Susan Olij, Singapore Urban Sketcher and watercolor artist.

Susan Olij: The Muse and the Essential in my Watercolour palette

In this blog, we want to introduce artists and creators to you. We are extremely honored to have artist Susan Olij's generous contribution, kickstarting our very first edition. 
This article offers an insight into Susan's inquisitive approach to her travel palette choice.

Artist Susan Olij, Travel artist and urban sketcher from Singapore.

AS A TRAVELING ARTIST and a travel sketcher, I have a set of watercolors in my bag at all times. I basically don’t leave the house without some watercolors, even when I go to the dentist or grocery shopping. This comes from experience. I’ve gone too many times without paint and regretted those days when the urge and opportunity to sketch does not wait, to record and document something wildly interesting that’s happening in my day.
I’ve decided to always carry a watercolor palette everywhere I go, just in case.

Here’s my current travel palette by Art Tool Kit, an American art retailer who specializes in making thin, very compacted watercolor pans that you can refill yourself. When fully filled, these pans can last up to two weeks of daily paintings if used lightly. I love this palette because it fits in all my travel and cabin bags. It's really thin, customizable, and packs incredible amount of colors.

Because the pans come empty, I can fill it with my own customized colors. Why these specific colors work for me is underlined by my style of improvisation and continuous experimentation after using so many different pre-filled palettes over the years.

The 14 colors in this palette are:
1. Cobalt Turquoise
2. Cobalt Green
3. Ultramarine Blue
4. Burnt Sienna
5. Quinacridone Rose
6. Permanent Brown
7. Aureolin / Cobalt Yellow
8. Lunar earth
9. Paynes Grey
10. Undersea Green
11. New Gamboge
12. Quinacridone Burnt Orange
13. Indigo
14. Bloodstone Genuine

I can already hear someone asking: Isn't 14 too many colors?
I would argue that when travelling, I want options. I may not need all 14 colors all the time, but having the options and flexibility when opportunity strikes are important to me. What’s great about the pans are their sizes - they come in big, medium and small - I can customize it based on how much I use them.

From the 14 colors, I consider some of them essential and some colors of muse. A muse color is the sort of color that breathes mystery, intoxicatingly beautiful, and maybe even a little bit scary to use.
The brands I use are mainly Daniel smith and Schmincke but some muse colors tend to be about being open to trying new brands. An example of this was picking up some tubes of the Michael Harding watercolors which Drawing Etc has started to carry.

Watercolor on Sketchbook by Singapore Artist Susan Olij.

Bloodstone Genuine, Lunar Earth and Quinacridone Burnt Orange are my muse colors.
Bloodstone Genuine and Lunar Earth are both granulating, and Quin Burnt Orange is so vibrant and can change easily from a dark yellow tint to a dark bitter orange that it's a little scary to use.
Colors such as Indigo, Burnt Sienna and Cobalt Yellow/Aureolin tend to be my essential colors because in general when I paint on location, they most often reproduce local colors best. For instance, I'm prone to using Aureolin as a base layer for painting grass.

What about the other colors, Susan? The other colours are loosely categorized by their functions to cover the cool and warm of primary and tertiary colors, they also function as mood swing colors. Depending on scenery, location and mood, they cover the full spectrum of colors I like to use on the road. Their order of importance changes as and when the situation and scenery change.

Drawings of stationaries by Singapore Artist Susan Olig.

To illustrate, here’s an example:

When I start a simple drawing of my art supply like my pens and pencils, the local colors tend to primarily look like a variety of greys. Objects such as metal, glass, and plastic we normally see in our day-to-day life featured a lot of greys.
The classic mix of Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue achieve a nice neutral grey. From here you can toggle the temperature from cool to warm as you like by adjusting the mix ratio. I consider these two colors ‘essential’ because I use them a lot. In the palette, you can also see that they’re housed in bigger pans.

Drawing of National Orchid Garden by Singapore Artist Susan Olig.

Meanwhile Muse colors such as “Undersea Green” by Daniel smith is unique to how I like to use them in places such as the Botanic Garden, not only because it is ‘green’ but because the darker green mix of Undersea Green resonates with the way I want to express my version of the Garden. If you follow watercolor artists and urban watercolorists, you might realize that ‘sap green’ tends to be the commonly used green.
However, the muse in me would beg to differ.


Singapore Artist Susan Olig in her studio.

Susan Olij is a Singapore-based artist whose main obsession is drawing and a sense of self-discovery through experimentation. For our friends who are into outdoor sketching, Susan is definitely a familiar face out there, being one of the most active practitioners of this artistic expression, frequently hosting sketch sessions and conducting courses and workshops.

Visit Susan's Website & Instagram to join her creative adventures!

1 comment

keith telluride
keith telluride

Nice art and article, Susan

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