High Chroma

I am frequently a painter of subtlety: of small things that might be overlooked, of browns and blues and layers of green. Not today. Drawn in by the vivid, bold color of these poppies at the Berkshire Botanical Garden, I pulled out a whole new palette from a set of six high chroma colors from QoR to paint them. I have never used any of these colors before and it felt a little like driving a car for the first time– a little nerve wracking and reckless, but also liberating and fun.

Like the poppies, the set of six colors are pure, intense, and saturated. What’s nice is that the colors in the set were chosen to work well together and to produce a full range of colors. I found the only thing missing for this painting was a way to get a good deep green. I added some sap green, but ended up with stems and leaves that are inconsistent and murky. In retrospect, phthalo green might have been a better choice. Here’s the color test I did after the poppies (I know, testing before would make more sense.)

Tips and Techniques– The quality of a color is described by words like hue, value and chroma. Hue is the color itself, as represented on the spectrum of all colors. Value is the relative lightness or darkness of the color, and chroma refers to the quality of the color’s purity, intensity, or saturation. They all make a difference, but what’s really important is to get to know the colors you have in your palette. If you haven’t already, do some color tests of different combinations of primary and secondary colors to see what combinations mix best. If your paintings tend to look flat, it’s likely you need to expand your value range by leaving more lights and pushing the darks.

Color Tests

How well do you know your watercolors? The response to that question at a recent workshop for sketchers led me to work with participants on a number of color tests. These experiments are really useful for seeing the full range of values that a single color offers. They also help you figure out simple color combinations (two or three colors) that work well together. Instead of doing a color chart with carefully controlled squares, I like to test colors more fluidly, doing graded one-color and two color washes. You can do this right in your sketchbook so that you have the reference with you, or use separate sheets of watercolor paper. Here are a couple pages to give you a sense of the great range of possibilities from just a few colors.


Sample 1; click to view larger

Sample 1:
Test (Top left):
raw sienna test with alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, and cobalt blue
Result: I rarely use raw sienna
Test (Bottom left): burnt sienna with phthalo blue and ultramarine blue
Result: great range of possibilities with ultramarine; I use this combination frequently
Test (Top Right): Burnt umber with ultramarine
Result: another winning combination
Test (Middle Right): Alizarin crimson, ultramarine blue, yellow ochre
Result: I love the blue leaning combinations, especially for shadows

ColorTest 2

Sample 2; click to view larger

Sample 2:
Test: I just bought two new blues—Indathrone and Indigo (Daniel Smith)—and wanted to try them with colors that I use frequently.
Result (Indigo, left): I was looking for ways to get some rich darks and this seems to do the trick. I suspect I’ll use it sparingly, but it’s nice.
Result (Indathrone, right): I especially like some of the greens and grays—a keeper!