Tips and techniques for painting in watercolour....


To add your own favourite tips or techniques, please send information, and ideally an image, to:

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The colour wheel - 1

You'll be familiar with the colour wheel in the format shown....

There are the 3 primaries of red, blue and yellow, and the colours mixed from them of green, orange and purple.

One thing to get from this is that if you take one colour, say red, and start adding the opposite colour to it, (green), then at first the strength of the original colour is taken away to some extent, so that it isn't so vibrant. More colour means the red starts to get quite dark, and at roughly equal concentrations - a colour very near to black.

But colour mixing can be carried out in a better if we use a colour wheel with 12 sectors, as follows...

(This information has been mostly taken from 'Yellow and Blue don't make Green!' by Michael Wilcox)

Note: when mixing colours in this approach, try to use paints that are as transparent as possible, and definitely don't add goache to the mixture!

An image of the colour wheel in 6 colours

The colour wheel - 2

Thus of the original 6 colours, each one has been split into two, and the two colours are chosen to be near to neighbouring ones.

To get a 'pure' orange for instance, mix a orangey red with a yellowy orange. Or for a 'pure' purple, (and not brown), mix - ultramarine blue with permanent rose, say, both of which colours are near to the purple end of the spectrum. Or for a 'pure' green, mix a greeny blue with lemon yellow.

Let's think some more about such mixing...

An image of the colour wheel in 12 sectors

The colour wheel - 3

Here's a colour wheel where the primaries have been split into two, and where we are interested in mixing the secondary colours.

Let's look at mixing a purple/violet. We've seen that the purest purples, perhaps for flowers or sunset colours, are made with French ultramarine and permanent rose. What if we mixed a purple from colours that aren't so near to each other, perhaps French ultramarine with a orangy red? Or another blue, less purpley than French Ultramarine, with permanent rose.

These combinations are shown below...

An image of the colour wheel in 3 primary sectors

Mixing purples and violets

The top mixture is: French ultramarine and permanent rose.

The next one down is: French ultramarine with a orangy red such as cadmium red.

The next one down is: A less purply blue, and permanent rose or crimson.

Let's go on to look at greens...

Mixing purples

Mixing greens

The top mixture is: A blue with some green in it, and lemon yellow.

The next one down is: A blue with some green in it, and a more orangy yellow, in this example - Aureolin'

The next one down is: French ultramarine with lemon yellow.

Let's go on to look at greens...

Mixing greens

Transparent colours are best

So, try not to use semi-opaque colours if possible. Note: cadmium red, orange and yellow fall into this category, but if other colours in the mix are transparent, then it might be OK. French Ultramarine is also said to be semi-opaque. Indian Red is said to be in a class of itself, with a 'house-paint' consistency.

Some colours actually have had white added, such as Naples yellow - so in this approach avoid this colour.

Some colours, e.g. Raw Sienna and Burnt Sienna can be thought of as a mixture of one main colour, and small amounts of others at the other end of the colour wheel. Thus also to be avoided in this approach.

Another 'no-no', in this approach, is to use colours that start off as mixtures - Hooker's Green, Paynes's grey, etc.

But why mix colours if you have that colour in your palette already, e.g. green.....


Mixing greens by starting off with a very vibrant green....

So, we could generate even more shades of green by starting off with green, say Veridian green, and mixing colours with it.

The following approach is taken from "Making Color Sing" by Jeanne Dobie, AWS.

Start off with Viridian Green. Add a orangey yellow to it such as Aureolin - so as to 'naturalise' the colour, making it less 'artificially' green.

Add different reds to make the colour darker, and to generate different shades.

To make very dark greens, leave out the orangey yellow, and just mix various reds in.

To richer greens start off with Winsor Green, and mix the orangey yellow, followed by various reds as above.

For the darkest greens of all mix Winsor Green with various reds.

(Winsor Green is said to be both transparent and staining, and therefore a very vivid colour).

(Some others in this latter category are: Alizarin Crimson, and Winsor Blue).


Mixing greens - 2

The following visual chart is taken from "Making Color Sing" by Jeanne Dobie, AWS.

The top line is where you start off with Viridian Green. Add a orangey yellow to it such as Aureolin - so as to 'naturalise' the colour, making it less 'artificially' green. Then add various reds to make the colour darker - with the darkest mixture to the right.

The bottom line is where you start off with Winsor Green, thought to be even more intense than Viridian. Add a orangey yellow to it such as Aureolin - so as to 'naturalise' the colour, making it less 'artificially' green. Then add various reds to make the colour darker - with the darkest mixture to the right.

Chart 1 - Mixing greens

Mixing greens - 3

The following visual chart is taken from "Making Color Sing" by Jeanne Dobie, AWS.

The top line is where you start off with Viridian Green. Straightaway add various reds to make the colour darker - with the darkest mixture to the right.

The bottom line is where you start off with Winsor Green, thought to be even more intense than Viridian. Straightaway add various reds to make the colour darker - with the darkest mixture to the right.

Chart 2 - Mixing greens

Dramatic landscapes - 1

This is a picture painted by Jeanne Dobie and featured in her book "Making Color Sing" by Jeanne Dobie, AWS.

It just shows what can be done! Reproductions in books are typically made using 3 primary colours and black, and as we've seen - this isn't ideal for showing the exact shade of a colour.

Dramatic landscape - 1

Dramatic landscapes - 2

This is a picture painted by Jeanne Dobie and featured in her book "Making Color Sing" by Jeanne Dobie, AWS.

To me the colours are remarkable, and apparently start to do justice to this part of Ireland. (The painting is called 'Erin Drumhills'.

The picture also illustrates another theme in her book - that of surrounding one colour by a grey where the opposites of the original colour predominate, and that colour becomes more intense / 'jewel like' because of that. Thus here, the pink, (with some brown), colour of the cottage is surrounded by the green grey of the landscape, and stands out.

Dramatic landscape - Erin Drumhills

Runbacks....

One of the most annoying things about watching a wash dry is to see areas of paint where there is a jagged edge to the paint as it dries.

These so-called runbacks, or 'cauliflowers' are the result of adding a liquid to a drying wash that is more watery than the original wash. That liquid can be ordinary water, or a more diluted wash. The solution is to only add more concentrated paint, or to try and not be too watery when you work. Or of course to not add any paint when your wash is drying. Or to not touch two areas of watery and drying paint together. In the example, there is an area of the sail, and of the sea, where the washes have started to run into each other. Since the sea was more watery than the sail, (that figures!), there has been the runback that is seen on the sail, and in the colour of the sail.

A runback in a dried watercolour paint wash

Granulation ... This occcurs when the pigment used consists of very small granules/particles, and in the process of drying, these particules tend to collect in any depressions in the paper. Often watercolour paper is designed to have these small hollows. Some pigments are known to do this, especially raw/burnt umber, raw/burnt sienna, and French ultramarine.

In the painting shown, certain grey colours made up of such pigments show the effect well.

A mountain scene illustrating granulation