Tips and advice on mixing watercolor

Watercolor painting has always fascinated me. The luminosity cannot be replicated with oil or acrylic.

However, watercolor does have a bad rap because people associate it with old ladies painting flowers.

No offense, there is nothing wrong with flower paintings, but I quickly discovered that there are a lot of amazing artists creating wonderful and vibrant watercolors of cityscapes, abstracts, and portraits (and flowers too).  When I was in college, I took a watercolor class with Roland Roycraft– the first person I saw paint watercolors by masking the white of the paper & pouring paint on the surface. The effect was unlike anything I had ever seen. Of course, I was the youngest person in the workshop by, oh, easily, 30 or 40 years. But I learned a lot because Roland, and the attendees in the workshop, had decades of painting experience.

Since returning to painting, I have read a ton of books, tried a variety of styles, and spent a lot of time on the internet soaking up the knowledge. I love the online vibrant artist communities such as facebook and Fine Art America, but there have been a few things I have not been able to find easily on the internet, or in books (what are those?). Mainly, how to make the paint look luminous and, well, like watercolor.

The subject that has perplexed me has been color mixing. Sure, yellow and blue make green. But yellow mixed INTO blue, wet-into-wet, creates a green that is vibrant and sparkles. Painting yellow on top of a dried blue layer creates another color. Mixing yellow and blue on the palette creates a different looking color. Using the same two colors, even in the same proportions, creates different mixes depending on the application.

Last week I took it upon myself to investigate watercolor color mixing. Actually, I wanted to copy colors in paintings I have seen by Michael Reardon, Paul Jackson, and Alvaro Castagnet, and Iain Stewart. These guys are a few of the demi-gods of watercolor painting.  Their styles are different.  Some paint by carefully layering color over colors.  Some paint wet-into-wet.  No matter their technique, the quality of their paintings humbles me.

My experiments yielded some interesting results:

(Ultramarine Blue painted & Windsor Red dropped wet-into-wet)

The small swatches on the left are Windsor Red with layer of Ultramarine painted on top (TOP) and Ultra. Blue with Windsor Red layered on top (BOTTOM)

The large swatch shows Ultramarine Blue dropped wet-into-wet on top of Windsor Red.

The small strip to the right is Ultra. Blue and WR pre-mixed on the palette.  Notice how muddy this color appears, while the wet-into-wet swatches appear completely different.

Moving on, I have more examples:

(Indian Red  with Cobalt Blue dropped wet-into-wet)

The top-right swatch is Cobalt Blue with Indian Red dropped wet-into-wet.  The small strip underneath is Cobalt and Indian Red pre-mixed on palette.  The two small squares on the far left are Indian Red with Cobalt layered (TOP) and Cobalt with a layer of Indian Red layered (BOTTOM).

Again, completely different looks from two colors.  Oh, now I know how I am going to paint sunlit clouds against a blue sky for my next painting….. 🙂

Windsor Red with Cobalt Blue dropped wet-into-wet.  The small stripe on the left shows the colors mixed on palette.

Large swatch shows Cobalt Blue with Windsor Red charged into the mix (wet on wet).

Confused?  That is what I love about watercolor.

I realize I will never complete a painting without a few “happy” accidents, but small color studies like these will improve my choice, and the order, of painted colors.

Hope your brushes are busy.

(Watercolor painting of downtown Seattle- further examples on my website)

Sincerely,

Ryan Fox

ryan@rfoxphoto.com

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1 Responses to Tips and advice on mixing watercolor

  1. Lin says:

    Ryan! This is magical and so important information!!!! Thank you for this … While I’ve been painting a mere 6 1/2 years, watercolor, as you said, is a HUGE thing to learn let alone master. You’ve made some brilliant observations — thank you for sharing them!

    Lin