LUMINOSITY AND CREATING GLOWING COLOR.

TRANSPARENCY OCCURS BETWEEN PAINT PARTICLES.

Many people say that the way to create a “glow” in watercolor is to paint pale glazes of “luminous,” transparent hues so that the white of the paper underneath passes through the paint particles “like light through a stained glass window.” Apparently, however, light passing THROUGH a layer of watercolors is not the way luminosity actually works! That description is just a myth! 

According to several color scientists, chemists, and Bruce MacEvoy (handprint.com), little light actually passes THROUGH the particles. Instead, transparency happens when light reflects off the paper BETWEEN the particles of watercolor paint.

We know that watercolors don’t form a solid paint layer the way acrylic and oil paints do, as discussed in this post: ‘Some Watercolor Pigments Lighten More Than Others When They Dry…,’ (9/7/2022), https://leemuirhaman.com/2022/09/07/some-watercolor-pigments-lighten-more-than-others-when-they-dry/ . Oil and acrylic paints stay on top of the painting surface and dry in a solid paint layer. 

In contrast, watercolors (made up of various sizes of suspended paint particles ) end up “on top of, between, and underneath paper fibers” (Bruce MacEvoy of handprint.com). More of the white paper is therefore revealed as the water evaporates. The most transparent of watercolor paints produce a thinner coating of smaller pigment particles on the paper. These pigments in a smaller particle size seem to hide less of the paper (or other pigment particles) underneath, making the color appear more transparent. Thus, transparency happens BETWEEN these pigment particles and NOT THROUGH them ( see http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/tech16.html) .

ACHIEVING THE GLOW OF LIGHT.

Although transparency and glow may not work the way we once thought, achieving a glow remains a goal for many artists. We want to paint the light! We wish to highlight brightness, glow, radiance, luminosity. But to create a luminous glow, don’t rely on using lots of ‘bright’ colors that may not work together. Bright colors can be intense but also may be dull and opaque, and they may not set each other off to advantage. For example, yellow is a bright color, but if applied too thickly, even a transparent yellow becomes LESS luminous and will no longer be a light value. 

‘Golden River Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

Instead, although transparency is essential, luminosity comes from choosing colors by their effect on each other; that is, you should choose colors that create a reaction with nearby colors. Remember that paint colors change their apparent brightness, transparency, and hue depending on the context in which they appear. 

To bring about a glow, you will want to create CONTRAST in both VALUE and TEMPERATURE by surrounding a transparent light color with a COMPLEMENTARY dark ( a dark leaning toward the complement of the light color, NOT an unexciting, flat tube black such as Ivory Black, or purchased mixes such as Payne’s Gray or Neutral Tint). Colorful darks can therefore enhance the effect of light in a painting. The function of a dark color is NOT JUST to create value contrast, but to help the light-valued color (whether warm or cool, muted or intense) to glow. (For more information on complementary colors, review ‘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/ .)

HOW? VALUE CONTRASTS AND COLOR COMPLEMENTS.

What painting methods actually work to create glowing color? First, choose a pure, transparent color, well diluted to a light value. Second, mix your dark surrounding values to be complementary dark colors. If your light value is a pale yellow, you might try to use a version of deep purple or dark purple-gray. 

‘River Flowing Forward’ Watercolor Painting.

ADD COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

To further exaggerate the glow that is forming, you can adjust your dark by taking into account color temperature. That is, establish a warm-cool relationship between your light and dark by remixing your complementary dark, altering proportions of pigments to move the color to be cooler or warmer. If your light valued yellow is WARM, the best complementary dark to set it off would be a COOL bluish-purple dark. Or for a COOL light valued yellow, contrast it with a WARM, reddish-purple dark. Always judge a color in relation to the colors next to it. A blue, for instance, will feel even cooler next to a warm color.

‘Rocky Maine Shoreline Sunset’ Watercolor Painting.

TRY MID-VALUE CONTRASTS ALONG WITH COLOR AND TEMPERATURE COMPLEMENTS.

At times, a strong dark can overpower your composition. In such a situation, a mid-valued color contrast can also enhance and complement the glow of light values in the painting. Mix the complement of your light color, shifting it into a warm or cool variation, as needed, to create a temperature contrast. But instead of a rich dark, strive for a mid-value mix. If you mute this mid-value mix somewhat by adding a bit of its complement, you will gray the mixture, thus setting off the light-valued color. A cool purple (which you gray slightly with a touch of warm yellow) will cause your warm yellow light to glow even brighter. In the same way, you can gray a warm red-purple with a bit of its cool yellow complement to make a cool yellow light look still brighter.

‘White Primroses’ Watercolor Painting.

OR CREATE AN ILLUSION WITH UNTOUCHED PAPER.

Perhaps you want to leave the untouched white paper as your light value. It’s possible to make this white begin to glow depending on what you choose for a nearby accent. Whatever mid-tone you pick creates a subtle, optical or color illusion as it nudges the white paper into appearing as a complement. There is actually no need to alter the white paper, even though that might be your first tendency. Cool nearby colors will make the unpainted paper seem warm. For example, cool blues create a subtle orange glow, while cool purples move the nearby whites toward a yellowish glow. In this way, you can establish a glowing contrast, instead of merely a simple dark-light contrast.

(Much of the above information on how to create glow through complementary darks and dulled mid-valued colors is presented in  Jeanne Dobie’s Making Color Sing: Practical Lessons on Color And Design.) 

‘Clouds Over Dales’ Watercolor Painting.

IN SUMMARY.

The mechanism producing “glow” may be different from what people say, but you as a painter don’t need to DO anything differently as a consequence of your new understanding of how that mechanism works. You can create the illusion of glow in a watercolor painting in several ways. 

Remember that paint colors change apparent brightness, transparency, or hue depending on the colors that are nearby. Therefore, you can establish luminosity by building color relationships (through value and temperature) between lights and darks (or mid-values). 

Try to use transparent, single-pigment paints to maintain the impression of light. Opaque paints are thicker and duller, and can become lifeless in mixtures, causing you to lose ‘the light.” Also avoid using lots of bright colors hoping that ‘brightness’ (without contrast) will create luminosity.

Learn to use complementary colors to create color and temperature interactions that produce glow. Your goal when mixing luminous color is to combine unequal proportions of the two paints in a mix, so that the final color is either warm or cool and can be used to complement another in value, as well as color and temperature.   

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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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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!

IMG_0128.jpg

 

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.

Boat Float.jpg

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.

Orange pumpkins.jpg

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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