Wow! Value, Hue, And Intensity!

Every color has three different components. These qualities are value (lightness or darkness), hue (the color name), and intensity (saturation or brightness). Each brushstroke in a watercolor painting is affected by all three aspects of color, although usually the properties are discussed and adjusted separately. By manipulating value, hue, and intensity in a painting, you will be able to create the illusion of space and three dimensions as well as create art filled with feeling.

COLOR VALUE.

I have heard it said that VALUE (a color’s lightness and darkness) is the most important of these three elements of color to get right in a painting. Value helps to create form and to show the direction of light. In order to better see value in a scene, squint your eyes. Squinting allows less light to reach your eyes and will reduce both the color (hue) and detail you see, making it much easier to isolate light and dark values. Even when squinting, you will probably see many values ranging from black through a range of dark to light grays to white. Trying to capture every one of these variations in paint, from dark to light, would be too overwhelming. It is best to simplify; narrow down the number of values you plan to capture, and limit yourself to 3-5 values for ease of painting. For example, limit your choice of values to darkest dark, lightest light, and one or two mid-tones.

One method of achieving the desired value of your color, is to mix the right amount of water with the right amount of paint. If you add more water to a watercolor mixture, you get a lighter value. If you instead add more pigment, you create a thicker, darker mix. The thickness of your color mix relates to its value.

Further, you can create the desired value of a color by first choosing the right pigment for the value you want. Catherine Gill, in Powerful Watercolor Landscapes, pp. 120-121, suggests, “If you want a light value, choose a transparent pigment. For a middle value, choose an opaque. For a dark value, choose a stain.” You still must adjust the amount of water you use. For a light color using a transparent pigment, use more water. For achieving middle value color, make a thicker mixture with an opaque color. An even thicker mixture made with a staining color will produce a dark value.

Values – Beach Shadows Watercolor Painting.

HUE.

HUE is the name used for a color. Red, yellow, and blue are hues. An almost infinite number of hue variations are possible, from yellow-green to turquoise to blue-violet. When we talk about hue, we are NOT referring to light or dark, bright or grayed, or strong or weak. To better understand how hues (colors) relate to each other, learn about the COLOR WHEEL. Each hue has its own specific placement on the color wheel, depending on its similarities and differences to other hues. 

B. MacEvoy Color Wheel. (Download your own copy https://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/cwheel06.pdf)

Hues located close to each other on the color wheel have more similarities; they contain more of the same primary color than hues located farther from each other. Nearby hues are harmonious and analogous. In contrast, those hues located farther away from each other on the color wheel are less closely related. Two hues opposite each other on the color wheel have little in common; they are complements. If mixed together, complements create a neutral, grayed hue, whether gray or brown. When complements are painted side by side in your painting, they contrast strongly and can emphasize each other.

HUE AND TEMPERATURE.

COLOR TEMPERATURE, whether a color is warm or cool, is a characteristic of hue. Every color leans either toward warm or cool. On the color wheel, cool colors are grouped together (blue, green, violet). Warmer hues (red, orange, yellow) are located together on the opposite side of the color wheel. While yellow is generally a warm hue, some yellows are cooler than others. For instance, a Cadmium Lemon pigment is cooler (closer to blue on the color wheel) than warmer (more orange) Cadmium Yellow. Cadmium Red is warmer than Permanent Alizarin. And Sap Green is warmer than Hooker’s Green, which is warmer still than Viridian. Thus, even within a hue, you will find a variety of temperature differences. You can warm a hue by adding yellow and cool one by adding blue. 

A color can also appear warmer or cooler depending on the hues painted nearby. In other words, a color’s appearance is relative. You will want to judge a hue’s temperature in relation to colors next to it. Ultramarine Blue next to Cadmium Lemon will look cooler than the same Ultramarine Blue next to Cadmium Red.

Color temperature changes in a painting affect a picture in several ways. 1.) Color temperature can show the effect of light and shade. Warmer hues ( combined with a lighter value) can indicate the sunnier or brighter side of an object, while cooler hues suggest shadow and less light. Items closer to the sun are generally yellower and warmer than those farther from the sun or light source. Where the surface of a feature changes direction, you can alter color temperature and show its contours. For example, the east side of a barn may be in direct sunlight, but the north side may be in shadow; a contrast in color temperature can capture the three-dimensional quality of the image.

Changing color temperature to illustrate contour. – Barn Watercolor Painting.

The quality of light can also change color temperature. A sunset may transform everything to a rosy hue, whereas a road during a rainstorm may become grayish purple. Observe the light source BEFORE choosing your hues for a painting. You may notice a warm light source (a bright sunset or artificial lighting, which is often warmer than outdoor lighting) where you will need to paint cool shadows. Or the light source may be cool (from a north-facing window, outdoors under the blue sky, or even on an overcast gray day), suggesting the need for warmer shadows. So remember, shadows are NOT always cool.

2.) Color temperature can help you create depth in a painting by taking advantage of the fact that warmer hues tend to advance (pull forward) while cooler colors recede (push back) into the distance. With cool bluish, distant hills appearing farther back than warm foreground fields, you can create space in a painting. (As the distant hills recede, they will also tend to get paler, less intense, and will display less contrast and softer edges.)

3.) Colors (hues) can have a psychological effect on mood. Color contrast can add energy to your painting. Warm colors like red, yellow, and orange tend to arouse emotions such as love, passion, happiness, hunger, and anger. In contrast, cool colors, such as blue, green, and purple are thought to bring calmness, sadness, or indifference. Red sports uniforms have been linked to higher win rates. Blue has been linked to sadness, gray to feeling down, green with jealousy. You can use color temperature to engage your viewers, to get them excited or relaxed. 

Color Temperature Changes. – Red Geranium Watercolor Painting.
Color Temperature Changes. – Cold Winter Barn, Winter Light Watercolor Painting.
Color Temperature Changes. – T’s Fall Road Watercolor Painting.

INTENSITY.

Color intensity is a color’s saturation, purity, or brightness. An intense color is pure, whereas a less intense color is grayed. Intense colors, like Phthalo Blue, Cadmium Red, or Ultramarine Blue, are found on the perimeter of the color wheel. Less saturated colors, such as Indigo, Sepia, or Venetian Red, will fall toward the interior of the color wheel. To lessen the intensity of a bright color, add some of its complement or a close complement (the colors opposite on the color wheel). For instance, to lessen the intensity of Hooker’s Green, you could add a slight amount of Cadmium Scarlet, Cadmium Red, or Permanent Alizarin. Some readily available (but less intense pigments) include Sap Green, Payne’s Gray, Indigo, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Raw Umber.

Understanding color bias helps you mix high-intensity or low-intensity colors. A warm red pigment 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. A hint to help you create a bright, intense mixed color is to 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), thus avoiding the addition of any of the third primary color, red, which would gray the mixture.

The grayer, softer colors provide restful areas within your painting. Less intense, grayed colors can also be used to draw attention to and support a bright color (providing color contrast), allowing the bright to take center stage. Contrast in color intensity near your center of interest can help to emphasize it. On the other hand, too many bright intense colors will compete with each other and can easily overwhelm a picture. A range of intensities in a painting creates more interest and a better painting.

Grays Can Intensify Bright Color. – Viennese Streetcar Watercolor Painting.

SUMMARY.

Use what you have learned here about value, hue, and intensity of color to improve your paintings and to paint strong three-dimensional pictures. Begin by considering value to begin to capture light and shadow. Then, work to create a range of warm and cool hues to establish mood and depth. Build more distance and interest while supporting your center of interest with grayed, less intense color.

Related blog posts you might find helpful include:

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APPENDIX A: TEN COLOR COMPONENT TIPS

1.) Squint your eyes to better distinguish value (light and dark).

2.) Simplify your composition, and reduce the number of your values to 3-5        

     for ease of painting.

3.) To mix a lighter value, add water to a mixture. To create darker values, 

     use less water and more pigment, making a thicker mixture. Mixing 

     color with a transparent paint is the easiest way to create a light value. 

     Opaque paints are ideal for mixing mid-tones, while staining paints 

     work well to mix dark values.

4.) Each hue has its own specific placement on the color wheel, depending 

     on its similarities and differences to other hues. Understand how the

     color wheel makes it easier to mix colors, to use warm and cool colors 

     effectively, to arrange your palette, and to find a color’s complement. 

5.) Every color leans either toward warm or cool. You can warm a hue by

     adding yellow and cool one by adding blue. 

6.) The appearance of colors can vary depending on which colors are 

     nearby. You will want to judge a hue’s qualities in relation to the colors 

     next to it. Understand also that the quality of light can change 

     color temperature, suggesting a possible call for reconsidering the 

     temperature of your chosen pigments for a picture. Warm light 

     suggests the need for cool shadows, while cool light creates warm 

     shadows.

7.) Use value and color temperature to suggest light and shade and to 

     create depth in a painting. 

8.) Understanding color bias helps you mix high-intensity or low-intensity 

     colors. You must take bias into account if you hope to create either a 

     bright or less intense color and hope to avoid a muddy 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. 

9.) To insure a bright color mix, 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), thus avoiding the addition of any 

      of the third primary color, red, which would gray the mixture.

10.) Grays and less intense colors support and set off bright colors. 

       Include them in your work to provide more interest and an improved  

       painting. To dull or gray a color, add some of its complement. Gray 

       can also be mixed by combining all three primary colors (red, yellow, 

       and blue).

Enviable Greens In Watercolor!

Green is one of those colors, along with gray and brown, that can create problems for painters, which may be one reason that beginners seek out ready-mixed tubes of color.  After all, color mixing can be confusing and unpredictable.  While the ready-mixed greens sold in tubes are convenient, the colors available for sale are generally NOT the greens found in nature.  And even if you can find some greens that look reasonably convincing and provide enough variation to produce realistic and natural greens, who can afford to buy even a dozen tubes of different convenience greens?

Foliage varies greatly in color and value, with each plant producing its own variation of green.  Color and value also change with distance, weather, time of day, and season.  In reality, the greens of nature show infinite variety.  Therefore, realistic, natural greens require the painter to be able to mix many suitable variations of green from a limited number of paints.  But where do you start?

MIX GREEN WITH BLUE AND YELLOW.

The color green is made of blue plus yellow plus a small amount of red to tone the color down and naturalize it.  Try this experiment: take every yellow paint on your palette, and combine each with every blue you already have.  Note that mixing a COOL yellow with a COOL blue creates a bright and vibrant green (for example, Hansa Yellow Light with Winsor/ Phthalo Blue).  In contrast, by mixing a WARM and a COOL or two WARM colors, you get a duller, less intense green – because both the warm yellow and blue have some red in their pigment (which grays/neutralizes the mix).

Greens Mixed With Various Combinations of Blue and Yellow.

MIX GREEN BY SUPPLEMENTING A TUBE GREEN.

Another way to create natural greens is to use ready-mixed tube green as a starting point but then to add other pigments to vary the color.  DaVinci Sap Green, for instance, can be the principal ingredient in a whole range of mixtures. Similarly, you can adjust the temperature and value of Hooker’s Green, Viridian,  Phthalo Green, or another tube green by adding other colors. 

Greens Mixed With Pre-mixed Tube Greens.

EVEN MORE VARIETY.

You can create even more mixtures by changing proportions of each color in the mix.  Catherine Gill in Powerful Watercolor Landscapes (2011) describes a very effective technique for mixing numerous related colors by changing proportions in a mixture.  She makes a “mixing trail” (p. 122), using two colors on her palette.  Instead of mixing two colors together in the beginning, she puts the two colors on her palette, leaving a space between them.  She suggests you take a little of the first color and mix it with the second on the palette.  Then, take successive amounts of the second color, and mix with the first until you have several distinct hues.  The space between the two colors is the area where you make the “trail.”  The colors will theoretically all be close in value because you haven’t picked up any water.

Catherine Gill also describes a “mixing hub” (p. 123), which is a collection of mixing trails laid like spokes around a central pigment.  The hub allows you to create a variety of related colors.  The hub pigment is in all the mixes of the hub, ensuring color harmony.  And again, since you add no water as you create the mixes, values should remain constant.

                      Mixing Trail and Mixing Hub. 

Bruce MacEvoy (on handprint.com) has suggested that to simplify mixing greens somewhat, you can create these five basic green mixtures.  A BRIGHT green could combine Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PG 36) and Hansa Yellow (PY 97).  A COOL green could combine Prussian Blue (PB 27) and Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PG 36).  Combining Prussian Blue (PB 27) and Hansa Yellow (PY 97) produces a LIGHT green.  WARM green comes from combining Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PY 36) and Burnt Sienna (PBr 7).  Finally, put together a DULL, DARK green with Phthalo Green Yellow Shade (PG 36) and Quinacridone Rose (PV 19). 

Five Basic Green Mixtures.

CHART FOR YOUR OWN FAVORITES.

With experimentation, you will find many mixtures that work for you.  Make your own chart, for handy reference, of your favorite mixtures. Check back to it later for ideas when painting.

Condensed Chart of Favorite Green Mixes.

MIX ON THE PALETTE, ON YOUR PAPER, OR GLAZE.

Finally, the way you apply your pigments to paper can alter the appearance of your greens and foliage.  The first option you have is to mix your color ON THE PALETTE before you apply it to paper.  A second option is to apply separate colors TO YOUR PAPER, allowing them to mingle on your paper.  This technique creates a more varied, dynamic color mix.  Third, you could GLAZE one color over a DRY wash of another color.  Glazing and layering are similar processes.  They both change the appearance of color.  Glazing uses a very thin, transparent wash of one color over another color.  When warm colors lie below a cool glaze, the resulting color mix is luminous, vibrant, and glowing.  Starting with a cool color and putting the warm color on top gives a heavier, denser glaze.

IN CONCLUSION.

Finding a variety of natural greens to paint convincing foliage can be confusing and frustrating.  As painters, we know that ready-mixed greens are not sufficient.  Therefore, you should take some time to experiment with all the yellows, blues, and greens on your palette, adding touches of red to some of your mixtures if you want to gray/neutralize a green.  Make a chart of your favorite blends for handy reference.  You needn’t rely only on purchased tube greens. Experiment, and have some fun!

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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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