jim kosvanec palette
Source: Transparent Watercolor Wheel by Jim Kosvanec. Watson-Guptill, 1994. © 1994 Jim Kosvanec.

22 : aureolin (? PY40), cadmium yellow (PY35), nickel dioxine yellow (PY153), quinacridone gold (PO49), cadmium orange (PO20), quinacridone orange (PO48), naphthol scarlet (PR188), benzimidazolone brown (PBr25), quinacridone red (PR209), benzimidazolone carmine (PR176), quinacridone rose (PV19), cobalt violet (PV14), ultramarine violet (PV15), ultramarine blue (PB29), cobalt blue (PB28), phthalocyanine blue GS (PB15), manganese blue (PB33), phthalocyanine green BS (PG7), viridian (PG18), hooker's green [hue], sap green [hue], green gold (PY129) • Kosvanec's is one of the best examples I can find of an extreme colorist's palette — a selection that embraces 22 paints.

Comparison with Kosvanec's previous palette, which contained 30 paints, and with the 28 paint palette recommended by Stephen Quiller (in his Painter's Guide to Color) is instructive:


two colorist palettes

(left) Jim Kosvanec's 30 paint palette; (right) Steven Quiller's 28 paint palette

The large number of yellows (5), blues (5) and greens (5) in Kosvanec's previous palette was dictated by his color mixing system, which systematically distinguishes between paints that are staining, transparent, opaque, or "blackened", and recommends or proscribes different combinations among these five types to produce the most "luminous" mixtures. Thus Kosvanec uses two similar yellows because aureolin is transparent but cadmium yellow is opaque.

Quiller makes a similar "theoretical" choice by spacing his selections in approximately equal hue intervals around the hue circle, which he arranges on his trademark ColorWheel palette so that the mixing complement of each paint is located directly opposite. Several duplicate colors have been added to vary the texture or transparency of his paints, but in general Quiller's mixing approach is more conceptual than sensual.

As I explain in my book review, Kosvanec himself says that pleasing color is attained through paint application rather than paint mixing: in fact, I have never been able to mix a "dull, muddy color," so long as the paints were properly diluted and were painted once and left alone. With this in mind, the new palette shows several changes toward a more efficient painting strategy. It jettisons the "blackened" paints, reduces color duplication, and where feasible switches to more transparent pigments (for example, exchanging burnt sienna for quinacridone orange and burnt umber for benzimidazolone brown). With a few exceptions (benzimida carmine, PR176, graying aureolin, PY40, and possibly the green convenience mixtures), all the new paint choices are very lightfast. Obviously, this is the palette of a color connoisseur.

Happily, Kosvanec keeps a few paints for their granulation — cobalt violet, manganese blue and viridian — which is an important pigment characteristic that doesn't figure in his paint mixing system and is sadly minimized in most modern painting styles. Granulation is another paint attribute that is enhanced if you follow the mantra dilute right, paint juicy, let dry; so the presence of granulating paints seems to be another vote for painting technique over mixing system.

The close spacing of Kosvanec's choices around the color wheel is best described by the tertiary color wheel, with the exception of a "hole" at the turquoise pigments, around cobalt teal blue (PG50). This spacing may reflect his eagerness to achieve maximum color saturation in all colors, since paints that are closely spaced on the color wheel usually have lower saturation costs in their mixtures. However, as I show in the section on the tertiary color wheel, the intensity of color mixtures in a tertiary palette is not any greater than in a secondary palette. And, as the demonstration painting suggests, Kosvanec is more than happy to work with subdued color mixtures.

So Kosvanec's large palette signals a sensual delight in working with many pure pigments. My sense is that Kosvanec has shifted his palette toward predominantly semitransparent paints so that he can build up colors through multiple glazes of pure paints, which achieve a unique visual interest because the separate glazes are still visible, producing a more complex "broken color" effect that is again more a result of painting technique than mixing system. That is, Kosvanec's sense of what makes for "luminosity" or rich color in a painting may have shifted over the years, and he has altered his palette design to reflect this.

Finally, Kosvanec's transparent paints can mix to produce more pleasing black or near neutral values than are possible with the jettisoned carbon black paints. But a bright palette can also mix very convincing dull colors, if handled carefully. Look, for example, at the lovely variety in the dull greens, browns and violets in Kosvanec's painting. When mixed from saturated pigments, muted warm colors have a shimmery, translucent quality that is quite unlike the soft, glowing color characteristic of "earth" (iron oxide) pigments.