Secrets To Creating Your Own Fabulous Grays In Watercolor.

There is no need to add purchased gray paints to your palette! In fact, grays and blacks that you can buy premixed to use straight from the tube can look flat, dull, boring. Yes, they’re convenient. But beautiful, not so much! 

WHY MIX YOUR OWN GRAYS?

When you try to adjust the color of commercially mixed gray paint from a purchased tube, any intensity of the color tends to be lost. Since tube grays already contain red, yellow, and blue, whatever color you add can dull the color even more, making a muddy color very likely. Full strength, tube grays and blacks can be unnatural and look out of place.

Instead, mix your own grays, to create an unlimited variety of luminous grays that will harmonize with your painting. It’s fun! And mixing your own grays allows you to improve your paintings as you practice your color mixing skills.

Rocky Maine Coast Watercolor.

Try NOT to avoid gray and neutral color. These hues enhance the intensity of nearby color. To make your brights appear brighter, use soft and subtle grays to contrast with the brights. If you are able to mix a gray whose dominant color is a complement of the bright color in your picture, your bright color can be made to ‘vibrate’ or sparkle. For instance, surround an orange with a bluish gray to make the orange pop. Or position a greenish gray near a pink to set it off. Another example would be a brown gray close to a blue. Or a yellow gray nearby a purple.

You may be noticing that I’m not talking about using a ‘neutral’ gray to create vibration. A neutral gray is created from EQUAL amounts of each pigment in the mix, and yields a somewhat dull, lifeless color. It is more useful to mix grays from UNEQUAL proportions of different pigments so that you make cool blue grays, rose grays, yellow grays, green grays, brown grays, or purple grays. By adding a little more of one color or a little less of another, and varying the amount of water, you could create and endless variety of grays.

HOW TO CREATE GRAY.

There are two ways to create grays: by mixing complementary colors or by mixing three primary colors together. (Adding an earth color can also gray a color to a degree, because earth colors contain some of each primary.) To make a darker, stronger gray, add more paint to the mix. For a lighter gray, use more water when mixing. And yes, you can mix your own better versions of convenience grays, including Payne’s Gray and Neutral Tint, in this way.

Shaftesbury, Dorset, U.K. Watercolor.

To insure that your grays harmonize with your painting, try to mix your grays by using some of the pigments already used in other parts of your picture.

You can gray any color by adding some of its COMPLEMENT to the mix. When complementary colors are combined they will neutralize each other, creating gray. (For more information about primaries and color complements see ‘The Color Wheel, Color Bias, And Color Mixing in Watercolor’, (7/2/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/02/the-color-wheel-color-bias-and-color-mixing-in-watercolor/.) Adding some Burnt Sienna to Ultramarine Blue, for instance, will dull it. The more Burnt Sienna you add, the grayer it becomes, until Burnt Sienna begins to dominate and the color turns to a gray brown. 

Grays Mixed From Complementary Colors.

Mix three primary (red, yellow, and blue) colors together to generate a gray. The gray can be varied depending on the particular primary pigments chosen and their amount in the mix. Remember to use unequal amounts to create the most attractive grays. Lighter valued primaries will tend to create paler grays but not dark grays, whereas darker valued primaries will blend easily to make darker mixes.

Further, depending on your choice of primaries, you can mix transparent, or opaque and granulating, or staining grays. 

Grays Mixed From Triads (Three Colors).

So many beautiful choices and combinations! Also try these:

   *  Ultramarine Blue/Permanent Alizarin/ Burnt Sienna,

   *  Cerulean Blue/ Phthalo Violet/ Raw Sienna,

   *  Sap Green/Brown Madder/Cerulean,

   *  Ultramarine Blue/Yellow Ochre/ Burnt Sienna, or

   *  Phthalo Blue/Cadmium Yellow/Quinacridone Rose.

IN SUMMARY.

Improve your paintings and practice your color mixing skills! Create an unlimited variety of luminous grays that will harmonize with your paintings.

No need to purchase another tube of gray or black paint!

There are two ways to create grays: 1.) by mixing complementary colors or 2.) by mixing three primary colors together. To make a darker, stronger gray, add more paint to the mix. For a lighter gray, use more water when mixing.

Remember to use unequal amounts of each color to create the most attractive and useful grays. Lighter valued pigments will tend to create paler grays and will not create darks, whereas darker valued pigments will blend well to make darker mixes. Further, depending on your choice of colors, you can mix transparent, or opaque and granulating, or staining grays. 

What an assortment!

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Secrets To No More Muddy Colors!

Do you struggle to create consistently bright, clear colors in watercolor painting? Are you sometimes surprised that you’ve mixed a dull, flat color from two seemingly bright paints? How can you avoid mixing ‘muddy’ color? Keep reading to find out.

WHAT IS MUD?

What exactly do we mean when we talk about mud? A muddy color is defined by Zoltan Szabo as “any combination of colors mixed too thick, or too many colors mixed or glazed together – especially two complementaries, or reflective blues with browns – resulting in a lifeless, dull and generally unpleasant color.” ( Zoltan Szabo’s Color-by-Color Guide To Watercolor, p. 13.) More specifically, a muddy color covers and obscures details of what it is painted over.

Instead of the clean, bright, transparent color we desire, we end up with heavy, dull, opaque gunk.

There are varying degrees of mud, and there are several ways to make mud. Therefore, a solution to avoid mud is complex – not one simple rule will be able to solve the problem of mixing muddy paint. 

Red Geranium Watercolor.

KNOW YOUR PIGMENT CHARACTERISTICS.

Knowing a paint’s attributes, however, puts you a step ahead in being able to avoid muddy color. By being familiar with whether a pigment is transparent or opaque, staining or non-staining, reflective, saturated, sedimentary, light or dark valued, for instance, you will begin to be able to predict how the paint will behave.

DEFINITIONS.

First, let’s be clear on what these terms mean!True transparent colors allow light to reflect through them from the surface of the white paper. A TRANSPARENT color maintains its luminosity or brightness, and does not build up into a thick layer. Since a transparent color lets light through, it is possible to create the illusion of a ‘glow’ of light in a painting. No matter how dark you mix these pigments, they will NOT go muddy. (Common transparent colors are Permanent Alizarin, Quinacridone Rose, Aureolin Yellow, Viridian, Phthalo Blue, Phthalo Green.) SEMITRANSPARENT paints, such as Winsor Yellow, Indigo, Da Vinci Mauve, are almost as clear as transparent paints, but will maintain  luminosity through fewer layers than true transparent colors.

In contrast, an OPAQUE watercolor pigment blocks the light and prevents luminosity. While thinning an opaque color can make it somewhat more transparent, it will then lose intensity (strength). In general, you cannot see the white of the paper through an opaque paint. The more opaque a color is, the more it blocks the white of the paper, particularly if it is layered. When too much opaque is used, it can build up into a thick muddy layer. Opaque paint will also become muddy if applied with other opaques or with their complementary (opposite on the color wheel) pigments. Some opaque colors include Cerulean Blue, Indian Red, Light Red, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, Burnt Umber, Sepia.

REFLECTIVE watercolors (like Cobalt Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cadmium Red, Winsor Red, Permanent Rose) may go muddy when used in heavy blends or when overmixed. However, reflective paints behave more like transparent pigments when diluted, allowing them to glow.

SEDIMENTARY colors, such as Cobalt Violet,Manganese Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Cerulean Blue, the umbers and siennas) have a grainy texture (often granulating) because they are made of heavier particles that sink in water. These paints can be used to create a textured effect.

STAINING TRANSPARENT pigments, such as Indian yellow, Phthalo/Winsor Blue, Phthalo/Winsor Green, Prussian Blue/Antwerp Blue, Phthalo Violet, are bold and intense. They are NOT easily lifted from the paper. Because they are transparent, they will NOT produce mud IF mixed with other transparent  colors. Mixed full strength, they create rich darks.

Still other pigments, like Lemon Yellow, Gamboge, Quinacridone Rose, Cobalt Violet, Sap Green, or Ultramarine Blue, are LOW-STAINING and transparent to semi-transparent. Intensity of these colors is average, and they can be partially lifted. If you wish to lift one color of a mixture and reveal a second color underneath (e.g. by blotting out clouds or scraping paint back to create rock texture or a tree trunk), then combine a staining pigment with a non-staining pigment.

Pitcher and Pears Watercolor.

CHOOSE PAINT BY PIGMENT NOT JUST COLOR NAME.

Warning! Be aware that color names can be deceptive. For instance, some ‘raw siennas’ are not really raw sienna at all, but are made from the yellow ochre pigments. A ‘sap green’ in one brand looks different, is made from a very different combination of ingredients, and of course, behaves differently than a ‘sap green’ from another company. You cannot count only on the color name to give you knowledge of how the paint will behave. 

Instead, consider the actual PIGMENT used in the manufacture of the paint. Each pigment has been assigned its own letter and number to distinguish it from other pigments. On tubes of watercolor pigment, look for the pigment LETTERS and NUMBERS printed on each tube to tell you what the paint is actually made from – companies often include this information in small print on the tube. The letters indicate the pigment hue (color); for example, PB means ‘pigment blue,’ and PR stands for ‘pigment red.’ The numbers that follow the letters are those assigned internationally for that pigment material; for example, a true viridian paint contains PG18 (or ‘pigment green number 18), not something else that might look like viridian.

For example, Cadmium Red is made from PR108 (Pigment Red #108), while Pyrrol Red and Winsor Red are both made from PR254 (Pigment Red #254). A paint pigment has an individual personality and IS NOT interchangeable with or an EXACT match to other similar-looking paints. Since each pigment is unique, different pigments will vary in their characteristics, even though they may be mixed together to represent a ‘certain’ color. In other words, not all pigments behave the same or mix well together.

CHOOSE AS MANY SINGLE PIGMENT PAINTS AS POSSIBLE.

In order to have more control over color mixing, try also to have the majority of the paints on your palette manufactured from SINGLE PIGMENTS. Jean Dobie (in Making Color Sing, p. 10) recommends a “pure pigment palette” to avoid the frustration of “struggling with a pre-mixed commercial color that you can’t seem to make vibrant enough.” Again, pigment information is on each paint tube.

Lily Pads Watercolor.

LEARN ABOUT YOUR OWN PAINTS.

Once you understand paint characteristics in general, you must become familiar with specific paints on YOUR palette. Without knowing about your own paints, you can’t know what to expect when mixing them together, or whether they’ll make mud. Which of your paints are transparent, staining, unsaturated, etc.? To figure this out, you can test your paints by creating a color chart. First, draw a line with a black permanent marker (or waterproof India ink). Allow to dry. Paint swatches of medium dark paint over the black line. Transparent colors won’t cover the black line. Opaque colors will. Staining colors will look quite dark. (See Below.)

Or check the color charts provided by paint manufacturers (e.g., Daniel Smith or Winsor Newton) that include a color swatch and describe characteristics of each of their paints. These will tell you how transparent, staining, granulating, etc. a paint is, and often the actual pigments used. If you’d like more in depth information about paints/pigments, go to handprint.com, https://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/waterfs.html. Another resource, although somewhat dated, is The Wilcox Guide To The Best Watercolor Paints, (2000), available at amazon.com.

SECRETS WE’VE LEARNED. 

Now that you have this knowledge and information about your paints, we can get specific about how to avoid muddy colors! 

1.) If you mix a transparent color with another transparent color, you will NOT make mud.

2.) Mixing a transparent color with an opaque color (when not mixed too thickly) will usually not create mud. However, when too much of the opaque is used, it can build up into a thick, muddy layer. 

3.) If you combine two or more opaque colors, mud will result.

4.) Complementary colors mixed too thickly to create a very dark color can result in mud, especially if one of the colors is opaque, or if a reflective color is a part of the mix.

5.) The earth colors (umbers, siennas, ochres) usually don’t mix cleanly with other colors, since they contain black, and mixes containing them tend to result in grayed mixtures.

6.) Similarly, triads (blends of three paints, a triangle of colors on the color wheel) combine all three primary colors and can result in mud when mixed thickly from colors that are not transparent. Using EQUAL amounts of the three primaries in a mix will create a dead neutral color. Instead, have one of the three colors predominate to blend a more lively, interesting mixture.

7.) Muted color (although not necessarily muddy) results from not paying attention to color bias in your mixing. If you are unfamiliar with color bias, refer to ‘The Color Wheel, Color Bias, and Color Mixing in Watercolor (7/2/2019), https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/02/the-color-wheel-color-bias-and-color-mixing-in-watercolor/.

8.) The trick to avoiding mud in middle values is to remember that middle values can lean light or dark. To mix a middle value that leans light and is NOT muddy, combine an opaque and any number of transparent colors. To produce a dark middle value that is NOT muddy, mix an opaque pigment with a staining transparent. (Powerful Watercolor Landscapes by Catherine Gill, p.121.)

9.) You will also tend to make mud if you have chosen to use a pre-mixed tube of gray or black instead of mixing the color from single pigment paints.

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Red and Green Watercolor.

Color Choices For a Circular Palette.

I recently wrote about the advantages of arranging your watercolor pigments in a color wheel format. ( See my blog post published January 28, 2020, entitled Have You Seen The Painting Palettes From Robax?,  https://leemuirhaman.com/2020/01/28/have-you-seen-the-painting-palettes-from-robax/). In today’s post, I will help you choose which colors to fill your circular palette.

my-quiller-palette.jpg

UNDERSTAND THE COLOR WHEEL.

The basic color wheel contains the three ‘primary’ colors (red, yellow, and blue) and various intermediate colors which can be mixed from those primaries. ‘Warm’ colors (yellow-green through red to red-violet) are on one side of the color wheel, while ‘cool’ colors (yellow-green through blue to red-violet) are on the other side. For a quick review, read the July 2, 2019 blog post The Color Wheel, Color Bias, And Color Mixing In Watercolor., https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/07/02/the-color-wheel-color-bias-and-color-mixing-in-watercolor/.

The color wheel enables painters to  recognize ‘complementary’ colors, direct opposites on the color wheel, more easily. Such complements are red and green, orange and blue, yellow-green and red-violet. If you add a bit of a color’s complement (e.g., a bit of red to a green wash), the color will be grayed and start to lose its intensity. When mixed together, complementary colors produce grays and browns. The three primaries mixed together will also create grays.

COLOR TEMPERATURE AND BIAS.

Few paint colors can be described as a pure, neutral color. This is ‘color bias’ – that is, most paint pigments are not perfect spectrum hues or colors, but contain some amount of another color. A warm red contains some yellow – it ‘leans’ toward and is biased toward yellow, whereas a cooler red would have more blue and would lean toward blue, or have a blue bias. In general, all (grayed) dulled COOL colors are warmer than their original hue, and dulled WARM colors are cooler than their original hue. For example, a grayed Blue-green (as described by Bruce MacEvoy on the “Color Theory: Color Temperature” (c. 2015) page of the handprint.com website) is warmer than a saturated Blue-green, because  some Red-orange has been mixed in with the Blue-green in order to gray it. Also, Burnt Sienna is cooler than Cadmium Scarlet, because it is less saturated (closer to gray). Similarly, Ultramarine Blue becomes grayer (and warmer) when Burnt Sienna is added, while Burnt Sienna is made cooler by adding some Cobalt Blue.   

WHY DOES COLOR BIAS MATTER?

Why does color bias matter in painting? Color bias affects how a pigment mixes with other paint colors!!!

Arranging your paints ACCURATELY in the color wheel format will suggest whether a specific color ‘borrows’ or is ‘biased toward’ any yellow, red, or blue from the neighboring primaries. This color characteristic (color bias) starts to tell you what to expect during color mixing. See the related blog post Adjust Your Color Thermostat!, November 12, 2018, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/12/11/adjust-your-color-thermostat/.

You CAN’T pick any yellow to mix with any blue and expect to get a desired green. A cool yellow (with a blue bias) will behave very differently in a color mix than a warm (red bias) yellow.

You will need both a warm and a cool of each primary color to mix color effectively!

WHERE DO THE COMMON WATERCOLOR PIGMENTS FIT ON THE COLOR WHEEL?

Colors are arranged on the color wheel according to their relationship to each other and their temperature. The three primary colors are spaced evenly on the wheel. When the primary colors are mixed, they create secondary colors; these are placed between the two colors that they were mixed from because they contain some of both colors. Continue mixing, for instance, a secondary with the neighboring primary, and that color, a tertiary, is placed between the two colors used to mix that particular color. And so on.

Color w..jpg

 

Now, let’s look for the pigments to place in our circular palette. We should choose our warm and cool primary colors. Keep in mind that the options are many. To begin, however, choose just ONE in each category below. Possibilities include:

COOL YELLOW:  Winsor Yellow, Lemon Yellow, Hansa Yellow Light, or Aureolin.

WARM YELLOW: Hansa Yellow Deep, New Gamboge, Nickel Azo Yellow, or Indian Yellow.

COOL RED: Quinacridone Rose, Permanent Rose, or Permanent Alizarin Crimson.

WARM RED:  Cadmium Red, Permanent Red, Pyrrol Red, Light Red.

COOL BLUE: Phthalo Blue, Winsor Blue, Prussian Blue, Antwerp Blue.

WARM BLUE: Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Indanthrone Blue.

Next, we need to fit in secondaries between the primary colors.

COOL ORANGE: Cadmium Orange, Brilliant Orange.

WARM ORANGE: Pyrrol Orange, Permanent Orange, Burnt Sienna.

COOL PURPLE: Mineral Violet, Permanent Mauve, Quinacridone Violet.

WARM PURPLE: Quinacridone Violet, Cobalt Violet.

COOL GREEN: Phthalo Green, Winsor Green, Viridian, Cobalt Green.

WARM GREEN: Sap Green, Green Gold, Olive Green.

This will give you TWELVE colors to space around your color wheel palette. Depending on the number of wells available in your palette, you can add or adjust your colors. Try to remember, however, that your goal is to approximate a color wheel on the palette. In other words, don’t stick a new color wherever there is an open space; instead, try to place it along the continuum of color temperature, close to similar colors. For instance, Quinacridone Gold is a WARM YELLOW and should be placed alongside Indian Yellow and Raw Sienna.

POSSIBLE PALETTE ARRANGEMENTS:

Quiller Revised.jpg

Robax 19 Revised.jpg

HOW TO MIX? SOME COLOR MIXING SUGGESTIONS.

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To mix a BRILLIANT, clear color, you must choose your primary colors carefully! Use two colors that are AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE to each other on the color wheel. To mix a pure purple, choose a blue pigment with some red in it (Ultramarine) to mix with a red that leans toward blue (Permanent Alizarin Crimson). Because the blue contains red and the red contains blue, your mix will be bright.

On the other hand, if you combine Winsor Blue (which contains some yellow) with Cadmium Red (which also contains yellow), a DULL purple will result. Both the blue and the red, in this case, contain some of the complement of purple (yellow), thus graying the final mixture.

Similarly, you could mix Hansa Yellow Light (or Winsor Yellow) with Phthalo Blue (or Winsor Blue) to create a bright, spring green. Or combine Quinacridone Gold with Ultramarine Blue to achieve a warm, olive green. Try some of your own combinations! What red and yellow would you try mixing together to create a bright, clear orange?

(For more specifics, see my related blog published 11/27/2018, entitled “Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter Palettes.”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/11/27/spring-summer-autumn-and-winter-palettes/).

To avoid mixing ‘muddy’ color use transparent pigments; they will NOT produce mud IF mixed with other transparent  colors. By adding one (or more) opaque colors to a paint mixture or layering with an opaque pigment, however, you will be making ‘muddy’ color more likely. Try to combine opaque paints only with a transparent color or colors, if possible.

See the blog post Why Does It Matter If My Paint Is Transparent Or Opaque As Long As I Like The Color?, published November 26, 2019, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/11/26/why-does-it-matter-if-my-paint-is-transparent-or-opaque-as-long-as-i-like-the-color/ to learn more about opaque pigments and how they behave.

IN SUMMARY.

Depending on the specific choices of paint, a whole range of possibilities exist for creating color. Change one ingredient in a mixture to achieve different results. Remember, to create a brighter mixed color, use two colors biased TOWARD each other on the color wheel (e.g., a yellow situated closer to the blues mixed with a blue situated closer to the yellows) to avoid adding any of the third (red) primary color (which would gray the mixture). Knowing the color wheel doesn’t necessarily allow you to predict exactly what each paint or mixture will do. Although it gives you a step ahead, you will still need to experiment and learn from experience! Color mixing is fun, yet not an exact science.

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Why Does It Matter If My Paint Is Transparent Or Opaque…As Long As I Like The Color?

Knowing a paint’s attributes puts you a step ahead as an artist. By being familiar with whether a pigment is transparent or opaque, staining or non-staining, saturated or unsaturated, for instance, you will begin to be able to predict how the paint will behave. Understanding your pigments is an important step in getting the results you want and in being successful as a painter.

TRANSPARENT VS. OPAQUE:

A TRANSPARENT color maintains its luminosity or brightness because it allows the white of the watercolor paper to reflect back through the paint to the viewer’s eye. Since a transparent color lets light through, it is possible to create the illusion of a ‘glow’ of light in a painting.

 

Apple blossoms.jpg

Apple Blossoms – You can see the first layers of color through the transparent pigments.

In contrast, an OPAQUE watercolor pigment blocks the light and prevents luminosity. While thinning an opaque color can make it somewhat more transparent, it will then lose intensity (strength). In general, you cannot see the white of the paper through an opaque paint. The more opaque a color is, the more it blocks the white of the paper, particularly if it is layered.

STAINING VS. NON-STAINING TRANSPARENTS:

If you plan to glaze one color on top of another color to create optical color mixing, use transparent colors. If you want to create the effects of light and produce a ‘glow’, use a paled, transparent color.

Be aware that there are both STAINING and NON-STAINING transparent colors.

STAINING TRANSPARENT pigments, such as Indian yellow, Phthalo/Winsor Blue, Phthalo/Winsor Green, Prussian Blue/AntwerpBlue, Phthalo Violet, are bold and intense. They are NOT easily lifted. Because they are transparent, they will NOT produce mud IF mixed with other transparent  colors. Mixed full strength, they create rich darks.

NON-STAINING TRANSPARENT pigments, such as Permanent Rose, Aureolin Yellow, Viridian, or Cobalt Blue, on the other hand, are delicate and can be lifted easily. They are ideal for glazing, layering, or mixing a transparent gray from primary colors.

Still other pigments, like Lemon Yellow, Gamboge, Quinacridone Rose, Cobalt Violet, Sap Green, or Ultramarine Blue, are LOW-STAINING and transparent to semi-transparent. Intensity of these colors is average, and they can be partially lifted.

If you wish to lift one color of a mixture and reveal a second color underneath (e.g. by blotting out clouds or scraping paint back to create rock texture or a tree trunk), then combine a staining pigment with a non-staining pigment.

Stormy Hills.jpg

Stormy Hills – Opaque pigments do not allow earlier color layers to show through.

OPAQUE colors tend to be less bright, although semi-opaque pigments, such as Cadmium Red, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Yellow, or Cadmium Lemon, can be somewhat luminous when thinned or diluted. The opaque earth colors, like Indian Red, Light Red, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Umber, Sepia, Indigo, or Cerulean Blue, are often LOW-STAINING and UNSATURATED (not a vivid bright). Burnt Sienna and Raw Sienna, earth colors, are a bit unusual in that they can be transparent. Remember that adding an opaque color to a paint mixture or layering with an opaque pigment will make creating ‘muddy’ color more likely. Further, if you begin a painting with opaque color, you’ll probably lose the effect of light.

CREATE A COLOR CHART TO DETERMINE TRANSPARENCY:

Transparency and opaqueness of paint pigments can vary quite a bit by manufacturer. For example, Raw Sienna ranges from yellow to orange to brown depending on the company that formulates it. So, get to know the specific paints YOU have on your palette by creating a color chart. First, draw a line with a black permanent marker (or waterproof India ink). Allow to dry. Paint swatches of medium dark paint over the black line. Transparent colors won’t cover the black line. Opaque colors will. Staining colors will look dark.

color chart1.jpg

color chart2.jpg

Two Color Chart examples.

IN SUMMARY:

Most organic or synthetic paints are transparent, while earth colors tend to be semi-opaque or opaque. The transparent pigments are the most versatile type of watercolor. They remain transparent when mixed with other transparent colors. Opaque colors, on the other hand, DO NOT mix well with other opaques. Try to combine opaque paints only with a transparent color or colors, if possible, to avoid mixing muddy colors. Or, best of all, use an opaque pigment by itself to show off its best attributes.

Get to know the paints on your palette. As Jean Dobie states in Making Color Sing, “To paint glowing, vibrant watercolors, you must become familiar with your pigments’ personalities.”

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Choosing Colors For A Painting…Less Is More!

There is more than one way to choose colors for a painting. Your first impulse might be to use colors that as closely as possible approximate WHAT YOU SEE. Sometimes this approach works well.  You can learn a great deal about mixing colors by taking this path.

ESTABLISH COLOR UNITY.

However, there are dangers in striving to paint exactly what you see. Sometimes an artist will use too many unrelated colors and a picture can become disjointed and appear confused. Therefore, to create a pulled together look, try to use fewer colors in an effort to establish COLOR UNITY in a picture. Don’t use every color you own!

You could also choose colors for your paintings to reflect HOW YOU FEEL about the subject. As an artist, you probably hope to share your reaction to a scene and use color to reach a viewer on an emotional level. What is the overall feeling or mood you want in your finished picture? For instance, would warm colors (or cool colors) better establish the mood of your picture? Is it a clear, sunny and bright summer day at the beach, or a misty, damp and dark winter afternoon? ( See my related blog “Get In The Mood”, published September 4, 2018, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/09/04/get-in-the-mood/, for more information about creating mood in a painting.)

Dusk.jpg

A third way to choose colors for a painting might be to pick a set of colors that would represent what you believe to be the BASIC CHARACTER of your subject. Let yourself think about the subject in colors totally different from what appear in reality. An unusual set of colors might better suit what you are trying to get across about your subject. You don’t need to move too far away from actual colors of an object to give it your own take. Exciting color variations can create interest in a dull, monochromatic area of your picture. Clouds are not always puffy and white, and trees are not only green.

Meadow Road.jpg

 

CONSIDER COLOR TEMPERATURE, LIGHT QUALITY, VALUE.

Regardless of the way in which you choose paint colors when planning a painting, give your picture a distinct COLOR SCHEME. Consider emphasizing a particular color combination (or temperature) for your image. Again, keep in mind the overall feeling you hope for in your finished picture. (Mood can be achieved, in part, through your choice of colors.) Start with using COLOR TEMPERATURE to charge your picture with emotion. Consider several specific colors or a range of colors making sure to include both warm and cool colors for use in your picture. It is important that ONE temperature dominates. The other temperature will contrast, counterbalance, and neutralize the dominant color for variety.

Rusty.jpg

Continue to establish the mood by considering the LIGHT QUALITY that will be in your painting. Will you use intense, pure paint colors or more dulled, diffuse colors? Keep in mind that bright sunlight is suggested by pure, bright colors. (Think of the look of a Greek landscape.) As light becomes more diffused with moisture or smoke, colors appear duller. Dulled colors hint at subdued lighting, poor visibility, less detail, and lowered value (light/dark) contrast. (You see much less detail, for instance, at night.) Remember that you can create duller colors by adding a bit of a color’s complement (it’s opposite on the color wheel).

River sunset winter.jpg

Also, always consider VALUE (light/dark) in planning the mood of your picture. Would mostly light colors (or mostly dark, or a balance of values) enhance the mood or feeling you plan to establish? (For more information about values, see my related blogs “Dusk,Evening, and Moonlight… Oh, My!”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/02/05/dusk-evening-and-moonlight-oh-my/, published February 5, 2019, and “Why Should I Bother To Use A Gray Scale?”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/05/21/why-should-i-bother-to-use-a-gray-scale/, published May 21, 2019.)

LIMITED PALETTE.

Reducing, or limiting the number of colors used in a painting has some distinct advantages! By creating a LIMITED PALETTE you SIMPLIFY decisions that need to be made during the painting process. It becomes easier to preserve HARMONY and COLOR UNITY. A limited palette encourages greater balance in your work. You will be able to maintain more CONTROL using fewer colors. Color mixing becomes easier and less frustrating. Painting becomes more efficient!

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Further, painting with a limited palette allows you to think less about color choices, while letting you focus more attention on other important components of painting, such as shape, value (light/dark), and warm/cool balance.

CREATE A LIMITED PALETTE OR COLOR SCHEME.

How do you choose the right color scheme? Well, there is no “right” or easy answer! There is not one perfect combination of colors. But there are many good choices. (By the way, you DO NOT have to use the exact colors recommended in a demonstration!) Still, it is important to actually CHOOSE A COLOR SCHEME while you are in the planning stage of painting. (Remember that different color combinations create different feelings or moods.) Without choosing a color scheme before beginning to paint, you will be in danger of creating a mess of unrelated colors. So, choose a color scheme that suits you!

 

A limited palette is made up of two or more colors. Your choice of colors can be as simple as Burnt Sienna with Indigo, or Brown Madder with Cobalt Blue, even Permanent Rose with Viridian, in a COMPLEMENTARY color scheme. Or create a limited palette using the three primary colors, in a TRIAD color scheme. Perhaps your choice would be New Gamboge/ Cadmium Red/ Ultramarine Blue, or Winsor Yellow/ Permanent Rose/ Cobalt Blue, or Perylene Maroon/ Indian yellow/ Phthalo Blue. You might want to expand just a bit by adding Burnt Sienna or Perylene Green or one of your favorite convenience colors to the three primaries.

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Another common limited palette includes six colors – a warm and a cool version of each of the three primary colors. Daniel Smith Extra Fine Watercolors offers a very good example with their “Essentials” kit, which includes Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Rose, Pyrrol Scarlet, Phthalo Blue Green Shade, French Ultramarine Blue. Using these six colors can be described as using a SPLIT PRIMARY color scheme.

A few additional ways to combine colors into a color scheme include choosing several colors based on their position on the color wheel and their distance from each other. For example, in an ANALOGOUS color scheme, three or more  colors are chosen that fall next to each on the wheel, possibly yellow-green, green, blue-green, and blue. A SQUARE color scheme employs four colors evenly spaced on the color wheel, such as Permanent Mauve, Viridian, New Gamboge, and Pyrrol Red. A TETRAD color scheme uses colors whose placement on the color wheel form a rectangle, perhaps Permanent Rose, Ultramarine Blue, Light Red, and Viridian. Yet another possible scheme is a SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY scheme, made up of one color plus the two colors on either side of its complement. A possible split complimentary scheme could be Quinacridone Rose, Viridian and Green Gold.

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So many choices! To simplify, first choose a dominant, then one or several subordinate colors to give an overall mood to your painting. Decide on cool or warm dominance. Think about possible color schemes that might highlight your subject, and experiment on test paper until you find one you prefer. For color ideas, you might have a dramatic photo with an appealing color combination or a saved magazine image to use for color inspiration, or use your imagination.

Color is fun and amazing, but often less is more! Use fewer colors! Enjoy!

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