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!

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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 Gold 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).

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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)

Jadeite (Daniel Smith Primatek Jadeite Genuine)

 

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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Watercolor’s Best Brands!

When you begin to paint with watercolors, you might think you need to decide on just one brand of watercolor paint.  You don’t, however, need to limit yourself to one manufacturer only.  Most brands combine and work well with each other.

No one brand of paint manufacturer provides the perfect collection of paint colors.  But a number of reliable, reputable companies are doing a very good job.  I will share my favorites below.

PIGMENTS.

Keep in mind that pigment name and number are more important than choosing a brand of paint or purchasing simply by color names.  The actual pigment used indicates the character of the paint color and determines how long it will last.  Certain pigments used in formulating paints are fugitive (colors will fade over time and with exposure to light) but are still used even by more reputable companies. A color pigment, which has its own specific identifying name and number, is the actual substance that produces the paint color and, along with other ingredients, the characteristics of the paint. The color name on the tube can vary by company.  For instance, Pigment Blue #15 (PB15) is Winsor Newton Winsor Blue AND Phthalo Blue from many other companies.  On the other hand, Sap Green characteristics and pigments vary wildly by manufacturer – from a dark, dull olive (which contains these pigments PG7PO49PB15:4PY150) by Grumbacher to a brighter, medium green (containing pigments PV49P67) made by Maimeri.

Common pigments NOT recommended but still in production include:

*Alizarin Crimson (produced by Daniel Smith using PR [pigment red] 83) will fade.  You could instead use Permanent Alizarin Crimson  (produced by Winsor Newton from PR 206).

*Do not use the fugitive Gamboge Genuine (produced by Winsor Newton from NY24).  Try instead Gamboge Hue (by DaVinci made with PY42PY43).

*Don’t buy Rose Madder Genuine (by Winsor Newton, made with fugitive red pigment NR9).  A better choice is Quinacridone Rose (from Daniel Smith manufactured with PV19).

*Similarly, I would not recommend Dioxazine Purple (produced by M. Graham with PV23).  Mauve (produced by DaVinci from PV19PB29) is a transparent, reliable choice.

Paint color names are often confusing and can be extremely misleading, even in the more reliable paint manufacturing companies.  Many fantastic, silly names can describe the same pigment.  For example, PB60 (Pigment Blue #60) has been recently called Delft Blue, Indanthrene Blue, Indanthrone Blue, Indian Blue, Faience Blue, Old Delft Blue, and Royal Blue by various companies. Same paint pigment, but different names!

Conversely, different pigments (which determine the character and color of a paint) may share the same color title (name).  Magenta can vary from the reliable Schminke Magenta (containing PV 42) to the fading, unsuitable Daler-Rowney Permanent Magenta (with PV23PR122 pigments).  DO NOT rely on color names!

My palette!.jpg

BRANDS.

Now, for my recommendations:

*Several companies produce watercolor paints that I prefer.  My favorite brand, Daniel Smith, began in 1976.  This company provides more than 200 pure colors, many of which are single pigment colors and thus ideal for mixing.  Daniel Smith offers pigments that no other company has for sale.  Prices are moderate to high.

*I also like the reasonably priced watercolor paints from DaVinci.  The company was founded in 1975 in California and offers 106 mostly bright, smooth colors.

*M. Graham, begun in the 1990’s, offers 70 well-made watercolors.  The colors are intense, bright, saturated, especially creamy, and easy to mix (perhaps because of the addition of honey along with the more usual gum Arabic and glycerin in their mixtures).  M. Graham paints are more affordable than Daniel Smith or Winsor Newton watercolor paints.

*Winsor Newton began producing watercolors in 1832.  They were the first to publish a complete list of the colors they offered with details of their chemical composition and permanence.  Winsor Newton offers 96 colors that are widely available.  These paints are among the most expensive on the market.  I also find that caps on the paint tube tend to stick if not cleaned carefully before recapping.

*Two other companies offer some good choices of watercolor paints.  Holbein, based in Japan, began in 1900.  They offer 106 colors, which mix easily.  Some fugitive colors are offered; other colors have deceptive or confusing names, or unusual color mixes.  Maimeri, an Italian company, was founded in 1923.  They sell 72 colors at a reasonable price.  Buyers should check light fastness, however, before purchasing their paints.

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STARTER COLORS.

Let’s simplify!  You don’t need to start out painting with a lot of colors.  Perfect starter colors include both warm and cool primaries.  In other words, start with seven colors:

*Cadmium Yellow (warm) and either Azo Yellow or Hansa Yellow Light (cool);

*Cadmium Red (warm) and Quinacridone Red or Permanent Alizarin Crimson (cool);

*Ultramarine Blue (warm) and Phthalo Blue or Winsor Blue (cool);

*And add a convenience earth color like Burnt Sienna, for fun.

You can buy tubes individually; try jerrysartarama.com, dickblick.com, or cheapjoes.com.  On the other hand, if you like, you can purchase Daniel Smith’s excellent Essentials Kit of six 5 ml. tubes.  This kit is available from dickblick.com ($34.76) and amazon.com ($34.74).  Colors included are Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Quinacridone Rose, Pyrrol Scarlet, Phthalo Blue, and French Ultramarine Blue.

I’d also recommend the DaVinci Scratchmade Eighteen-Color Pan Set available from davincipaints.com ($79.00).

Bibliography:

The Wilcox Guide to the Best Watercolor Paints (2001-2001 Edition) by Michael Wilcox.

The Paint Colors and Brands On My Watercolor Palette…

In the early days, pigments for painting were rare! The specific ingredients and recipes for making paints were closely guarded secrets. These paints were made by hand from soils, minerals, animal matter, and other materials. The paint did not keep well and had to be made frequently from scratch.

MODERN PIGMENTS.

Modern pigments, although still using some of the same ingredients, are manufactured from a wide variety of substances, often through complicated chemical processes. Many more different pigments are available to painters today, with an incredibly wide range of color choices. Because we now have so many colors to choose from, it is necessary to narrow down the options and simplify.

COLOR NAMES AND PIGMENT NUMBERS.

A painter can’t possibly use every tube color out there, and there is such overlap between brands and ‘named colors’ offered that it wouldn’t make sense to try every one. Be aware that the name given on each tube can be very deceptive! For instance, some ‘raw siennas’ are not really raw sienna at all, but are made from the yellow ochre pigment. A ‘sap green’ in one brand looks different and is made from very different ingredients than ‘sap green’ from another company. The color you think you’re buying is not necessarily what you get! Further, some paints offered are unreliable and fade when exposed to sunlight.

What’s to be done? READ LABELS (just like at the grocery store) to know what you’re getting and to get the best products. 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.

Using pigment letters and numbers instead of just color names will help you learn to be more aware of what paints you are using. Gordon MacKenzie, in his book The Watercolorist’s Essential Notebook: Landscapes, goes into a lot of detail explaining which pigments to AVOID because of unreliability. Mr. MacKenzie also shares which brands have the BEST quality in which colors. (It is interesting that no one brand offers the best quality in every color they produce!)

COLOR.

In choosing colors for my watercolor palette, I tried to consider color characteristics. The FOUR characteristics  of color to think about are: 1. HUE is the name of the pure simple color, e.g. blue, yellow, red. (Hue describes the pigment’s location on the color wheel.) 2. VALUE is a pigment’s lightness or darkness. 3. INTENSITY is the brilliance or saturation of a color. (A pigment can be dulled by adding its complementary color – the color opposite it on the color wheel – which in the right amount produces gray.) 4. TEMPERATURE is warmth or coolness of a color. Reds, oranges, yellows are said to be warm, while greens, blues, or violets are thought of as cool. A color or hue can ‘lean’ toward either the warm side or the cool side, and the direction it leans affects how it behaves during color mixing with another hue. In order to be able to mix pigments into a wider range of colors, try to choose both a warm and a cool version of the primary hues.

Color Wheel.jpeg

COLOR WHEEL.

On the color wheel, colors are placed in position on the circle to indicate their degree of warmth or coolness and their relationships to each other. Color placement on the wheel can therefore suggest the degree of borrowing or leaning toward another color – a ‘warm’ red (like cadmium red) is closer to the yellows and also contains more yellow than a ‘cool’ red (permanent alizarin red) which would be closer (on the color wheel) to and contain more blue. You can follow the colors around the color wheel to see how much borrowed color is in each pigment.

COLOR MIXING.

It becomes easier to combine colors when you can visualize your pigments on the color wheel. For this reason, I decided to try the Stephen Quiller watercolor palette, which has wells for pigments arranged in a circle (color wheel) for ease of color mixing. (The Richeson Stephen Quiller watercolor palette is available on jerrysartarama.com for $22.99, as of the time of this writing.)

CHOOSING YOUR COLORS.

In many ways, choosing particular colors for your palette is a matter of personal preference. Yet, there are a few guidelines. Recently, I have been searching for more transparent watercolors to add to my palette. I find that having too many opaque colors in a painting can destroy the GLOW of light that I hope to get down on my paper. However, I wanted to keep a few opaque colors on the palette. Also, I tried to to include some brilliant, staining colors, as well as some fairly transparent earth pigments. Such a variety of colors allows for mixing a wider range of colors. My reevaluation of pigments seems to be an ongoing process, because just when I think I have finalized my color choices, I find another irresistible and useful hue!

MY COLORS…TODAY AT LEAST.

So, what colors do I have on my palette today? These are the 24 colors that I placed around the circle (with some exceptions to the color wheel theory just because I liked the colors): Hansa Yellow Light PY3 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Gamboge Hue PY153PY3 (Daler Rowney or DaVinci), Indian Yellow PY153 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Raw Sienna PBr7 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Light Red PR101 (Holbein), Indian Red PR101 (Holbein or Winsor Newton), Cadmium Red PR108 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith), Pyrrol Red (Daniel Smith) OR Winsor Red (Winsor Newton) [both are pigment PR254], Quinacridone Red PR206 (Daniel Smith), Quinacridone Pink PV42 (Daniel Smith), Quinacridone Violet PV19 (Daniel Smith or M. Graham), Mineral Violet PV15 (Holbein), Mauve PV19PB29 (DaVinci), Payne’s Gray PB15PBk6PV19  (Winsor Newton or Maimeri), Ultramarine Blue PB29 (Daniel Smith or DaVinci), Cobalt Blue PB28 (DaVinci), Phthalo Blue RED SHADE PB15 (Daniel Smith, DaVinci, or M. Graham) OR Winsor Blue RED SHADE PB15 (Winsor Newton), Cerulean Blue PB36 (Holbein or Winsor Newton), Blue Apatite Genuine (Daniel Smith), Phthalo Green BLUE SHADE PG7 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith) or Winsor Green BLUE SHADE (Winsor Newton), Viridian PG18 (DaVinci or Daniel Smith), Sap Green PG7PY42 (DaVinci!!!), Shadow Green PBk31 (Holbein) OR Perylene Green (Winsor Newton), and Rich Green Gold PY129 (Daniel Smith) OR Azo Green (M. Graham). In the 8 corner wells, I added some fun, supplemental colors: Quinacridone Gold PO49 (Daniel Smith), Burnt Sienna PBr7 (Daniel Smith, Holbein, or Maimeri), Quinacridone Burnt Orange PO48 (Daniel Smith), Brown Madder Quinacridone PV19PR101 (DaVinci) OR Red Iron Oxide PR101 (M. Graham), Phthalo Blue GREEN SHADE PB15:3 (Daler Rowney or Daniel Smith), Manganese Blue Hue PB15PW5 (DaVinci or Holbein), Burnt Umber PBr7 (Daniel Smith or Holbein), and Bloodstone Genuine (Daniel Smith).

BASIC COLOR RECOMMENDATIONS.

I don’t recommend that beginning painters have all of the above mentioned colors on their palettes. Having fewer colors will help you begin to learn the characteristics of your colors and how they behave when used alone or when mixed with others. Being able to MIX the exact color you want to use in a painting is INVALUABLE! A basic beginning palette might include: Quinacridone red, Quinacridone Violet, Mauve, Indian Yellow, Hansa Yellow Light, Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Phthalo Blue Red Shade, Viridian, Sap Green, Payne’s Gray, Burnt Sienna, Raw Sienna. When you become familiar with the basic colors, you can feel free to experiment and slowly add more colors. Enjoy! Color is fun!