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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Glaze To Mix Luminous Watercolors!

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Watercolor painters learn many different ways to combine and paint color to produce varied effects. While color can be mixed ON THE PALETTE, single colors can also be added to and partially blended ON THE PAPER (as in wet-in-wet, or charging). Adding single colors to paper tends to create lively and vibrant color mixes with lots of variety. (See my recent blog post titled “Charge Ahead and Mingle: Blending Colors on Watercolor Paper,” https://leemuirhaman.com/2019/06/04/charge-ahead-and-mingle-blending-color-on-watercolor-paper/, published June 4, 2019, to learn more about ways to mix color on the paper.)

Glazing is a somewhat more advanced variation of altering color ON THE PAPER. Colors are NOT mixed! A glaze is a transparent wash of color over another (thoroughly dried) layer of color. This stacking or glazing of pigment modifies the underlying color to create a full range of interesting values and colors. (A simple example would be a glaze of pink painted over a layer of yellow to create an orange or peach color.) Glazing can be done on large wash areas or on smaller parts of a painting. Often the light-value colors are applied first, but reversing the order of color application can affect the final appearance in interesting ways. Under most conditions, a painting also progresses from large general areas of light washes to small specific areas of darker washes. When you glaze over only part of your work, try to avoid hard edges left from the glaze by softening or fading out the edges with a clean, damp brush. (See my blog post titled “Softening an Edge or Fading Out”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/10/23/softening-an-edge-or-fading-out/, published October 23, 2018, for more information on softening an edge.)

Ford:Footbridge LAMH.jpg

Ford and Footbridge (Glazed water).

Strive to use only fairly pale mixes of color in glazing. If a glaze color is too intense, the underlying layer will have difficulty showing through. By properly applying a glaze, in pale transparent layers, an artist can achieve a “glow” of light as the white of the paper and the colors of lower layers show through later layers of color. Stop adding layers when you have arrived at your desired visual color, because painting too many layers will eventually cut down the amount of light reflecting back from the paper and will deaden any glow. Be careful about using more than three or four glaze layers.

End of the Day LAMH.jpg

The End of the Day (Glazed sky,  buildings, and snow).

What specific pigments work best for glazing? Most often, the best artists use the three primary colors and make sure their pigments are transparent. Specifically, you might use non-staining Aureolin or Hansa Yellow Light, Permanent Rose Quinacridone or Permanent Rose, and Cobalt Blue. If possible, avoid using transparent, staining pigments such as Indian Yellow or Gamboge Hue, Winsor Red or Permanent Alizarin Crimson, and Winsor Blue, which tend to dye the under layers and start to dull or destroy glow or translucence. If you must use staining colors, make sure they are quite diluted (unless, of course, your intention is to revive a dull dark).

Glazes are most effective when the colors used contrast with each other — e.g., warm over cool, blue over orange, etc. The farther away from each other the chosen colors are on the color wheel, the more dramatic their glazing impact on each other. A beautiful, luminous gray can be created by layering yellow, then red, then blue.

A soft brush (often a large flat) will give the best results as it disturbs previous layers of paint less. Layer each wash gently in a smooth, even application over a dried surface, and DO NOT scrub. (If the first layers of color are still wet, the colors can blend and not stay in the separate layers that you are aiming for — you will not be glazing.)

Remember that if the colors you use in glazing are transparent (NOT opaque), the colors beneath will continue to glow through glazes laid on top. Colors will appear to be mixed even though each is in a separate layer. These layers are more luminous than colors mixed on the palette because light passes through each separate layer and takes on each color’s characteristics. (NOT all watercolors are transparent! Cerulean Blue, Indian Red, Cadmium Red, Cadmium Yellow, Cadmium Orange, Payne’s Gray, and Yellow Ochre are some of the opaque watercolors in common use.)

 

Mating Season LAMH.jpg

Mating Season (Glazed background).

With glazing, you have to think ahead and in layers of color. As you draw your picture on watercolor paper, plan the white areas to be saved. Further, also determine where you DON”T want your first glaze to be painted. (Often the first glaze is yellow, which is relatively light and does not readily cover other pigments.) If you planned a cool section for your painting, you might not want to cover that area with your warm yellow glaze. (You needn’t apply glazes over your whole paper.) Once you have applied your yellow glaze, evaluate whether it is too light, too dark, or just right. Adjust color intensity NOW, before adding a second color, by lifting lightly with clear water to lighten or by darkening with a second yellow layer.

While waiting for the yellow glaze to dry, plan ahead and consider what areas you want to cover with the pink (red) glaze. Will you paint some of the white areas with pink as you work to a final lavender color? Will you leave a snowy area untouched by this pink glaze? Will you still preserve some white paper to ‘pop’ in the final image? Paint a layer of pink, saving all areas as planned.

While waiting for this layer to dry, plan for the next glaze. Decide which areas of the painting will be covered by the blue glaze. Glaze some of the white with a layer of blue —  for example, in a snowy area or a shadowed  space. Avoid painting the blue glaze in a sunlit spot, ending the blue glaze and then softening with clear water into a sunny field or sunlit side of a building.

Finish your painting when the blue glaze is dry (or drying) by adding mid-tones and darks. Strive to preserve a good deal of your glazed area, however, to maintain the luminous, clean color mixes created by glazing.

Paintings with problem areas can often be rescued by using glazes. You can adjust and improve a painting that may lack mood, unity, or focus. Painting a thin, pale wash can add mood to a foggy scene. A single layer of color over the whole painting (or some parts) can add unity by giving all the colors a similar flavor. Further, darkening a section of a painting with a glaze can urge the eye to focus on more important and lighter areas. In the painting below, all of the background was glazed with Ultramarine Blue to tone down and bring more unity to disparate colors as well as help the background fade away and frame the center of interest (i.e. the blossoms).

Apple Blossoms LAMH.jpg

Apple Blossoms (Glazed background and shadowed buds/blossoms).

Glazing can also help you avoid muddy, opaque, or dull shadows. Bring a dull dark back to life with a glaze! To create a luminous shadow, first paint the subject (through BOTH the light and shadow side of the object) with the same local color. (In the above apple blossom picture, the buds and blossoms were painted with varying amounts of pink.) Then, when the first layer has dried, glaze a shadow color over the portion of the image in shadow. The first (local) color will show through the transparent shadow glaze (mixed in this case from yellow, red, and blue to create a transparent gray).

Transparent glazes applied separately change the colors under them. Color is built up optically on the paper by layering instead of mixing color on the palette  prior to painting. Learn to overlap your glazes to produce satisfying colors. Develop your glazes from transparent watercolors, preferably non-staining. Begin with your lightest pigment, usually a yellow. Keep your washes diluted and pale. Remember to dry the previous layer before painting a new glaze. Always use the three primaries — don’t eliminate a layer! Instead, control the final appearance of color by strengthening one or two of the three primary colors. To create interesting, vibrant color, avoid making all three layers equal in intensity (which  instead would produce a dull neutral).

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The Color Wheel, Color Bias, and Color Mixing in Watercolor.

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Artists often concentrate far too much on replicating the exact colors they see. You don’t have to use the same color specified in a lesson or on a mixing chart. Usually you can mix a very similar color using a paint from your palette with a similar ‘color bias.’ (Or even pick a color of your own choosing.) Substitute one cool red (with a blue bias) for another. For instance, use Permanent Rose or Quinacridone Rose for Permanent Alizarin Crimson. Try not to worry about exact colors or matching particular brands. Good tonal (light/dark) value is far more important than finding the perfect color match!

Apple Blossoms.jpg

The basic color wheel contains the three ‘primary’ colors (red, yellow, and blue) and various intermediate colors which can be mixed from the 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.

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.

By placing complementary colors next to each other in a painting, artists can achieve maximum color contrast. Complements sometimes create a kind of color vibration, or dancing, that tends to attract the viewer’s eye.  A color will make its complement appear more intense.  Therefore, this maximum color contrast can be quite effective around the center of interest in a painting.

Nashua River Glow.jpg

However, almost all paint colors are ‘biased’ in that they lean toward (or contain some of) another primary color. 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.   

               

Each ‘color’ of paint, then, will have a warmer and a cooler version. (See my related blog published here 12/11/2018, entitled “Adjust Your Color Thermostat.”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/12/11/adjust-your-color-thermostat/.)

Examples of relative warm and cool colors follow.

COOL COLOR:                                            WARM COLOR:

Quinacridone Red (PR209)       vs.         Napthol Scarlet (PR188)

Hansa Yellow Light (PY3)         vs.          Hansa Yellow Deep (PY65)

Viridian (PG 18)                          vs.         Chromium Oxide (PG 17)

Cobalt Teal Blue (PB 50)            vs.         Cobalt Blue (PB 29)

Ultramarine Violet (PV 15)       vs.         Cobalt Violet (PV 14)

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

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. Mix Hansa Yellow Light (or Winsor Yellow) with Phthalo Blue (or Winsor Blue) to create a bright, spring green. Or combine Quinacridone Yellow with Ultramarine Blue to achieve a warm, olive green. (Also 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/). Another hint to help you create a brighter 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) to avoid adding any of the third (red) primary color (which would gray the mixture).

Luna On Bark.jpg

The most important information for the person mixing color to know is the actual paint pigment used in the manufacture of the paint that is to be used for mixing (NOT the name of the color on the paint tube). Each pigment has been assigned its own letter and number to distinguish it from other pigments. (See my related blog published on 8/28/2018, entitled “The Paint Colors and Brands On My Watercolor Palette.”, https://leemuirhaman.com/2018/08/28/the-paint-colors-and-brands-on-my-palette/).  For example, Cadmium Red is made from PR108 (Pigment Red #108), while Pyrrol Red and Winsor Red are made from PR254 (Pigment Red #254). Each paint pigment has an individual personality and IS NOT interchangeable with or an exact match to other similar-looking pigments. Since each paint is unique, different mixtures will vary in their characteristics, even though they are mixed to represent a ‘certain’ color. Color appearance is affected by pigment used, as well as by the quantity of pigment and added filler, and by how the pigment was milled. Further, pigment used will also determine whether the paint is lightfast or permanent, whether it is transparent or opaque, and whether the paint is staining or not.

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. Knowing the color wheel doesn’t necessarily allow you to predict what each paint or mixture will do. You will need to experiment and learn from experience!

While understanding how the color wheel works can certainly help you with the mixing of paint colors, color mixing is not an exact science. In fact, to complicate color mixing further, you need to understand that color is a function of human perception. Color is in the mind and can vary depending as much on the individual viewing the color as on the specific pigments used in mixing. Further, perception of color is affected by the amount and direction of light on the color. Viewers always make a judgement about the color seen based on their expectations and understanding of the world around them. And, your eyes can play tricks on you! Thus, ‘color’ is an interpretation by each individual.

Forsythia House.jpg

If you are looking for possible paint color substitutions to try because you don’t have a paint color recommended by someone for a color mix, the following chart might be a place to start searching. Just remember, however, that there are NO exact matches! Each color pigment has different characteristics, AND paints will vary by manufacturer even if the pigments used suggest they are similar. However, feel free to experiment with the warm/cool colors that you have on your palette now. Use what you have! There is often no need to rush out and buy a tube of a suggested color, unless, of course, you think it might be fun.

APPENDIX A: WATERCOLOR PAINTS GROUPED BY COLOR BIAS/TEMPERATURE

COOL (Blue Bias) REDS: Quinacridone Red (PR 209)

Perylene Maroon (PR 179)

Permanent Alizarin Crimson (PR 206)

Quinacridone Rose (PV 19)

Quinacridone Pink  (PV 42)

Permanent Rose (PV 19)

Red Rose Deep (PV 19)

Quinacridone Magenta (PR 122 or 202)

Carmine (use Daniel Smith only – PR 176)

Crimson Lake or Scarlet Lake

Pyrrol Crimson (Use Daniel Smith – PR 264)

Opera Rose (PR 122)

Potter’s Pink (Winsor Newton – PR 233)

 

WARM (Yellow Bias REDS: Cadmium Red (PR 108)

Pyrrol Red, Winsor Red, or DaVinci Red (PR254)

Permanent Red (PR 254)

Venetian Red or Indian Red (PR 101)

Light Red (PR 102)

Vermillion (Holbein or Schmincke – PR 108 or PR 255)

English Oxide Red (PR 101)

Perylene Red (PR 149 or 178)

Pyrrol Scarlet (PR 255)

Transparent Pyrrol Orange (PO 71)

Cadmium Scarlet (PR 108)

 

COOL (Blue Bias) YELLOWS: Hansa Yellow Light (PY 3)

Winsor or DaVinci Yellow (PY 154)

Nickel Azo Yellow (Daniel Smith – PY 150)

Cadmium Yellow Pale (PY 35)

Cadmium Yellow Lemon (PY 35)

Benzimida Yellow (PY 154)

Lemon Yellow (PY 3)

Aureolin (PY 40)

Primary Yellow (Maimeri – PY 97)

Flanders Yellow (L&B – PY 3)

Transparent Yellow (Winsor Newton – PY 97)

Hansa Yellow Medium or Deep (PY 97)

 

WARM (Red Bias) YELLOWS: Gamboge Hue (PY 153/PY 3)

Cadmium Yellow Medium or Deep (PY 35)

Indian Yellow (PY 153)

Permanent Yellow (DalerRowney – PY 138)

Mars Yellow (Daniel Smith – PY 42)

Nickel Dioxine Yellow

Golden Yellow (Grumbacher – PY 3/PY 65)

Yellow Lake (Sennelier – PO 49/PY 153)

Brilliant Yellow (Schmincke – PW 6/PY 3)

Quinacridone Gold (Daniel Smith – PO 49)

Naples Yellow (PBr 24/PW 6)

New Gamboge or Gamboge (PY 150/PR 209)

 

WARM (Red Bias) BLUES: Ultramarine Blue (PB 29)

Cobalt Blue (PB 28)

Indigo (Daniel Smith – PB 60/PBk 6)

Verditer (Holbein – PB 28/PW 6)

Mountain Blue (Schmincke – PW 5/PB 29/PG 7)

Permanent Blue (PB 29)

Indanthrene or Indanthrone (PB 60)

Cobalt Teal Blue (Daniel Smith – PG 50)

Cyanine (Winsor Newton – PB 28/PB 27)

 

COOL (Yellow Bias) BLUES:Phthalo or Winsor Blue (PB 15)

Monestial Blue (Daler Rowney – PB 15)

Prussian Blue (PB 27)

Antwerp Blue (PB 27)

Compose Blue (Holbein – PB 6/PB 15)

Cerulean (PB 35)

Intense Blue (Winsor Newton – PB 15)

Paris Blue (Lukas – PB 27)

Peacock Blue (Holbein – PB 17)

Touareg Blue (L&B – PG 7/PB 15)

Cobalt Turquoise (DaVinci – PB 36)

Manganese Blue Hue (Daler Rowney – PB 15:3/PW 5)

 

ORANGES: Burnt Sienna (PBr 7)

Light Red (Winsor Newton – PR 102)

Quinacridone Burnt Orange (Daniel Smith – PO 48)

Burnt Umber (DaVinci or Daniel Smith – PBr 7)

Quinacridone Brown Madder (PV 19/PR 101)

Permanent or Benzimida Brown (Daniel Smith – PBr 25)

Transparent Red Oxide (PR 101)

Quinacridone Orange (PO 48)

Brilliant Orange (Holbein – PO 62/PO 73)

Brown Madder (Schmincke – PR 206)

 

COOL GREENS: Phthalo or Winsor Green (PG 7)

Viridian (PG 18)

Shadow or Perylene Green (PBk 31)

 

WARM GREENS: Sap Green (DaVinci- PG 7/PY 42)

Green Gold (Winsor Newton – PY 129)

Rich Green Gold (Daniel Smith – PY 129)

Copper Azo Green (PY 129)

Olive Green (varies)

 

PURPLES: Mineral Violet (PV 15)

Mauve (DaVinci – PV 19/PB 29)

Quinacridone Violet (PV 19)

Permanent Mauve (Winsor Newton – PV 16)

Permanent Violet (Daniel Smith – PR 88)

Ultramarine Violet (PV 15)

 

YELLOW EARTH COLORS: Monte Amiata Natural Sienna (Daniel Smith – PBr 7)

Raw Sienna (PBr 7)

Yellow Ochre (PY 43)

Gold Ochre (PY 42)

Transparent Yellow Oxide (PY 42)

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Those Troublesome Greens!

Green is one of those colors, along with gray and brown, that create problems for painters, which may be one reason that beginners seek out ready-mixed colors.  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, 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?

The color green is made of blue plus yellow plus a small amount of red to tone the color down and naturalize it.  Take every yellow on your palette, and combine each with every blue.  Note that mixing a cool yellow with a COOL blue creates a bright and vibrant green (for example, Hansa Yellow Light with Winsor or Phthalo Blue).  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.

green from Ultramarine Blue, Phthalo Blue, Cerulean, Cobalt.jpg

green from Payne's Gray, Manganese Blue, Blue Apatite.jpg

Greens Mixed With Various Combinations of Blue and Yellow.

Another way to create natural greens is to use ready-mixed tube green as a starting point but then to add other pigments to it.  DaVinci Sap Green, for instance, can be the principal ingredient in a whole range of mixtures.

greens from Sap.jpg

green from Viridian, Chrome Oxide Green, Green Gold..jpg

green from Phthalo Green.jpg

Greens Mixed With Pre-mixed Tube Greens.

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.  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 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 remain constant.

To simplify mixing greens somewhat, you can think of five basic green mixtures, as suggested by Bruce MacEvoy (on handprint.com).  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.jpg

Five Basic Green Mixtures.

With experimentation, you will find many mixtures that work for you.  Make a chart, for handy reference, of your favorite mixtures.

Condensed Chart of Favorite Green Mixes.jpg

Condensed Chart of Favorite Green Mixes.

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 value.  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.

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.  Make a chart of your favorite blends for handy reference.  Experiment, and have some fun!

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How Does A Painting Progress?

The first step in a watercolor painting is usually choosing an image to paint.  Sometimes I am excited about a subject or intrigued with the way light affects a scene.  That image can make me feel a certain mood or remember a wonderful feeling I’ve had before in a similar setting.  Often, the scene “picks me”: it touches me, and I want to paint it.

The painting “Mulpus” began in this way.  When I saw the photos that my son had taken of a brook that we both know, I felt the excitement of discovering a magic secret garden in my backyard.  The series of photos taken on a clear spring day showed a progression from the old stone bridge on the road up the sparkling brook edged with bright green moss and grass to the ruins of a towering stone wall dam that in the 1700’s had controlled water for a log-cutting mill.  The dam, though still impressive, was partially collapsed and the mill pond gone, but, oh, the water sparkled, and the green of the moss and grass was brilliant!  How refreshing!  In the midst of decay was renewal.  I could almost feel the warm sun, see the rosy buds about to open, smell crisp, clean air, and hear the soft whisper of the breeze!

mulpus brook bridge.jpg

mulpus brook 2.jpg

mulpus brook.jpg

mulpus dam.jpg

I settled on two reference photos to combine and sketched a template for transfer to watercolor paper.  When I had the image drawn, I used masking fluid to preserve the sparkles of white on the water, the bright green shore, and highlights of the rocks in the water.

mulpus reference photos.jpg

mulpus line drawing.jpg

When the masking fluid was dry, I pre-wet the sky and tree line area with clear water.  As the sheen disappeared, I painted the sky with a very pale wash of a mixture of mostly cerulean and some Winsor (or phthalo) blue.  I tried to leave the center of the sky area paler than the surrounding sky because I chose to have the sunlight shining from the center of the picture toward the viewer.

Keeping in mind a clear spring day, I mixed colors for the far tree line.  Spring green was a possibility, but these trees were in the background, and I did not want them to stand out or compete with the bright green grass and moss which would be the focal point of the picture (in conjunction with the sparkling water).  Therefore, I toned the green down a bit to a slightly-grayed blue-green mix of ultramarine blue, DaVinci sap green, and a small touch of burnt umber.  And since I wanted the distant trees to appear soft and unfocused, I painted the tree underlayer onto damp paper.  (If you mix this tree color at the same time as your sky mix, you’ll be ready to paint your tree line as soon as you finish the sky.  However, if you find your paper has dried out since you painted your sky, it’s perfectly fine to rewet your sky and tree line with clear water, then paint your tree line when the sheen has gone.)  While the tree line is still damp, scrape in a few trunk-like lines with a palette knife or brush handle.  (Some pale gray trunks can be added here later and softened.)  Also, while the distant tree area is still damp, randomly drop several other colors into the tree area to add variety.  For me, these colors were a touch green gold and separately also burnt umber (mixed with a touch of burnt sienna).  Don’t get carried away here – less is more.  Every tree you paint should have a variety of colors in it.  As these color additions started to dry, I used a slightly stronger version of the underlayer green (ultramarine blue, DaVinci sap green, and a touch of burnt umber) to scumble in and start to suggest shadowing and shaping of the tree line.

mulpus step 2.jpg

I began to work on the large stone wall by mixing three separate puddles of very, very pale color to apply as an underlayer.  I used permanent alizarin red (or quinacridone red), cobalt blue, and hansa yellow light (or cadmium lemon) to mix these three puddles.  These colors I randomly painted onto the stone wall; each color remained separate but just touched another of the three colors.

Mulpus step 3.jpg

 

While the stone wall dried, I began to put down the first layers on the middle distance tree trunks (which would eventually have more detail than the distant tree line).  I started with the trees to the far right to avoid spoiling the stone wall before it dried; then I gradually worked toward the left.  Since the type of tree, the age of the tree, and the smoothness of the bark cause variations in the tree trunk color, I used more than one paint color.  First, I laid down a pale greenish gray made with Davy’s gray.  Almost immediately, I began to add variation – some green gold and/or raw sienna on the sunny side of trunks, and darker brown-gray made of ultramarine blue with burnt umber on the shaded side.  I needed to remember the direction of LIGHT for shadows:  because I chose to have the light come toward the viewer from the middle of the picture, shadows on the trunks are on the right side of a trunk on the right of the picture, but shadows on the left side of the picture are on the left side of the trunks. I laid these colors in without mixing.

I painted one tree at a time so that the colors could soften into each other and create shape in the trunk before the applied paint had a chance to dry.  I let these underlayer colors in one trunk dry before proceeding to detail work on the trunk and moved instead to underlayer the next trunk.  When all the mid-distance trees were underlayered, I added details (crevices and knotholes) with a dark brown of ultramarine blue and burnt umber.  This same color I used to dry brush a bit of texture on the tree trunks, including grooves and shadows at the roots.

I then painted another layer of color, made from cerulean blue with a small touch of cadmium red to make a gray, over all of the large stone wall.  The color was not too dark, but pale enough to see hints of color through it.  When this was dry, I painted details in the wall – for example, crevices, shadows, texture – with a gray-black mixed from ultramarine blue and burnt umber.  I left light some highlights on the top of the wall, though I could also have lifted them later.

A light layer of burnt umber I laid over the earth area to the right and left of the stream.  I let this layer dry while I began to paint the water in the stream.

The water I painted wet-in-wet.  For this technique, it is best to have all the colors ready BEFORE starting to apply any paint.  To get ready, I mixed five separate puddles: cobalt blue; ultramarine blue; burnt sienna; ultramarine blue/DaVinci sap green/burnt umber; and ultramarine blue/burnt umber.  The first layer put down on the pre-wet paper was a layer of cobalt blue over all the water, avoiding the rocks.  Some of the green mix I dropped into the cobalt blue near the shore of the pool next to the ruined dam and close to both shores to suggest reflections from the distant tree line and the grass and moss along the shore.

Before the water dried, I added some burnt sienna in the water closest to the left front corner.  These transparent colors (cobalt blue and burnt sienna) made it seem that the viewer could see through the water to the sand on the streambed below.  Again, before the water dried, I darkened the edges of the water in particular with ultramarine blue.  Closest to the shore, where the bank overhangs a bit, I added some ultramarine blue/burnt umber mix (blue black) and made sure the color was softened as it met the rest of the water.

While the water was drying, I worked more on the forest floor.  With burnt umber and then with a dark brown/ burnt umber mix, I darkened the ground toward the far tree line on the right and up close to the large stone wall on the left, where the ground would be in shadow.  I added some texture and a few darker indentations in the fallen leaves with the dry brush technique.  I spattered the brown ground first with the dark brown mix, then with just burnt sienna. When the spatter had dried, I added a few strong tree shadows on the ground while keeping in mind the direction of the light.

The stones and rocks in the water received an underlayer of gray (cerulean blue and cadmium red).  When they were dry, I used the dry brush technique again to texture in the gray and dark gray I used previously, also adding dark shadows where the water meets the rocks.

When all the paint was dry, I removed the masking fluid.  Green gold was the color for the brilliant and sunlit moss and grass (though hansa yellow light mixed with ultramarine blue could also work).  The shadow color for painting depressions in the green ground came from adding more ultramarine blue to the above color.  In darker spots, I added burnt umber/ultramarine blue to increase depth.

Finally, to finish up, I added more tiny branches to the mid-distance trees.  I scraped (with an X-acto) some white water to make sure the stream looked natural.  I also lifted some rock highlights that seemed to have been lost.

mulpus right shadows!jpg.jpg