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)


Ryan Fox


(919) 645-8345








Watercolor batik painting- wax resist on rice paper

True story:

Today, I tell my wife that I am “Going to use thick juicy washes in a painting, and then going to play with hot wax (in another painting)”.

And she tells me I am a pervert! 🙂

Not fair.

The August ’11 issue of Watercolor Artist  featured an article by artist Kathie George about watercolor painting on rice paper using wax resist.  Basically, you melt paraffin wax (commonly known as gulf wax)  and apply it to the areas you want to save as white (like masking fluid) on the canvas- the rice paper.  You continue to building layer upon layer and gradually add paint to the areas you have not added wax.  When you are finished with the darkest darks, you crumble the paper creating cracks in the wax, apply another layer of paint, and re-wax.  When you remove the wax, you are left with an image that has a weathered and distinct look.  I love the technique, and hey, I get to play with hot wax!   My table hates it.  It is a mess.

Here were the first two attempts at this watercolor technique:

(Watercolor batik of Banteay Srei- Angkor Wat ruins near Siem Reap, Cambodia)

(Watercolor batik of Angkor Wat sunrise- UNESCO World Heritage park)

I applied too much color to the top of the fully-waxed painting for the Angkor Sunrise photograph, but was rather happy with the gradations of the sky (rice paper has no sizing so it has been difficult to control smooth blending of the sunrise).

For the life of me, I cannot create a painting without hi-contrast.  Really, I am trying….

The original images are for sale (please send an email through my website) or as fine art proofs (also through website).



R. Fox Photography

(919) 645-8345

How do you get wax off of your table?


Watercolor paintings of Angkor using the mouth atomizer

During the wedding off-season I have been painting as much as time permits.  Of course, with two children (one 4, one almost 4 months), this is easier said than done.
I am currently working on a series of watercolors based on the Khmer ruins at Angkor Wat.  I have visited Cambodia several times to photograph the UNESCO archaeological ruins of Angkor Thom.  The best known local within the city of Angkor Thom is the ruined temple of Angkor Wat.
Recently, I saw a youtube video of Mark Mehaffey using a mouth atomizer.  Basically, it’s a poor man’s airbrush.  Instead of using compressed air to blow the paint onto the canvas, you use your breath.
I composed 95% of this painting using the mouth atomizer and contact paper to build the values and colors.

(Watercolor of sunrise over Khmer ruins of Angkor Wat- Cambodia)

The remaining 5%   image was painted with a brush.

While I had difficulty controlling the spray (especially in the smooth gradations in the sky), I was encouraged by the results and will continue to use the mouth atomizer, a $6-7 dollar product, in future paintings.

Using the mouth atomizer was considerably different from my normal watercolor paintings.  Instead of painting light-to dark, I went dark-to-light.  The contact paper preserves your whites while you spray the dark colors.  Beware of cutting into the paper though as you remove the contact/frisket film

I photographed three recent paintings too:

(Watercolor painting of Eastern Gate to Angkor Thom)






R. Fox Photography

(919) 645-8345


Raleigh watercolor painter- Ryan Fox

Recently scanned four of my newest paintings.  My time has been limited since my wife went back to work and left me in charge of our 6 week and 4 year old.  Though I want to paint every day, I am often too tired at 9pm to consider doing so.

The watercolors below are 3 watercolor paintings of the Khmer ruins at Angkor Wat archaeological park, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  I have visited Angkor twice and would return again in an instance.

All originals are for sale and as fine art prints through Fine Art America


(Smiling face statues at the Bayon temple)

(Sycamore tree overgrowing ruins of monastic temple of Ta Prohm)

(Vignetted sunset shot of Stonehenge.  Painted fast and loose)

I have painted more watercolors in a variety of styles, but these were my most successful.  Recently I have been inspired by the watercolors of Jean Grastorf, Cheng-Khee Chee, & Judi Morris.

Two kids, a photography business, and painting.  No wonder I have not worked out in several weeks.  Whew.


R. Fox Photography

(919) 645-8345

Bolivia stock and travel photography- R. Fox Photo

As I near the end of scanning my 35mm chromes (slides) from my travel photography days (currently on hiatus thanks to the birth of my 2nd son), I recently added a gallery for the South American country of Bolivia.  Below are a few photographs from the city of La Paz where we visited my brother-in-laws family.

Bolivia is beautiful, but chilly the wintertime (our summer season).  When that sun dropped out of the sky, it went from a comfortable 65 degrees to COLD.  Quickly.

You also couldn’t fake the altitude.  La Paz is one of the highest altitude cities in the world.  For the first few days you feel like a fish out of the water- constantly trying to catch your breath.

It does not help that you land at the airport, which is at 13k feet, and then descend into the city.

Of course, cold and altitude aside, when you see sunrises like this I could care less how cold, hungry, or craving coffee I was.  The photographs were worth the effort.


Lastly,  I have been currently working on  watercolor paintings based on these travel photographs.  This image of the Cementario de Trenos (Cemetery of Trains) in the Salar de Uyuni is a composite of three photographs.  The colors have been dramatically changed.  I was rather proud of the rusty look in the train on the left.  Not too bad for a two hour watercolor (drawing time not included).

Further examples of my paintings are available online at this link.

The travel photographs are available in a variety of options, including cards, proofs, and canvas prints.  Check my Fine Art America Site for further details

Hope everyone is keeping busy and enjoying the weather.



R. Fox Photography

(919) 645-8345