If you’re someone who likes to sketch on the go, you might be all too familiar with the following dilemma: what to pack when you’re going on holiday, a weekend trip or urban sketching?
You want to have enough options to create your art, but pack as light as possible at the same time.
Luckily packing light also creates a useful and fun challenge. When your options are limited, you’re challenged to get the most out of those art supplies. You might be surprised how much more colours a small set of art supplies can hold. In this article I'll share my tips on how to curate your perfect watercolour set for on-the-go creativity!
I do love having lots of options and own the 45 set of Cotman watercolours. But in the end there’s really a limited number of colours I dip my brush in each time I’m painting. Those are also the colours I’m taking with me on sketching trips!
Which set to choose?
Winsor & Newton created 4 new Cotman watercolours set: Landscape, Floral, Portrait and Skyscape. Pocket sized sets, packed with colour options! Each sets has space to hold 12 pans. Winsor & Newton already picked eight colours per themed set: the other four colours are for you to decide on.
I often get asked by workshop participants which colours they should choose. The first question you want asked yourself is what subject you like to paint most. Are you an urban sketcher who loves city- and nature scenes? Or do you mostly enjoy painting people? The second question is what your personal colour preference is? Do you like vivid or more muted colours? Do you want to paint realistically? Or do you want to make you art pop with bright and bold colours? The answers to these questions help you determine which set is most suitable for you to start with.
Still have a hard time deciding between sets? Of course you can also treat yourself to a second set. That way you can easily switch between two sets, depending on your subject, mood or even the season. Hot summer days definitely call for a warmer colour palette than those crisp cool winter days.
The pocket sets all have a nice sticker by the way with the accompanying artwork on them. Stick these on the outside to easily recognise the different sets. An extra tip: when you scan the QR code on the side of the package, you’ll find a free online tutorial to paint with your set!
Go beyond the obvious and make a mixing grid!
When you unpacked your new set (doesn’t unwrapping the watercolours feel like opening candy?) I always advice to swatch first. This way you discover how colour looks on paper when painting with full pigment or when adding more water. I always cut those swatch cards to the size of the sets, to carry it within the lid.
But we ain’t done yet. Now comes the fun part: see how many more colours these small sets actually hold! And trust me: you’ll be surprised. The perfect way to discover this is making a mixing grid. Let me walk you through the steps:
Step 1: Draw a grid of 8 x 8 boxes (about ½ inch each). Leave room on your paper for 4 more colours on both rows and columns if you want to add the extra colours of the set later.
Step 2: Paint in the middle diagonal with the current colours: this is your baseline.
Step 3: Because I’m someone who really want to keep a clean set, I make several small puddles of a colour on the mixing lid. That way I don’t contaminate the original colour when mixing. I do this one colour at the time, to not get mixed up (pun intended ;) when painting in the grid.
Step 4: Start mixing colour by colour. Depending on the pigment, it might be a 50/50 or an uneven mix. For instance: Ultramarine has a much stronger and darker value than Cadmium Yellow Hue. So I mix less blue into the mix than I would with, let’s say, the Yellow Ochre.
Use enough pigment of both colours. When mixing I often see people use a lot of water and not enough pigment, having dull colours as a result. Make sure to really load your brush with pigment! Dipping your brush on a tissue in between mixing also helps to not water it down too much.
Step 5: I paint in the boxes above the diagonal with the full coloured mixes. After each colour I rinse out my brush for about 50%, so there’s still a watered down version of the colour on my brush. With that mix I paint the boxes below the diagonal. This way you can see both the full colour mix as well as the lighter companion of that mixed colour.
Step 6: Makes sure to double check which box on the row you should paint with every mix. Keep going row by row until you’re done! Take this mixing grid out whenever you sit down to paint. It’s a great reference when you wanna obtain a certain colour.
Good to know: making a mixing grid does take some time. Some people (like me) LOVE to make these grids. But you might be a creative who think this is a very tedious job. If so, I advise you to break up the task into smaller parts. Mix one row of colours every time you have your set out to paint. In the end you still have this super useful mixing grid, but it’ll only take you about 15 minutes each time instead of two hours all at once.
How to choose those extra colours?
Now that our mixing grid is done, you probably wanna expand your collection and fill those empty boxes in your set. First take a look at your mixing grid. Which colours are you still missing?
Let’s say you want a purple. When you use a Cadmium Red Hue to mix with any kind of blue, you might discover it’s hard to get it right. Since this red is more on the orange side, your mixes become brown rather than purple. But when you use a Cadmium Red Deep Hue or Alizarin Crimson Hue, mixed with a bright blue like Ultramarine, the purple starts to emerge. Want an ever brighter purple? The Rose Madder Hue or Permanent Rose are great choices. But if your favourite colour is purple and you use it all the time, it’s a better option to buy that colour, like Dioxazine Purple. That way you save yourself a lot of time, not having to mix it.
Another tip: if you want lighten a colour, we often think of adding white. But with watercolours you can just add water to make a lighter value! Mixing in white of course is also possible, just be aware that it makes the colour look more pastel and more opaque. My personal favourite to add to a set is definitely Payne’s Gray. l use it to darken other colours and love the blueish-grey undertone it has.
I hope this article was helpful for you and I’m curious to see how your final palette will turn out!
PS. The links in this article are affiliate. Which means you really help me if you use these when you are going to purchase products. It won’t cost you anything extra and I earn a small percentage of the sale. Which allows me to write many more of these blogs :-). When you purchase new art supplies at Handletteringdoenwezo.nl you get a 10% discount when you use my code ‘NienkeVletter’ at check-out!* *Some offers and package prices are exempt from the discount