Watercolours; a Natural Selection

watercolour box

Winsor and Newton watercolour boxAfter thirty years, it’s time to upgrade my studio watercolour box. Most of the colours have dried out so I’ve given up on it over the past ten years, preferring to grab one of my more freshly stocked pocket-sized boxes.

I’ve been able to rescue a few of the colours that I’d refilled over the years and, thanks to a friend who spotted an unmissable bargain in a sale (thank you, Godavari!), I have a solid nucleus of Winsor and Newton artist’s watercolours new and unwrapped, ready to pop in.

But that still leaves a whole row of the box to fill.


Felix Scheinnberger’s Urban Watercolor Sketching prompted me to review my colour habits but for specific suggestions for natural history subjects I’ve turned to Agathe Haevermans’ The Art of Botanical Drawing and Drawing and Painting the Seashore.

The aniline dye magenta was named after the Battle of Magenta, northern Italy, 1859.
The aniline dye magenta was named after the Battle of Magenta, northern Italy, 1859.

My primaries are already pretty well covered so my additions fall into three categories; neutrals, violets and greens. Some of the violets, mauves and magentas are tricky – if not impossible – to mix so I’ve added several of those.

A Green Shade

sap green, olive greenSecondaries such as sap green and olive green aren’t strictly necessary because you can easily mix an approximation from various combinations yellows and blues but having them ready-mixed in the box can save a lot of time.

greensThe darker perylene green might be useful for shadows and leaf veins, as might terre verte and opaque oxide of chromium, a colour that I’ve struggled to find a use for in the past, unless I’ve been painting lichens.

In The Art of Botanical Painting by Margaret Stevens suggests that you should treat every green individually;

‘. . . nothing beats making your own green shade card; I know from experience that if you give six people a palette each with a blob of Cadmium Yellow and Cobalt Blue you will get six different greens, since everyone will use varying proportions of paint and water. There is no substitute for experimentation and practice.’

She warns that manufactured greens can look harsh and inappropriate if taken straight from the tube. I remember viridian dominating my greens when I first started to use it and I probably wouldn’t have included it if I hadn’t rescued it from my previous selection.

Botanical Grey

botanic greyIn Botanical Painting, Margaret Stevens describes ‘botanical grey’, a transparent mix of light red and French ultramarine. Used well diluted, sometimes with a hint of a reflected colour, it can be useful when painting white flowers.

davys greyI don’t have a light red but I’ll experiment with my Indian red (another ‘rescued’ colour) and ultramarine. I’ve never tried Davy’s grey before, so I’m hoping that will prove equally useful.

Winsor and Newton


I’m keen to support my local art shops so I ring around a couple but they don’t stock my favourite Winsor and Newton artist’s colours. Should I go for Daler Rowney instead?

Time to phone a friend. Illustrator John Welding confirms my feeling that Winsor and Newton are about the best, although there are colours in the Daler Rowney range, for instance the warm sepia, which some artists prefer to the Winsor and Newton versions.

This gives Barbara and I the excuse to visit Huddersfield where Calder Graphics in the wonderful Victorian Byram Arcade stock W&N artist’s colours . . . and more, it’s an Aladin’s Cave for those of us who are hooked on artist’s materials, but, after spending £55 on a dozen colours, I resisted the temptation to browse pens and sketchbooks!

Must go again soon.

Links; Winsor and NewtonByram Arcade

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.