Creating My Own Watercolor Swatch Cards

A few weeks ago I had re-swatched all of my bottles of Robert Oster Signature fountain pen inks. An idea came to me that I should do something similar with all of my tubes of Daniel Smith watercolor paints.

I looked around on the Internet and could not find a decent swatch card system to use. I tried using my Col-o-ring cards, but the paper was a bit too thin to handle the amount of water and paint I use. Being the creative person that I am, I did come up with a brilliant solution.

I remembered I had a few Canson journals left over from my pen & ink workshops and I knew the paper in that journal could handle a decent amount of water and paint. I grabbed my paper trimmer and my corner cutter and I was ready to do some paper cutting.

Since I was familiar with the 2″x4″ Col-o-ring size card, I thought that would be a good size to start with. After doing my initial watercolor swatch tests, I decided the card was a bit too wide. I did another swatch card test and found a 1.5″x4″ size card was perfect for my watercolor swatching needs and I had enough room to write down important color information. This smaller size also allowed me to cut a few more pieces from a single sheet of paper.

I used my Arteza water brush to paint out the colors on my swatch cards. I used my Platinum Preppy filled with Carbon ink to write out the paint color information.

Here’s a picture of my corner cutter. There are three slots (small, medium, & large) for three different size corners. The illustration on top of the gray hand press shows what the corners would look like for each size.

For my swatch cards, I decided to use the (S)mall corner cutter setting to give my cards a smaller or narrow curved corner.

The mixed media paper handled my watercolor mixture well. The paper does buckle slightly when wet. After the paper dries, it straightens out on its own.

Since I was in a paper cutting mood, I went ahead and created my own Col-o-ring-like swatch cards for my fountain pen inks. Good thing I keep several pads of mixed media and drawing paper in my art paper stash.

In the following picture, I used the “L” or large corner cutter. I placed the corner of my paper into the slot and pressed down on the gray handle to cut out a curved corner.

Can you tell from the picture below, which card was the one I created?

I created the card on the right. The one on the left is from Col-o-ring.

My Swatch Card Tools

Journal: Canson Artist Series Mixed Media spiral bound (5.5″x8.5″)

Paper Trimmer: Fiskars Surecut Portable Paper Trimmer

Corner Cutter: Sunstar Kadomaru Pro, Corner Cutter (S4765036) S-M-L

Single hole punch

Small loose leaf binder ring

My Small Palette

So far, you have seen my medium size metal palette container that I’ve been using for the last few weeks. I spent some quality time with this palette and enjoyed carrying it around with me. I did find my “Meedan” metal container to be a bit limiting as I could not comfortably add additional paint pans to the middle row. My picture shows two pans wedged in there, but it’s just sitting on the edge between my other pans. The metal brackets were too close and as a result my pans would not “fit” in the middle.

While I like this medium size container palette, I mostly use it on my studio desk and also to store all of my pans filled with colors. Makes it easier to go to one container and pull out the colors I need to use.

For a more portable and smaller urban sketching metal container, I came across this lovely container from Looneng. I selected to have eight (8) empty full pans included with my container. I did not have any empty full pans in my art stash and I know this will come in handy later.

This metal container met all my requirements for a portable watercolor palette. First, there is three mixing wells on the left side cover. Other brands have two large wells. On the right side flap, there are six small mixing wells.

Here’s a major requirement for me, having the ability to place six (6) additional paint pans in the middle row. You’ll notice the empty paint pans are turned in portrait mode. That’s a total of 18 pans that can be stored in this container.

I created a custom swatch card that fits in my container. Here I have my three primary warm colors on the left side and my three primary cool colors on the right side.

This week, I had lunch at a local sushi restaurant. My watercolor sketch is mostly from memory and just playing around with mixing colors. This sketch shows my first layer of colors. A work in progress.

I’m also using an Arteza water brush that works brilliantly with my watercolor paint pans. You can see my brush tip has darkened with use. This is normal. I use my Pentel water brushes for my pen & ink artwork. I have a future blog post I am working on explaining the difference/feel of these two water brush brands. Stay tuned!

Paint: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors

Metal Paint Palette: Looneng Empty Watercolor Palette. Select to include 8 empty full pans or 14 empty half pans.

Paint Pans: Meeden clear half pans

Swatch card: Arches Cold Press 140lb/300gsm paper cut down to size

Water brush: Arteza Water Brush Pen (assorted tips) in Medium

Journal: Stillman & Birn Beta Softcover A5 (5.5″x8.5″) 270gsm 25 sheets/50 pages

How Much Water Do I Need for Watercolor?

I have an issue with using too much water with my watercolor paints. I know I’ve said it before, but I wanted to mention it again for the purpose of this blog post.

I ran across a YouTube video from one of a few artists I follow. I enjoyed watching Jenna talk about how much water to use with watercolor paints. It was a game changer to see what I’ve been doing wrong for several years. What is the right mixture of water and paint color? What technique is the right one to use? Dry on wet? Wet on Wet?

I watched the video all the way to the end. That was hard for me as I wanted to jump in and create my own paint samples. I had to stop myself and breathe and watch/learn without doing.

As I watched the video for the second time, I was actually following along. Yes, I had to stop the video several times so I could “catch up” and paint along.

In the top row, I painted my circles using a dry-on-wet technique. My tea sample is what I would typically paint for my base color. Also, this shows I have the tendency to use too much water when I’m painting and mixing my colors. I have to remind myself to dab my brush on my towel before applying my brush to the paint or paper. By the time I get to the butter consistency sample, this is basically lots of paint and very little water. You can see my brush strokes around the edges.

In the second row I used the wet-on-wet technique and my butter consistency had less dispersion in the water and the color is a bit more controlled. The color is also quite saturated and bold. The tea/coffee consistency produced the most dispersion and ends up being a lighter color.

This was a wonderful exercise for me to go through and I learned a lot about water control. I think I was afraid to use the initial bold watercolor washes for my first layers. I sometimes forget that my watercolor sketches will dry lighter. I just have to remind myself not to overthink what I’m doing and just put paint to paper and let it go.

I’ve included the link below of the YouTube video that has been a huge help in my watercolor journey.

Paint: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolor – Prussian Blue

Paint Brush: Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece Travel Brush #8

Journal: Stillman & Birn Alpha 7.5″x7.5″ softcover

YouTube: Jenna Rainey – The Answer to Water Control Problems

Filling Paint Pans & Mixing Colors & Swatching

I had some extra space in my watercolor metal palette container and I wanted to add a few additional colors I have from my paint collection. For me, there is something zen-like about squeezing tubes of paint. Is it just me?

I found some extra empty half pans in my art supply stash. They are clear pans from Meeden that I purchased during the pandemic. The white half pans were sold out at the time and clear was the only pans available.

The picture shows two layers of color I squeezed into each pan. For the first layer, I squeeze enough paint to cover the bottom of the pan. I tap the pan on my desk to get the paint to settle into the pan. I use a toothpick to push the paint into the corners of the pan and then smooth out the top. I let the first layer dry for about 24 hours before adding the second layer.

I tap the half pans on my desk to remove any air bubbles. Be careful not to accidentally stick you finger into the pan while doing this. Lessons learned.

I was in a mixing colors mood (another zen-like moment) and I pulled out a few pans of colors to try. I enjoyed the results of mixing Opera Pink with Sap Green and I could see using that for painting skin or flesh-tones. A mixture of magenta with blue and green created a lovely “shadow” color. Of course, mixing the right proportion of colors helps.

For the last three swatches (mixes), I created some lovely green colors. This swatch card makes me happy. I think I will hang this up in my studio.

Paints: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolor tubes/pans: Opera Pink, Nickel Azo Yellow, Aussie Red Gold, and Burnt Umber. Paint pans: Opera Pink, Phthalo Blue (GS), Quinacridone Magenta, Aussie Red Gold, and Nickel Azo Yellow.

Brush: Escoda Versatil Travel Brush in #8

Paper: Strathmore Watercolor Postcard 4″x6″ 140lb (300gsm)

My Favorite Green Watercolor Paint

I enjoy seeing what colors other artists are using in their palettes. One color that surprised me was Daniel Smith Cascade Green. I read and heard about this fantastic green color. Little did I know that it would become my favorite green color.

Wow! Look at all the colors in this single tube of paint!

The specs on this tube of paint says this Cascade Green is made up of Burnt Umber and Phthalo Blue (GS). Having a curious mind, I decided to mix these two colors to see what color I could create.

Love seeing the two colors intermingle with each other

I’m sure if I spent more time mixing, I could eventually come up with a close match.

I am currently under the weather dealing with allergies and it’s preventing my creative juices from flowing. Have a wonderful weekend!

Paint: Daniel Smith Cascade Green

Journal: Stillman & Birn Beta

My Art Toolkit Pocket Palettes

During my watercolor journey, I had tried so many different types of palettes to use with my tubes of paints. I started with the popular metal butcher pans which gave me huge mixing spaces, but hardly a good way to separate and organize my colors.

I expanded into plastic clam shell type palettes where my colors were arranged into organized slots around one side and the middle and opposite side contained mixing areas.

I then looked at empty plastic pans where I could fill the pans with my own color and fit the pans into a plastic case. The only issue I uncovered is that not all pans fit into the different plastic palette cases. There were no standards to the pan sizes. Also the pans would not stay secured. Most of the time, my paints would pop out of their pans.

Here is my watercolor setup from last year with my favorite palette

A year ago, I came across an interesting palette that a few artists were using for their urban and nature sketches. A rust-proof aluminum palette case that uses a magnet base to hold the stainless steel pans in place. Clever idea! The pans could be switched around and configured into a functional palette. The silver pans came in four different sizes along with a large mixing pan with a white base. This palette was called the Art Toolkit Pocket Palette by Expeditionary Art.

At the time I purchased my first Pocket Palette last year, one of their offerings (Essential Colors Edition) included the tiny square pans or “mini” pans with six Daniel Smith Extra Fine watercolors: Hansa Yellow, New Gamboge, Pyrrole Scarlet, Quinacridone Rose, Phthalo Blue (GS), and French Ultramarine. The case also included two large mixing pans.

Here’s a better view of the palette and pans:

One of my Pocket Palettes (upside down with logo showing) and the different size pans
Available pan sizes

Once I got the hang of using this palette, I was anxious to fill the empty pans with my own paint colors. It took awhile to fill all those tiny pans. I read somewhere that it was recommended to fill the pans in two stages. The first stage is to do the initial fill half way. Tap the pan to get the paint to settle. Let it dry for a day or two. During this time the paint settles a bit into the pan as it dries. The next stage is to fill the pan up to the edge. Let the pan dry for another day or two and then close the case.

My first attempt at filling the mini pans

Here is what my current and full palette looks like. It contains the main colors I use most often.

My first palette case with the “mini” and “standard” sized pans. You can see a few of the mini pans where the paint has shrunk and moved away from the sides
My color swatches to go with my first Pocket Palette

After using this portable palette for a few months, I knew this was going to work well in my small studio space setup and also when I paint outdoors. I found the mini pans were a bit small to use with my larger brushes.

At this point, I was not sure which pan size would work well with my painting style. I decided to purchase another silver case, but with the slender rectangle pans or what they call their “standard” pans.

Here is my second pocket palette with the “standard” pans
My color swatches for the my second Pocket Palette

As you can see I had to create swatches for each of the Pocket Palettes I own. In the pan, the dark colors are undistinguishable between the dark blues and dark greens.

Now that I’ve had some time to use both palettes, I do have a preference for the “standard” pans. First, it is easier to fill as there is more room to get the tube opening into the pan. Second, I can get larger brushes into the pans. Third, it holds double the amount of paint versus using the “mini” pans.

As my tubes of watercolors multiplied, I decided to add a third palette to my collection. My next order included a black palette case with standard pans. I knew this black case would hold special or unusual colors in my collection. It now holds my Duochrome and Iridescent paints. The sparkling paints.

Here I have a “large” pan (lower left) in my case acting as a place holder until I fill this case with additional paint colors
My color swatches for my black Pocket Palette

I have to share this. I was able to get all my swatches from the three Pocket Palettes into one 5″x7″ watercolor sheet of paper. It’s easier for me to see all the colors at one time.

Look at all the gorgeous colors!

Now that I’ve spent some time talking about these beautiful Pocket Palettes, I wanted to spend a bit to time showing how I fill the pans with paint. I had planned to fill the pans in two stages, but it turned out I was able to fill the pans full on the first pass.

Getting ready to fill my pans with Daniel Smith paints

I fill my pan with enough paint to reach the top edge of the pan and down the middle of the pan. I don’t worry about the paint reaching the sides. My main goal is to get the paint into the pan without making a mess.

I squeezed out a blob of paint into the pan

I took a my fancy toothpick and tamped down the paint into the four corners of the pan. Then I ran the toothpick through the edges of the pan and then towards the middle of the pan. This helps to eliminate any air bubbles between the paint and the bottom of the pan. I also take the pan and tap it on my desk to help the paint settle into the pan.

I smoothed out the paint in the pan with a toothpick. You can see how glossy the wet paint looks fresh from the tube

I did come across a tube of paint that showed some extra handling. Like the tube has been slightly squeezed or handled a bit more aggressive before arriving at my studio. I had a hard time opening the tube and had to use a piece of rubber grip to open the cap. This is what the cap and tube looked like after opening:

Had to use a rubber grip pad to open this tube. You can see the paint that dried around the tube opening and bits of dried paint sitting on my shop towel

After filling each pan, I make a point of cleaning out the cap and tube opening with a damp paper towel. When I use the tube at a later date, it will be easier for me to open. I will also squeeze the sides of the tube to suck the paint back into the tube. Yes, I have a thing about opening a tube and have paint gushing out.

The cap and tube looks brand new!

You can see how quickly my pans started to dry. The wet glossy sheen on the paint has started to turn matte-like as it dries (except for the sparkling paints). That’s what I call the initial “top skin” and it will take a few days for the whole pan to dry.

I’m getting the hang of filling the pans with paint without creating a mess
My standard pans filled with fresh paint

I’m enjoying the new colors!

Summary

I love using my Pocket Palettes. For me it’s all about function and use. The palettes are small that I can stack them on my desk when not in use or lay them side by side in my portfolio or tote bag. They are extremely durable and a joy to use for outdoor painting sessions.

The bottom of the palette displays the logo

  • Thin and small and very portable
  • Size: 3-5/8″ x 2-1/4″ x 1/4″. A bit larger than a standard size business card
  • Aluminum case is durable: silver or black
  • Built in mixing area on the inside cover
  • Magnetic base inside the case to hold the pans
  • Current Pocket Palettes offerings are available with 14 standard pans, 28 mini pans, or a combination of assorted pans. They also have a mixing palette version.
  • There is also a much smaller Demi Palette that comes with 12 mini pans (future blog post)
  • Extra stainless steel pans can be purchased: mini, double, standard, large, & mixing
  • A case can hold different combinations of pans sizes to suit individual painting needs

Supplies Used

Miscellaneous: Flat top toothpicks in a plastic canister (Dollar Store). Rubber grip roll (Dollar Store). Blue shop towels.

Paints: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors

Palette & Pans: Art Toolkit Pocket Palette by Expeditionary Art

Mixing Palette: Round porcelain dish

Paper (140lb/300gsm 100% cotton): Strathmore Series 500 Premium 5″x7″ sheet

Swatching My Way Back into Watercolors

I know I’ve spent some time talking about my fountain pens and fountain pen inks. Okay, it’s been a few months of pen and ink ramblings. That’s because I’ve made several new friends in the fountain pen world and wanted to share with them my experiences, research, and pen & ink artwork. Also my creative mojo has been going full speed ahead which means I will be venturing into my other creative hobbies.

It takes a bit longer for me to create a painting versus doing a quick pen & ink sketch. There’s a bit of “setup time” involved with watercolors since I do not have a designated space for painting. In my tote, I have my palette of colors, my porcelain mixing dish, my travel/portable brushes, my sketching tools, my collapsible water container, and small sheets of watercolor paper. When I’m working with pen & ink, I only have to carry my fountain pens, a water brush, and my journal with me.

In a previous post I mentioned about swatching the dots on my Daniel Smith dot sheets into rectangle shapes of color. I decided to take it a step further and created color swatches in my watercolor art journal. So here are the 238 colors in my journal pages:

Look how bright the yellow colors are!
I love the two pages of earth tone colors
A close up of the shimmering paints

As you can see, I created the blocks of colors without any guidelines and tried my best to keep them straight and almost lined up. Creating the swatches helped get me back into the watercolor frame of mind and getting reacquainted with my brushes, paint, and paper.

I started a small painting over the weekend and I will be back to share a quick picture in a new post.

Paints: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors (Dot Sheets)

Brush: Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece #8

Journal: Stillman & Birn Beta Spiral Bound

Why Use Professional Artist Quality Supplies?

It was at the beginning of my watercolor adventure and my first class where I learned to use student-grade supplies and I developed some bad habits with using the cheap paints and cheap papers. I kept hearing buy what you can afford. At some point in my watercolor painting life I was miserable with what I created and could not get to the next level of seeing any improvements in what I was painting. My paintings were dull and lifeless.

I found a local artist who had a studio in town and she took me under her wings for a few weeks. I showed up for the first session and she told me to get rid of my student grade paints and papers and start using artist quality supplies. She mentioned there’s a huge difference in quality between student grade and artist grade. She let me use her tubes of Winsor & Newton Artist paint for my first lesson and I immediately saw a difference. A few weeks later my mentor saw a huge improvement in my paintings. This eye opening experience brought life back to my art adventure.

When I graduated to artist grade supplies, I had to re-learn or develop new habits with using better grade paints and papers. I went from paint fillers to pure translucent colors. In regards to paper, I went from cellulose paper to 100% cotton paper. It was definitely an eye opening experience and instead of frowning at what I created, it was pure joy to see beautiful colors pop on my cotton paper.

If I had learned to use artist grade supplies at the beginning, I would have immediately developed good habits right from the start.

I was thankful to have the basic small tubes of Winsor & Newton Artist colors and not go hog-crazy getting the rainbow of colors they manufactured. I learned to mix the basic colors of yellows, reds, and blues to create the secondary colors. For example yellow and red to create orange. Yellow and blue to create green. Red and blue to create purple.

I followed several watercolor artists on the Internet and noticed they were branching out into other watercolor paint manufacturers. One brand that peaked my interest was a US based manufacturer, Daniel Smith. I purchased a few small tubes of his paints and immediately fell in love with his pure bright colors.

A few years ago, I signed up for a refresher watercolor class at my local art center. I was glad to see the instructor’s art supply list included Daniel Smith paints and I was happy to try out new colors. I had a lot of fun in that class and enjoyed learning new tips and painting styles. It showed in my final paintings I produced.

Over the last few months I saw Daniel Smith had a watercolor “dot sheet” that contained almost all of the Daniel Smith watercolor paints available. The sheet is arranged by colors and the one I purchased had 4 sheets covering a total of 238 color dots. That’s a lot of colors from one manufacturer! Scroll through the following pictures to see the 8.5″x11″ sheets of colors:

I spent some time playing with the dots. I took my #6 round paint brush and applied some water to each dot. I painted out each dot in rectangle blocks of color. Most of the colors immediately reacted with the water and it was easy to pull the colors out. A few were so dry that it took some time to get the paint to react to the water and move it around the paper.

For the last 10 years, I have accumulated over 40+tubes of Daniel Smith watercolor paints in my collection. As I mentioned before, I used to mix the basic colors to get my secondary and some tertiary colors. Some colors like turquoise and teal take more effort to create. It made more sense for me to purchase a tube of the exact color I needed.

Did I mention DS makes shimmering paint colors? They are actually called Duochrome and Iridescent colors. Here’s a few close up pictures:

Beautiful shimmering colors!
The Duochrome colors are gorgeous! Reminds me of the Caribbean.
Here’s a close up of a few Iridescent colors

I have my shimmering fountain pen inks to thank for getting me into the sparkling watercolor paints. I never thought I would end up with tubes of shimmering beauties. Oh my! Daniel Smith is doing a great job with their paint offerings.

My paint bin is full of paint tubes. I had to create an inventory (spreadsheet) of my watercolor paint collection. Out of the 40+ tubes in my possession, only 5 colors were duplicates. Not too bad as they are the colors I enjoy using the most.

I plan on getting back into creating some watercolor pieces of art. I just need to carve out a few hours a day and just do it!

Tips/Tricks

Before I sign up for a class (online or in person instructions), I look for the instructor’s supply list to see which brands of paint they use or like to use. It’s not uncommon to see good instructors use a combination of brands like Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton Professional. Artists/instructors will have favorites they like to use. That’s part of my art adventure and enjoying new colors I have not tried.

You may have heard the saying “a tiny bit goes a long way”. It definitely does with Daniel Smith or Winsor & Newton Professional paints. Artist grade or professional paints are made from pure pigments of color. Student grade paints are made with a small amount of pigment and lots of fillers and that explains why I used up so many tubes of the student grade paints. Student grade can also be opaque and not as vibrant in color.

Dot Cards are a good investment. Both Daniel Smith and Winsor & Newton have dot cards. As you can see from the previous pictures, the cards contain the actual paint dropped onto a card along with the name of the paint, lightfastness, staining/nonstaining, granulation, and transparency. The color dot can be activated with a damp brush. Remember I mentioned about a tiny bit goes a long way? This card makes swatching so easy. You can see what the colors look like and the consistency before committing to a tube of paint.

Winsor & Newton has two lines of watercolor paints. One is their “Professional” artist grade paints. The other is their “Cotman” name which is their student grade paint.

I have not discussed watercolor paint brushes. For me, it’s a personal choice. I’ve accumulated several different brands that I’ve tried over the years. I still have a few of my student-type brushes that have served me well. I did try out a few real sable hair and squirrel brushes that I still have and use occasionally. I now prefer to use synthetic brushes. I enjoy the synthetic sable brushes for the lovely points they keep and the synthetic squirrel for the amount of water and color the brush can carry.

My Favorite Watercolor Supplies

Paints: Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors

Paper (140lb/300gsm and 100% cotton): Arches Cold Press, Strathmore Series 500 Premium Cold Press, and Bee Paper Rag Cold Press

Brushes: Cheap Joe’s Golden Fleece, Escoda Versatil, Robert Simmons, and Princeton

Travel Palette: Art Toolkit by Expeditionary Art

Mixing Palette: Small 3″-4″ round porcelain dishes (Tuesday Morning or Home Goods)