Selecting a palette of colors often means limiting the choices, making studies and experimenting along the way. One of the keys to being successful as a beginner watercolor artist is to choose a workable set of colors.
Delve into what your palette can be and then start experimenting. Success is a guarantee — because your success is about experimenting and having fun, artists!
And if you are ready for your next step in watercolor, Painting from Photographs in Watercolor with Jo Beth Gilliam is the video download for you. It equips you with how to use photographs as references to get a beautiful painting while avoiding all the problems artists often face when they use photos the wrong way. Enjoy!
With the wide range of watercolors available, there is no particular reason to limit a palette to only primary and secondary colors. In fact, taking advantage of all the variations can save time.
On the other hand, artists will sometimes limit the colors for a single painting or over time will discover preferences. And these color decisions help to determine an artist’s unique style or approach.
“Buying every tube of paint out there is unrealistic for a couple of reasons,” says Peggy Dressel, an artist and teacher in Oakland, New Jersey. “Palettes have just so many openings, and I want to limit my colors to one palette. Also, I don’t need to duplicate paints that have different names but are very close in color.”
Dressel suggests a two-pronged approach to choosing a palette of colors. First, she recommends her students consider what they want to paint.
“Although I want my colors to span the color wheel, if I’m painting flowers, I know there are pinks and purples in the translucent flower petals that I can’t mix with my basic palette. In this instance, I will add transparent pinks and purples to the palette,” she explains. “If I’m going to paint the landscape, I will consider adding more earth tones. I call these specialized palettes, because I’ve modified them based on subject matter.”
Her second recommendation is to choose a warm and cool version of each hue. By this, Dressel means she chooses two versions of a single hue that are tinged with colors framing it on the color wheel. For example, she chooses a warm orangish yellow and a cool greenish yellow or a reddish purple and a bluish purple. This allows her more ease in mixing without worrying about the muddying from color tinges.
As a final step, she includes earth colors, both transparent and opaque, and a few granulation colors. In some cases, certain color mixtures enhance the granulation, such as French ultramarine and burnt sienna, and she uses this to her advantage.
Dressel has selected several colors that form her standard palette. Each one makes a valuable contribution.
Reds, Oranges, and Yellows
Greens and Blues
More Color Options
Not every color will enter every painting Dressel undertakes. In beginner watercolor painting, that is something to be especially aware of — you don’t have to use all the colors on your palette. In fact, Dressel says she frequently limits her colors to create color harmony.
Before beginning a painting she tests her limited colors. “I choose a triad of primary colors — a specific red, yellow and blue — and then I mix them together and place them as though creating a color wheel,” explains Dressel.
She may choose this triad from the colors on her palette, or she may look to her subject for colors to use as a starting point. “I choose a triad of red, yellow, and blue that I see fits the subject, and I mix these colors around the wheel. This shows me the type of oranges, purples and greens available from that triad. I usually do more than one, always remembering to write down the specific colors in each triad,” she says.
Dressel adds, “Once I choose a particular primary triad, I can look and decide what colors I need to add to that particular palette. I may need a better orange, so I will add a pure orange rather than mix one. If I’m going to be painting a lot of very light areas, I will start with a light triad and supplement with a darker triad.”
“I suggest painting a picture with these colors,” recommends Dressel. “Then make a new triad by substituting the blue you have with another blue and repeat the process to see how the color mixtures differ. If you normally use French ultramarine and you think you’d like more transparency, try Winsor blue (red shade). It appears to be the same color, but you have to mix it with the other colors to see how the results differ.”
Finally, Dressel photocopies a 5- by 7-inch sketch, upon which she does both a value study in ivory black and color studies to work out the color composition. She then hangs the one that appeals to her most on the wall as a reference when working on the final painting.
“Doing the studies will save time in the long run,” she says. “If I spend 20 minutes prethinking my colors, it will possibly save me from having to redo the entire picture at a later point, and it will improve the result.”
Now that you have absorbed all of these beginner watercolor tips you can start working on your best painting yet!
Leave A Comment