My Basic Watercolor Palette

February 10, 2024

I've had many requests for a list of the colors I use most often in my watercolor practice and what colors I'd recommend for beginner painters. Initially, being a color-lover/collector, it was a challenge for me to narrow down my list, but looking back at my work over the past few years I can clearly see a pattern to my color choices. I'll now share my thoughts and observations with you.

All artists have their go-to basics and add a few personal favorites that might define their unique style. The classical palette is often limited to a set of double-primary hues, each color having a warm and a cool temperature aspect, plus a dark earth tone such as Burnt Umber. Using only a double-primary palette, it's possible to create limitless color variations and, in the process, learn much about color theory, too. However, without some prior knowledge and experience,  there's also a good likelihood that the results would turn out to be a muddy mess!  So, in addition to those, I've come to choose colors from the second list to get the results I'm looking for in a particular painting. 

The colors listed below are by Daniel Smith unless otherwise noted. 

Basic Warm/Cool Double-Primary Palette
Yellow (Cad. or Hansa) Yellow Medium (Cad. or Hansa) Yellow Light  
Red Cadmium Red Light Permanent Red (or Cad. Red Medium)  
Blue Ultramarine Cerulean or Cobalt (I use both) Ultramarine and Cerulean Blue Deep by Da Vinci
Neutral (Earth) Burnt Umber Raw Umber  








In addition to those nine primary colors, my palette contains the following

Additional Frequently Used Colors
Yellow Ochre (Earth)      
Naples Yellow      
Burnt Sienna Deep (Earth)* X   Da Vinci brand
Permanent Rose (Rose Madder)   X  
Alizarin Crimson   X  
Hooker's Green Deep*   X color varies by brand
Sap Green* X   color varies by brand
Prussian Blue      
Payne's Blue Gray*   X by D. Smith - no granulation
Imperial Purple     high granulation, Duo-Tone color by D. Smith
Pyrrol Orange X   Cadmium Orange is similiar
White (Chinese White WC or White Gouache)      











With an infinite number of colors to behold in our beautiful world, why should we limit ourselves to a dozen or two?  Explore the possibilities!  Play with your palette!  Enjoy the process!