Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors. Extra fine- truer words have never been said. I’m not sure this brand needs much of an introduction. These are artist quality paints. I’ve spent more time looking at Daniel Smith (DS) watercolor swatches than all other art supplies rolled into one. Their line is so extensive, I wasn’t sure how to begin to tackle this post. I’ve decided to break it into two posts. Part one, the Extra Fine line, and part two, the PrimaTek and Luminescent lines.
Mr. Daniel Smith started the company in the basement of his Seattle, Washington home in 1976. The company is based out of Seattle, they also have a store in Bellevue, WA.
If I counted correctly- there are 247 watercolors in their line. This number includes their Extra Fine, PrimaTek, and Luminescent varieties. They all come in 15ml. tubes , 88 colors come in 5 ml. tubes, and 51 colors come in sticks. Very few sets are sold, but there are a handful of starter sets and you can see them here. I found this Daniel Smith Extra Fine Essentials Introductory Set of 6 on Amazon for about $28. The Daniel Smith site has a $4.95 flat shipping rate, so does Dick Blick and Jerry’s Artarama. Many local art stores sell this brand and these sets.
There are so many colors, that the line seems rather overwhelming. I decided to swatch the Extra Fine line that I have and highlight a few favorites. I took a lot of photos. I find their website a bit cumbersome to navigate, it could use an update. This is the key for lightfast ratings. Individual colors would need to be looked at to see where they fit on the lightfast scale. That info is available on their website under the “Product Description” for individual paints or consult the DS Watercolor Chart here. The bamboo palette box pictured came from Dick Blick. Not the best thing, for mixing and it’s a little deep, but it’s what I’ve got. This small swatch is on Arches cold press watercolor paper. Please excuse the stray bits of sand in some of the pans. I took them to Kauai in a GraceArt converted pallet. When I wasn’t looking, some of the wild island chickens pecked and ran off with some of my paint pans. I tracked down all but one pan.
These swatches are on Strathmore 400 Series Watercolor paper. There are better papers out there to paint paintings on, but I use it for swatches. What seems to be a standard for me- my palette is not in the most correct order. After Indigo, there are three additional colors on the swatch below that are not on the one above.
Dot Cards are 238 dots of paint- these are like a gateway drug to these paints. It’s amazing how much paint you can get off of a little dot. Some art stores give out smaller versions of the cards. My local art store gave me a small Dot Card of some of the PrimaTek line, after that, it was all over. I went PrimaTek crazy. Real ground minerals in paints?! I was hooked. Eventually I got the entire four page Dot Card set.
If you are truly interested in this brand, get the Dot Cards– usually around $25 for the entire set.
Wet Paint has a 66 color try it sheet for $4.49 at the writing of this post. A good deal if you are planning on ordering some other things.
The MerriArtist– free smaller Dot Card with $15 DS purchase.
I always think- that’s it, I’m done- no more tubes of paint. Insert Jaws theme music. Then just when I think it’s safe to let my guard down and go back into the water- paint shark! I find one I must have. Recently that was Cascade Green (PBr7 PB15 these are the pigment numbers that the paint is mixed from). This is when the Dot Cards come in handy. Looking at swatches on the screen is fine and all, but it’s just not the same as trying the paint out. I find the dot of paint is enough to try the color in small paintings or sketches, along with doing a swatch.
The following larger swatches are done in a Stillman & Birn 4 x 6 Gamma Series journal. The paper is ivory.
Most of the traditional colors in the DS Extra Fine line are single pigment, but they have quite a few fun mixes that usually have a separation and granulating effect. I think some of the celestial names got me- Moonglow, Lunar Blue, Lunar Violet. Who can resist a name like the mysterious Undersea Green? I can’t. Many of the multi-pigment paints can be mixed for from individual pigments.
Undersea Green– (PB29 PO49) this is my favorite paint. The lower half of the outside mermaids is Undersea Green.
“An artisan’s favorite, this exciting medium staining green blends French Ultramarine with Quinacridone Gold. The inorganic, sedimentary French Ultramarine settles and granulates while the organic, transparent Quinacridone Gold floats into a golden halo.”
“Water frees this amazing three-pigment blend to perform miracles. Watch and wait as Anthraquinoid Red floats, Ultramarine Blue settles and Viridian grays the resulting violet color. Selectively blot and lift a surface wash to expose delicate blue-greens. A description of the fascinating light and dark washes can never match a personal experience!”
I did another swatch comparing a few colors with other brands- Quinacridone Gold, Burnt Sienna, Pyrrol Scarlet, Indigo. These are the artist grade for all brands shown.
Top Row: The first three are Quinacridone Gold- Daniel Smith, M Graham, QoR. The next four in the top for are Burn Sienna- Holbein, Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton, Mission Gold.
Bottom Row: first two are Pyrrol Scarlet- Daniel Smith, M. Graham, and I used Vermilion from Mission Gold. The next three are Indigo- Daniel Smith, Mission Gold, MaimeriBlu.
If filling pans gets a little messy, I wipe the excess paint on a journal page and do these strange swatches, adding a paint name note on the opposite page- Goethite, Indian Red, Napthamide Maroon, Shadow Violet, Payne’s Gray.
I found this Secondary Set of three on Amazon featuring Quinacridone Burnt Orange, Undersea Green, and Carbazole Violet. When I first found it, it was $27, the next time I clicked to write this, it went up to $36. The ways of Amazon.
There is a Primary set of three on Amazon with Perylene Red, Hansa Yellow Medium, and French Ultramarine for $36. This made me think of an article I recently read: John Muir Laws- Reinventing the Wheel: Why Red is Not a Primary Color. I recommend reading this before buying a primary set. It’s not too long, a quick read.
Example below- Undersea Green, Naphthamide Maroon, and Buff Titanium.
One artist I seriously enjoy is Emil Nolde. This is me tipping my hat to him using- Lunar Blue, Hansa Yellow Light, Phthalo Blue, French Ultramarine, and Moonglow.
Example below is in a Handbook Travelogue Watercolor Journal, Grand Portrait size- using Moonglow, Undersea Green, Cascade Green, and Payne’s Gray. The sky is DS Payne’s Gray and two Holbein colors- Cobalt Violet Light and Manganese Blue Nova. If it looks familiar, this is the same subject I used in the Greenleaf & Blueberry post. Sometimes comparisons are nice.
One thing missing from this post is pronunciation help! Anthraquinoid, Phthalo, Quinacridone, Indanthrone, Naphthamide. I’m glad I’m writing these to you, and not pronouncing them. I attempted to put some links to pronunciations, in case you are at the art store and wanting to ask questions. But, those all pronounce them differently, or they added a weird statement at the end. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.
Dot Card swatches video- I did not watch this entire thing, but I’m passing it along. It is an hour of one dot card worth of swatches. She has three other videos for the other Dot Card sheets.
There is an insanely wonderful amount of information available on Handprint.com about this brand and many others, as well as tons of other info on color theory and palettes. Some people like a lot of info like this, some people find it overwhelming. I link to this a lot, and will continue to do so. The info on DS is a dated- 2005, but this guy is thorough.
I’ll make a general statement about most of the brushes in the photos- they are from Rosemary & Co., a mother and daughter operated company in the UK. I have always had a good experience ordering from them, and using the brushes. I will be doing posts on brushes and sketch/watercolor journals in the next few weeks.
Look for Part Two of Daniel Smith Watercolors next Saturday. This post is kind of long, I’m hoping that the next one will be shorter. This is an ongoing series of watercolor and art supply reviews. Your comments are appreciated.