When Daniel Smith announced their hand poured watercolor half pan sets on Doodlewash in July, I knew in a heartbeat which one I wanted. The limited palette featured in the Daniel Smith Sketcher half pan set was developed by Liz Steel for urban sketching. Containing both a bright and earth triad, the savvy color choices combine to create a sophisticated palette ideally suited to quick sketching. I’ve used a slight variation of this set for over three years in my own nature and landscape sketching, and I was eager to take the original Liz Steel basics for a spin.
Daniel Smith Sketcher Set Packaging
The display box for the Daniel Smith Sketcher set features a picture of the included colors in their travel case and labeled scans of color swatches wrap around the ends of the box. Cerulean Blue Chromium leans more turquoise than pictured on the box, and is suitable for a CMY (Cyan-Magenta-Yellow) triad.
A leaflet inside the box features full color pictures of each set on offer as well as scanned, labeled swatches. The pigment numbers and information are included for every color as well. Each set has an explanation either by the Daniel Smith team or a well-known artist to help artists use the colorways to full advantage.
The bonus travel case is made of the same plastic as the Winsor & Newton Pocket Sketch Box and has a large rose gold foil embossed logo. A card declaring “I’m Unique” adhered to the top informs the artist what to expect from Daniel Smith hand poured pans. The case closes securely, and can only be opened by lifting the corners. (The retaining tabs are directly beside the notch in the center front of the case; so you won’t be able to pop open the case from the front.) The lid doesn’t lie flat when open. The travel case cannot be used as a palette, so if you aren’t moving the colors into your existing palette, you may want to purchase a metal palette.
Inside the case, half pans fit into a molded grid 5 across by 3 deep. Pans remove easily by tipping the case or using a dental tool to lift them out. The half pans are too large to fit in my Portable Painter or Winsor & Newton plastic palettes, but they snap securely into my metal palettes. Filled pans are not wrapped or labeled in any way, empty pans have a Daniel Smith logo embossed into the bottom. Loose flecks of dried paint give a dirty appearance to the case when first opened, but wipe out easily.
The Daniel Smith Sketcher set contains six SINGLE PIGMENT colors: Hansa Yellow Medium, Quinacridone Rose, Cerulean Blue Chromium, Monte Amiata Raw Sienna, Transparent Red Oxide, and Ultramarine Blue.
Liz Steel designed this minimal mixing palette many years ago to contain both a bright and earth triad. Her website and Instagram feeds provide substantial information on mixing and sketching with these colors. I choose to swap the blues from the way she designed the palette so I have a CMY triad and a Classical triad.
The bright triad: Hansa Yellow, Quin Rose, and Cerulean Blue Chromium form a CMY palette that can be used to mix clean colors around the entire color wheel. Both the Hansa and the Cerulean are semi-transparent and low staining. The Quin Rose is transparent and staining, but easier to handle than most Quins on the market.
The earth triad: While all of the earth colors can be mixed using the bright triad, three color mixes are tedious while sketching. That problem is solved by including a desaturated earth trio along with the high key bright triad. Monte Amiata Raw Sienna is more golden than brown, washing out to soft yellows. Transparent Red Oxide is the same pigment used by some brands for burnt sienna. A little more difficult to handle than the easy-going Pbr 7 burnt sienna, PR101 pays off with brighter, more transparent color. A centuries old favorite, Ultramarine Blue, rounds out this triad.
Used together, these six colors will create paintings with a strong sense of unity. Because I work primarily in pen and wash, I also appreciate colors that don’t drown out ink in sketches but can still mix deep darks when necessary. I’ve used variations of these six colors for several years, and have never been let down by this combination.
Daniel Smith has earned an international reputation for their exquisite paint line. They continue to dominate the watercolor sketching market as well. Why?
- Daniel Smith paints dry down solid without cracking and rewet easily to full, brilliant color. Relatively few artist grade paints behave well in all climates when dried down into a palette for sketching. Running, cracking & crumbling, fading, and over-hardening are common problems with other brands. Daniel Smith hand poured half pans are the same formulation as the tube paints we’ve loved for years.
- Daniel Smith colors have a full pigment load without overpowering small washes. Unlike Daniel Smith, many artist brands are challenging to use in sketching sizes because they overpower a wash when even the tiniest amount of pigment is used. Daniel Smith paints perform as well in small format sketches as they do in full sheet fine art. I’ve never had a Daniel Smith color creep backwards through my waterbrush and ruin the tank of water, either.
- A wide range (238+) of standard colors, specialty mixes, and even gemstone paints allow for customized palettes.
- Painting characteristics. Sketches are designed to be viewed from about 18”. While many watercolor paints appear flat at this close distance, Daniel Smith brings the magic. Pigments float, swirl, and sparkle in their washes creating mesmerizing effects. Texture techniques (water droplets, salt, gauze, cling film, and alcohol) work well, too.
The 6 half pan sets from Daniel Smith are much like a tasting menu in an upscale restaurant. Each collection allows you to enjoy a curated selection of six premium colors for about the same cost as four 15ml tubes.
Daniel Smith’s packaging choices for their half pan sets have drawn fire on social media. If you choose to order one of their sets, understand that the “Bonus Free Travel Case” is not a functional palette box. Also, the included half pans will come unwrapped, uncovered, and unlabeled.
Although the six pigments chosen for the Sketcher’s half pan set look unassuming, they mix an impressive variety of sophisticated colors. I hope Daniel Smith releases boxed sets of 5 ml tubes for the Urban Sketcher set soon — the color selection is so much more fun to work with than the classic split primary!
Not an urban sketcher? These colors work equally well as a starting point for landscape and basic nature sketching. Floral and fantasy artists may want to consider the Floral set instead. If you like to paint portraits, I expect you’ll want the Ultimate Mixing 15 pan set curated by Jane Blundell.
I want to know! Have you purchased a Daniel Smith Hand Poured Watercolor Set yet? What’s your favorite? Do you have one of the sets on your Christmas list? Have you ever tried the Liz Steel basic palette? Let me know in the comments.
Daniel Smith provided the Sketcher set of 6 colors to me in exchange for my honest review. I did not receive payment for this review, nor will I receive commissions from future sales of Daniel Smith sets, though this post contains affiliate links which help support Doodlewash.Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in
I’m a science and math educator who has been creating since childhood. I picked up watercolor four years ago and have been on a grand exploration discovering its playful and enigmatic personality. Follow my adventure on Instagram!