Color Play

What better time than the dead of winter to play with color? I recently bought a new paint tin from Schmincke (I really just wanted the tin, but decided to get it full instead of empty) and I also received six tubes of QoR watercolors from Golden to try. But before adding any new colors to my palette, I took time this week to test them. What follows is not a brand review, as much as a glimpse into the practice of being a painter.

I set about playing with various triads of primary colors with the goal of figuring out which ones looked promising for future paintings. This may sound simple, but given the huge range of colors that you can make from various reds, yellow, and blues, it quickly becomes a complex proposition. I tend to use a limited palette to create color harmonies, so it’s critical for me to have a sense of which combinations work best. After creating a huge mess of test sheets, I recorded the winning triads in my journal.

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I also needed a refresher on greens, so I created a green page, along with experiments using raw umber (a color I need to get to know better) with cobalt and ultramarine blue (nice blue-grays there, eh?).

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Finally, inspired by Mimi Robinson’s book Local Color, I decided to create a color palette to capture the landscape colors outside my window this morning. After the week’s riot of color mixing, I was quickly back to subdued hues—but at least I felt confident finding them in my paint box.

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Tips and Techniques– The important takeaway here is not to run out and buy a bunch of new paints or even to copy down the combinations I found most promising. Rather, it is to get to know the paints in your own palette. Taking the time to mix colors and figure out which combinations work best will pay huge dividends when you launch into a painting. You’ll gain confidence with color mixing, figure out your favorites, and take out little used paints that clutter your box or result in murky mixes. Start with red, yellow and blue mixes. But also try combinations of blues and browns, which will give you lots of lively and interesting grays.

24 Comments on “Color Play

  1. I have a tattered and grubby “Test Book” – I recently used up the last page trying out the fancy pencils I got for Christmas this year, and I am at a bit of a loss. I need to bind up a new one, and keep them close because I refer to them constantly. From graphite to ballpoint pen, coffee and tea stains and all watercolours, so much work(fun) goes into testing and recording – I Love my Test Book(s)!!

    • I like the idea of a separate “test book”– that would keep me from guessing which journals include color references. My aim is commit color mixes to memory, but the reference is helpful until that happens.

  2. Very informative – and true. Knowing your media – paint, paper – and vehicle (brushes, water) – all work together like a team.

  3. I love your colour charts Jean – they are beautiful and inspirational. Like Sheryl above I have a sketchbook just for creating watercolour charts, I find it a very useful reference guide plus it’s such a fun, relaxing thing to do….

  4. I learn SO MUCH from reading your blog, and I just wanted to say thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience. I’m sort of teaching myself to draw and paint and resources like this are an invaluable help. Thanks again!!!!

  5. I am a fan of all things blue and yellow myself. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with with all those colours.

  6. Hi Jean,
    I really like the way you do color swatches. I’m going to try it. One question, is the sap green you are using in the example Schmincke or another brand? It seems to mix very well compared to some I’ve tried.

    • Hi Dory-The sap green is Windsor & Newton. Funny you should ask because I just ordered Danial Smith sap green to compare, and plan to do that tonight. I was surprised to find significant differences in the chemistry of how various sap greens are made. I’m also trying out phthalo green (blue shade). Mixing greens– seems like it shouldn’t be so hard!

      • Yes, I was surprised to see almost every one is different. I like M. Graham’s when I use it as a stand alone color, but, alas, I dislike M.Graham paint, it just gets everywhere, so I won’t be ordering it again.
        I have tried phthalo green after seeing Shari Blaukopf’s blog on mixing greens.(8/26/17) Love the colors she got but I find that phthalo green takes a lot of water to rinse my brush so not sure it’s practical for painting outdoors?
        Good luck with your your trials!

      • The DS sap green looks really nice. It’swarmer and more yellow than the W&N sap. I’m subbing it in— you might want to try it next time you buy some. The phthalo is highly staining. I can see it for some things, but it’s pretty intense…not sure it will become a go to green.

    • See below…but one more thing: you might test your paints on different kinds of paper, too. I recently did some swatches that I hated and realized that the paper was at fault.

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