The benefit of the missing color

I am telling you just a little story, for a start… 😉

Sketching day! You are going to draw on location all day, your inspiration is awesome, the sun is shining, your fellow urban sketchers have great watercolor approaches to share with you… It’s going to be a perfect day!

But, suddenly, horror! You realize that the pan of one of your favorite color is almost empty! Damn!
Are you going to let that bad news ruin your sketching session?!


Of course, not!

And, wait, what if a empty watercolor pan could, at last, be an advantage, and even a good idea?! 😀

Indeed, I am pretty sure that missing one or two of your usual colors can help you, can help us, to become more creative, to experiment with new colors mixes and to give new great atmospheres to our sketches (obviously, this is not valid if you work with a really limited number of colors. I started watercolor with 4 tubes so… 😉 ).

For example, when I made this tee shirt sketch (yeah! Everyday matters!! 😀 ), they were no more Phthalo Blue on my palette to paint my sky blue bedsheets (the background of the sketch). This made me try, for the first time, the mix of French Ultramarine Blue and a Phthalo Turquoise I bought a few weeks earlier for the Portuguese sea!



I realized, with this sketch, that this mix was way more interesting than a wash of pure Phthalo blue : the split between the Ultramarine granulation and the plain Turquoise, along with the intentional color variations are a real benefit!
Now, I am not sure I want to use the Phthalo blue anymore. 😉

Another day, there were many empty pans in my palette because I wanted to move some of the colors… So, my palette looked like that. Ouch!!
I don’t recommand to paint with such an empty palette but it was a fun challenge. 😉



That day, I had to paint without any green or yellow!!!… I finally used a bit of Transparent Red Oxyde (it’s a sort of Burnt Sienna hue, a rusty color) to break the turquoise blue and create greenish shades in the quick sketch, below.
I admit it was rather tricky to paint with this limited palette, but fun! The atmosphere of the sketch is special, less bright than I am used to (no lime green for the grass!), but I like it.



This idea of stepping outside of our confort zone, because of some missing colors, to try new mixes, makes me think of Shari Blaukopf adventure – no, not the one with her suitcase ! – when a blob of Cobalt Teal had leaked on all over her palette.
This misfortune forced her to use this color more and, that way, to discover new mixes! And she finally liked the new triads she created using the Cobalt teal. 😀 You can see some of her sketches using this Cobalt teal here, here and here.

That’s funny to notice that, finally, an imposed color or a missing one can have the same benefit!
It helps us to become more creative with our colors choices and mixes and it pushes us to try new things.

MissingColor01So, emptying, from time to time, one or two pans of your colors has several advantages.

– The starting point of this move is not to allow some pigments to dry on your palette for too long.
Clear it out from time to time, rather than just adding more paint!
That’s nice to get a new start with only fresh paint.

– As we said, this will give you some new ideas for color mixing and choices.
You know, we tend to always use the same colors, our beloved favorites…
When they are missing, we have to use something else, for a change!
That’s good to step out of our confort zone, sometimes! 😉

– This approach can help you, too, to empty the pans of the colors you don’t use really often. 😉 When some of your favorites are missing, you tend to use more your out of favor colors!
And, if one pan really seems impossible to clear out, it may mean that you, maybe, don’t need this color at all. Good to know! 😉


One last “missing color” sketch? 🙂 For this by night quick one, I had no blue dark color to use (no Ultramarine and I didn’t add the Indigo to my palette yet).
It made me realize that the Quinacridone Fuchsia that, I think, is too dull and too dark as a cool red, with that out of favor Phthalo blue 😉 could produce an amazingly strong color together!

By the way, did you noticed that I splattered water on the sky? 😉


I hope that this article will make you want to be more creative with your colors and will make you clean your palette pans, from time to time! 😆

9 thoughts on “The benefit of the missing color

  1. Hi Anne-Laure. I am very much enjoying your blog! I need a few tips on balancing all my gear while sketching on the go. I use a corrugated sign board as Marc Taro Holmes suggested but I can’t get my folding metal palette to attach flat and secure and the bull dog clip interferes with the mixing area. I love the palette you have and would like to know who the manufacturer is and where to get it. Thanks so much! I love your art!!!

    • Hi Cathy!

      Thank you so much for your kind comment! 😀
      I am sorry for being a bit long to answer it.

      My palette is hand made with some upcycling materials, so I can’t tell you any manufacturer…

      I chose a pencils box (Derwent brand) because it was metallic, very flat, a nice size and without the lid being attached with the bottom of the box.
      I ordered some make up flat pans, as I was feeling that I wouldn’t like the classique white tall pans.
      And I attached the pans on the palette with blue tack (my blue tack is white). 😉
      I created some separations with blue tack too (I added some more since the photos). You could fear that it’s not hard but finally it’s OK and it’s become harder with time.

      To be able to use a bigger sketchbook with some boards, like Marc, I made several tests and created several boards (it could be a nice article 😉 ).

      So, I have a board taller than the sketchbook, with some magnets glued on it so you can just put the palette there (you can hold the board with the palette at the top, or near your body as it can seem less heavy).

      I also have a board the size of the sketchbook with bulldog clips at the edges. I glued some magnets on the bulldogs clips so I can attach the palette on the bulldog clips. This way, the palette hides a part of the page. You can change the areas where you put the clips to change the palette setting.

      I hope these explanations are not too mysterious!!
      I try to add some photos for you. 😉

      Here, you can see the bulldog clips I am not using, to the right of the boards, with the round magnets glued on it. There are Two bulldog clips with magnet the same way, just under my palette, to the left on the page.

      Hope that helps!

      • What a great idea! Thank you so much for that detailed explanation, Anne-Laure! It was worth the wait.

  2. Very interesting reading! Guess it takes some practicing to mix the colors out in the field

    • Hi Pernille,

      Yes, mixing colors takes some practicing, but not especially in the fields, even at home!! 😉
      It’s a good practice, with always something new to discover!! 😀

      But I like to have more colors on my palette, now, too, to have more mixing opportunities but also to be able to use some colors straight from the tube (heavy consistency) and to enjoy some great pigments with granulating effects. 🙂

  3. Thank you for the fun article about using your colors! It is great to be able to try out new mixes and keeps it all exciting! 🙂
    P.S. I really love your info about your material and the photos to illustrate. Even on practical matters you are incredibly creative!! ^^
    Royce (Tiaré)

    • Oh, hi here Royce-Tiaré!!
      Thank you to come to the website and comment!

      Yes, trying new mixes is always exciting!

      You know, that’s normal that, as a photographer, I always try to offer not to bad picture of my tools…
      But I am happy you noticed it!!

  4. I am so glad to read this about your water color palette. Thanks so much. I guess with those tiny drops of paint, you have to refill often, right? Thanks again for sharing.

    • Hummm, about the refilling, it depends… 😉

      Even with a small amount of paint, I can paint for a while!

      I have to refill some from time to time but, each time I try to put more paint in the pans, I thinks it’s not a good idea, because some of the watercolor paints dry too much and they become difficult to use a few weeks later. So, I prefer to refill from time to time, even frequently, and to use fresher paint.

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