing greens or purples that will have a little coverage, or for lovely dusty greys with Burnt Sienna.
  • Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) – this is a powerful, transparent, staining cool blue. It is terrific in mixes and provides a glazing cool blue option. There is also a Red Shade, which is a gorgeous color, but the Green Shade gives a greater mixing range. Note – if you have chosen Transparent Pyrrol Orange as your warm red, Phthalo Blue Red Shade is it’s perfect neutralizing partner.
  • Phthalo Green (Blue Shade) – this is a powerful staining transparent mixing green made with PG7. While viridian is a similar hue, Phthalo Green is more powerful and will create an intense black with Pyrrol Crimson. While I would almost never use this colour alone, it is a brilliant mixing green.
  • Goethite – this is a DANIEL SMITH exclusive and I love it for the granulation – it is wonderful for beach and landscape scenes, sandstone and rocks generally. It is also useful for skin tones, but Raw Sienna is another option, as is the slightly more opaque Yellow Ochre, or the transparent yellow earth Mont Amiata Natural Sienna if you don’t enjoy granulation.
  • Burnt Sienna – this color varies hugely by manufacturer. I really like the earthy brown PBr7 versions of the DANIEL SMITH genuine PBr7 earth pigment because it is useful as an earthy color in landscapes, skin-tones and botanical studies straight from the tube. Some may like the more orange look of the transparent Quinacridone Burnt Orange or the granulating and slightly unruly Transparent Red Oxide.
  • Indian Red – PR101 is used in a range of colors but what I like about this paint is that it is very opaque, granulating and can be a little wild and unpredictable. It is a red earth color so makes a wonderful triad with Goethite and Cerulean. Venetian red is different but could be used in the red-earth spot if that’s what you have. Piemontite is an amazing granulating Primatek earth red option.
  • Raw Umber – This is a deep cool brown. It is great for shadow areas on a figure or in a landscape. Not perhaps essential but incredibly useful as it takes a little more effort to mix this color using Phthalo Blue and Burnt Sienna. I use it a lot in landscape, botanical and plein air paintings.
  • Jane’s Grey (custom mix) – I make this with an almost exactly equal mix of DANIEL SMITH Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna. I like it to be almost completely neutral, with just a hint more of the blue than the brown.

There are some excellent neutralizing pairs in this set. My favorite Ultramarine + Burnt Sienna of course, but Pyrrol Crimson + Phthalo Green make a rich transparent ‘Jane’s Black’ and Phthalo Blue + Pyrrol Scarlet make another mixed black. Buff Titanium provides a convenient light color with wonderful granulation. It also makes it possible to create pastel tints.

Within this set there are also wonderful primary triads. There is a cool triad of Hansa Yellow Medium, Phthalo blue and Quinacridone Rose. This is rather like the printing triad cyan, magenta and yellow, and mixes pure bright oranges, purples and greens.

There is a warm triad of Pyrrol Crimson, Ultramarine and Quinacridone Gold. This creates wonderful neutral greens, neutral oranges and dull purples.

There is a versatile triad of Ultramarine, Hansa Yellow Medium (or Quinacridone Gold for more neutral greens) and Pyrrol Crimson that is very realistic to paint with. It will create cleaner purples than shown with Pyrrol Scarlet.

There is an earth triad of Cerulean Chromium, Indian Red and Goethite. This is a gorgeous triad to explore, perhaps with Raw Umber and Burnt Sienna as well as these will harmonize beautifully.

To fully demonstrate the mixing possibilities of this set, I created a reference book, ‘The Ultimate Mixing Palette: a World of Colours’, which is available through Blurb books as a hard or softcover book printed on premium matte paper or softcover book on standard paper or as an eBook for iPad, iPhone or Mac computers. You can see a preview here.

The book contains two color wheels and 49 color charts. The charts show every two-color combination (105 mixes) and 92 of the most useful three-color mixing combinations. It includes approximately 7610 mixed hues! The charts are indexed with visual index charts and cross-referenced, with additional notes on color mixes, useful convenience mixes and uses for various mixes added. Every chart has been carefully hand-painted using a 1/4″ flat brush onto watercolor paper, and then professionally photographed with a large format camera, color matched and cleaned up by Fine Art Imaging, ready for printing. The charts are labelled and numbered for convenient cross-referencing.

This is Chart 4, showing the mixing possibilities of the three yellows – Hansa Medium Yellow, Quinacridone Gold and the earth yellow Goethite, mixed with Cerulean Chromium and Ultramarine. This is just one page of the many greens that can be created with this palette.

There are other triads that can be explored that do not contain a red, yellow and blue but will create wonderful color harmony in a painting, such as Quinacridone Rose with Phthalo Blue and Phthalo Green. All these and more can be found in the book. They will also feature in a future book and perhaps in future posts here.

For those wanting just 12 colors to fit into a particular palette, Buff Titanium, Raw Umber and Jane’s Grey could be removed, leaving a wonderful range of bright mixing colors, or keep Jane’s Grey for convenience and remove Indian Red since the hue can be mixed with other colors in the palette.

Another alternative is to keep Buff Titanium, which I love using for beaches and sandstone, and use a single cool red, Carmine, instead of the cool pair Pyrrol Crimson and Quinacridone Rose, or just use Quinacridone Rose as the cool red. Note though that a smaller set will be a compromise over the full Ultimate Mixing Palette, so you’ll have to do more mixing.

I am very excited about this book as I think it will be tremendously helpful as a reference guide to color mixing for any watercolor artist from beginner to expert.

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Jane Blundell Member Australian Watercolor Institute.

Jane’s art inspiration and ideas come largely from the natural world – flowers, trees, rocks, people and landscapes – and she loves to work from life. She enjoys the challenges of abstraction and incorporate abstracted backgrounds and features into many of my paintings. Jane’s work covers a range of media – watercolors, pen and ink, collage, pastels, acrylic, oils and etching – often incorporating several into a single work. Of all of these her favorite is watercolor, which she has been exploring for over 30 years. She says that it is a remarkable medium that allows the qualities of the pigments to become an integral part of the painting, rather than just to add color. Jane is constantly searching for new ways to incorporate watercolors and watercolor techniques into her work, including work with watercolor and mixed media on canvas. To see more of her work please see her website: