Daniel Smith Ultimate Mixing Set

17 September, 2019.

Even before the 2019 Urban Sketchers Symposium, sketchers I spoke with were praising Daniel Smith watercolors. My own kit is comprised of several different brands and while my core palette seldom changes much, I often experiment with those peripheral colors with which I choose to supplement the basic triad. During the Symposium there was no shortage of painters and sketchers who swear by the Daniel Smith line of watercolors. I wound up with quite a few products to test, including watercolors from Van Gogh, QOR, White Nights, Renesans, Aquarius, and Daniel Smith.

The “Daniel Smith Ultimate Mixing Set” is an intriguing name. This kit of fifteen colors was curated by the marvelous Jane Blundell who states “Whether the aim is to paint botanicals, landscapes, urban scenes, animals, portraits – or any other subject – this set of fifteen colors will enable you to mix all the colors that you need.”

That’s a pretty bold statement. After all, most of us approach color quite differently, so the idea of “one kit to bind them all” begs to be put to the test. Although many of the colors in this collection appear on my own palette, there are enough differences – subtle and otherwise – that it will likely take some getting used to before a successful sketch emerges.

Greens, in particular, tend to give many painters fits. With only a single green in the “ultimate” mixing kit one clearly has to rely on mixing from the various triad combinations to represent the light and shadow of grass and foliage. On my own palette, I tend to rely on the “raw” green as mixer only – something I utilize to neutralize intensely bright warm colors like red or magenta. Not including a bunch of greens in this kit appeals to me because I prefer the subtle range of warms/cools/neutrals possible from mixing various blues and yellows.

This kit excels at neutral and subtle greens. It is also possible to create bright greens using the Pthalo Green BS and Hansa Yellow Medium included in the kit, but the range of warm neutrals (Quinacridone Gold, Goethite, Raw Umber) combine nicely with the range of blues (Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, and Pthalo Blue GS).

Another pigment that intrigues me is Jane’s Grey, which I believe was developed in conjunction with Jane Blundell. It’s slightly cool, so pairs nicely with the yellows and the cool reds (Permanent Alizarin and Quinacridone Rose). I love creating different grays, and this kit does that very well indeed. Meanwhile, the range of greens possible is quite surprising.

What I don’t like. Buff Titanium… I can’t see where it would be useful. (I’d love to be proven wrong, by the way!) It’s too opaque for my tastes and I wasn’t able to mix it successfully with any of the pigments in this kit. And while it may come in handy in some obscure way, it occupies “real estate” on the palette that might otherwise be taken up by a more useful pigment. I’m unsure what pigment I’ll add once that spot is vacated. What would you include?

I have no issues with Burnt Sienna in general, however – and this could just be my imagination – it does seem to me that this pigment has grown increasingly weak/washed out over the past decade. I tested the Daniel Smith Transparent Red Oxide at the Symposium and liked it a lot. Would it make an acceptable substitute? I mostly use neutrals in mixtures, so it’s going to take a little trial and error before I have a better idea.

The product is packaged with two travel cases, which is a real plus. And while the case seems hardy enough, and the half pans fit securely, I take issue with the limited mixing surface. My favorite travel kit is made by Winsor & Newton, and has more than triple the mixing surface. It’s a little larger than the Daniel Smith case, but provides so much more mixing area because one surface retracts into the case. Score one for Winsor & Newton on this characteristic.

The paint. This is what got sketchers excited: the half pans activate easily, and go down smoothly. Picking up paint with a brush feels creamy. Every tube of Daniel Smith I have is of excellent quality and it seems to me that the half pans are of equal quality. Time for me to make some sketches to see how it works for me in actual practice.

Do you use Daniel Smith half pans? How about any of the other watercolors I mentioned above? I’d love to hear your experience.


  1. lepastelbleu · September 17

    in Italy and France I have never found Daniel Smith and I would like to try them. I use very few colors, very few for both watercolor and oil or gouache: lemon yellow and dark chrome yellow, ultramarine blue, vermilion red and carmine red. Sometimes but very rarely I use sienna, ocher and umber. Stop. so many colors confuse and can render the painting “untied”, I don’t know if I can explain myself … why take so many colors if with the primaries you can get them all?
    In the illustration if I need a black I get it by mixing Payne’s gray and sepia. Usually I use Daler-Rowney or Maimeri or Windsor & Newton.
    How did it go with gum arabic?

    • azorch · September 19

      I did finally have an opportunity to test gum Arabic this evening. Iā€™m quite pleased that the paint stayed wet and workable much longer. The opacity was as good as without the gum Arabic, and payed down a little more smoothly also. šŸ‘šŸ‘šŸ‘

  2. azorch · September 17

    Like you, I seldom use the earth colors and I never use black at all (except in my fountain pens!) I can mix everything I need from a cool/warm triad. You’ve followed this blog long enough that I’m confident you remember I am a big fan of limited color palettes and have experimented extensively with several different configurations.

    I’m also not beholden to any one brand of paint either. That said, I’m quite impressed with the quality and rewetting characteristics of Daniel Smith half pans.

    Regarding the gum arabic: I haven’t tried it yet. It’s all set up on my drawing table and ready to go, but I’ve been teaching watercolor techniques all week long and haven’t really had a chance to give it a go when I haven’t been exhausted. It’s supposed to rain later this week, which I think may be a good opportunity to get back at it. I’ll definitely let you know how it goes.

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