Create Your Own Color Palette With An Art Journal

One of the most beneficial things that I have done for my art practice is to use an art journal on a consistent basis.

My experience is that I’ve found it’s not the amount of time that is spent between the pages but rather those frequent moments. It could be ten minutes to lay down a light wash before dinner or a day job, or the gift of an afternoon where you can luxuriate with beautiful colors. Either moment is a present to yourself and your well-being as you paint and explore color. I’ve found that not only will using an art journal improve your work as you practice and make color choices, it happens organically, as an art journal is a creative hideaway for you alone, without the pressure of making a “serious” or finished painting.

When it comes to developing your own artistic style, an art journal provides a tangible record of your own color choices that are unique to you.

Noticing what you notice

Blue Pine Arts paints

As artists and lovers of handmade watercolors, color is an integral part of what inspires our subject matter, composition as well as our desire to paint. One of the wonderful things about watercolor pan paints is that you have a very visual record of what colors you naturally gravitate to.

A well loved palette is like an open diary of your personal color tastes and preferences.

Are your color wells filled more with floral pops of pinks and purples? Can you not resist a sparkle from a shimmer paint? Perhaps you like the moodier tones of deep blues and browns… I find that I’m always restocking my yellows.

For my Blue Pine Arts Sara Corren palette, I chose three different yellow tones, Lemon Yellow, Alphonso Yellow and Nutmeg Raw Sienna.There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I love that wonderful translucent glow that can be created with watercolor layering of subsequent washes. I like to do this by starting most pieces by laying down a very subtle yellow wash on the area where light is going to be hit. That way, the following color washes on top will have a lovely warm glow underneath.

Secondly, I like to mix a lot of my own muted greens and having three different yellows gives me varying choices. I like to use Lemon Yellow for fresh clean greens, Alphonso Yellow for a warmer shade in a light filled landscape or I love Nutmeg Raw Sienna as a rich tonal base for trees or animals.

As I love to paint nature, I needed my color palette to reflect that. Some colors are perfect on their own. Star-Anise Caput Mortem is an example of that. It can be dropped into a wet wash just as it is to add depth or texture to say a piece of bark or creating a natural looking texture on a butterfly wing.

Search for clues between the journal pages


Using an art journal, be it to keep a record of our color swatching, puddle plays or more composed paintings I feel can illuminate us to our our personal quality as an artist. If you see certain colors recurring over the pages, perhaps that is an indicator of your personal artistic style.

When we visualise the work of Georgia O'Keefe, Andrew Wyeth or Van Gogh, there is a very real color imprint of the palette that they each use in their body of work.

It’s fascinating to look into an artist’s palette and see the color personality of an artist reflected back by her singular choices of color. As artists, we also get to change our mind and follow our curiosities.

I’ve always been attracted to the colors of nature but depending on what season I’m experiencing or even circumstance of life I’m going through I may subconsciously move my brush from a warm earthy palette to the more soothing cool blues and greens... Or maybe spring has arrived. The new burst of nature’s colors around me can be re-energising. I look and see the new shoot of a plant color mirrored in a New Leaf Green pan and want to paint it.

As much as I love a neutral-inspired palette, when I see the rich depth of color in a single flower, it’s irresistible not to want to paint it’s rosy petals with the Quin Gulaal. I don’t think it can ever be underestimated by what we see in our ordinary life is a potential treasure-chest of colors to be accessed and then incorporated into our own personal palette.

A fallen blossom found on a daily walk can be taken home to be studied and recreated in a nature journal. For me, trees are wonderful characters to both paint and to admire. It’s not only an exercise to grow as a painter when you study the tones of branches and bark on a tree trunk but also an opportunity to feel true gratitude for the beauty of a tree. Once you slow down visually and study a tree, the color variations are endless, from the rosy pink of a gum tree to the purplish white and charcoal of a birch.

Opening up the pages of our journal gives us an immediate visual record of our paint explorations.


What colors we tend to either ignore or repeat over again in our watercolor palette is perhaps something that can be pushed or reveled in further.

Is there always a dominant use of blue or do you rarely use a bright orange? Is your color personality bright and playful or do you prefer the more subdued tones? Personally, I like red but rarely use a bright primary red preferring to use a more subdued version like Chinar Red.

I think seeing these colors repeated in our sketchbooks and paintings are indicators of who we are as artists. We all have distinct qualities and life experiences and color is a beautiful tool to use to represent our full self expression.

What is your color personality? What paints do you refer back to? Share it with me and Trupti and let's gab about colors!

My Blue Pine Arts x Sara Corren palette is going to be stocked tomorrow, Thursday 13th February. If you'd like to read more about my nature journalling, visit my new website


Sara Corren


  • Sara Corren

    Hello Avantika, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I find Quin gulaal to be a colour I drop in everywhere, that too makes an excellent glazing colour. I seem to have a lot of roses in my journals and that is definitely a beautiful colour to depict them with…

  • Avantika Shrivastav

    I lean towards my pinks always as I paint florals more. Quin gulaal is one of my favourites. New leaf is my go- to colour for the young, just emerging leaves in my botanical painting. Alphonso yellow is excellent for mixing greens and oranges and sap green gives me so many greens- just by adding different blues or yellows! The possibilities are endless!

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