I have a confession to make, in my spare time I like to study drawing and painting. Please don’t tell my high school teachers this as I’m sure that hearing that would give them a heart attack.
My intention with this post is to share my study habits so that you might see something new or have a fresh idea, and thus become inspired to to find a new ways to fine tune your own craft. I think that it is super important to continually grow and stretch our boundaries, especially for illustrators.
Summary: Mixing colors, and figuring out how to utilize those mixes in a painting can be a daunting task to start with. I for one, have ruined more than one good drawing with the hap-hazard application of paint. Achieving a fuller understanding of how the colors work together on the is a nice place to start.
One of the things that I’ve accumulated over the years are a bunch of instructional “how to” books. As with all things, some of these have been immensely useful,while others… not so much. One of the books that I’ve found a lot of value in has been the “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Watercolor” edited by Marian Appellof, which is where I am drawing this exercise from. The original source for this exercise is David Millard’s chapter “Getting to Know Your Colors: Mixing “Chickens.”
Getting To Know Your Friends
In watercolor learning the qualities of each of the colors can eventually become like second nature to you. With the application of some conscientious practice, you will begin to ‘instinctively’ know which paint to go for, and why. You’ll learn whether it’s a granular color, if it stains or not, and when you’re mixing colors on the fly, you’ll want to know how aggressive the color is when mixing with other colors. As you become more familiar with each color, your choices become more natural and deliberate.
Essentially this exercise is about systematically mixing a series of colors in pairs so that you will experience each paint and the qualities thereof.
Choose a Pallet
The first thing we’ll need are some colors to mix with. For my example, I intentionally used this small and simple pallet of colors:
- Cadmium Red
- Permanent Rose
- Cadmium Yellow
- Turner Yellow
- French Ultramarine Blue
- Cerulean Blue
- Cobalt Blue
- Yellow Ochre
- Raw Sienna
- Burnt Sienna
- Burnt Umber
You can see right away that these are mostly pairs of cools and warms of the primary colors, with some earth tones thrown in the mix.
The earth-tones are there to begin to explore creating gray’s. I’ll be building on this information in a later post, suffice it to say that one cannot overstate the importance of a good gray in a painting; Renoir anyone?
So, let’s start with an end product, this next image is a page of my Warms and Cools all mixed together. I wanted to remember to match each color with every other color. Let’s see… did I miss any?
But this experiment is about the experience, right?! So let’s take a closer look with some step by step images to see the basic process of how these mixtures were made.
One important thing to note during this process is that it is important to use two separate containers for your water; a dirty water and a clean water. Part of the purpose of this exercise is to create clear colors, and to do this it is best to clean the brushes in the dirty water, and then use the clean water to mix the colors with. It just wouldn’t do to try to mix clear colors with dirty water.
Step One: make a puddle of pure color.
Notice the tail of color coming down from the puddle, we’re going to use these to mix the colors.
Step Two: make a puddle of a different color right next to the first one.
Notice how juicy the puddles of color are. We really want to set up a rich mixture by charging each of the colors with a lot of pigment. So become aware of the balance between the amount of water to the amount of pigment.
Step Three: Mix
I just take a swipe of color across the two tails and mix them together in a new third puddle of color. This has to be one of my favorite purples out there. The two cool colors of Cobalt and Permanent Rose really play well together. Not surprisingly they make a very cool purple.
One of the tricks that I’ve picked up over the years is how to create a wash that has clean sharp edges on it’s outside and a smooth color on the inside. For a long time I tried to do long continuous washes starting at the top of a shape and then pulling the wash down; which can work if it’s small (kinda like these washes are) but becomes really difficult if the shape is complex and/or large. Somewhere along the way I read about drawing the border of the wash first then filling it in with color, and that creates a nice crisp shape with a consistent color inside it.
This mixture was between the cool green-blue of Cerulean and the warm yellow of Raw Sienna, which come together to create a neutral earthy green.
Here we go again, but this time I have no idea what’s going to happen. I originally threw the Cerulean Blue onto the pallet because its a color that I like by its self, but I didn’t have a clear sense of how it plays with the others.
It’s a match up between the cool green-blue and the warm earthy red of Burnt Sienna. Oh god… what’s going to happen?!
Blammo!… it’s a muddy, messy, grayish, color…(yea?)… and where on earth would you ever find that color? Trees, rocks, dirt.. who paints that stuff anyway?
There you have it, with a simple set of steps repeated over and over again, you can achieve a myriad of different outcomes. I hope that you will challenge yourself by doing this, and as you go along see if you can start to guess what the mixtures are going to do and how they’ll be. I certainly was surprised more than once. One last tip that I’ll leave you with (and I may live to regret this,) is that I do talk to myself out loud when I am doing these exercises. The verbalization helps to emphasis the experience for me.
As ever, thank you for reading. I respond well to enthusiasm, so feel free to leave a comment here, drop me a line, or follow me on the Insta-tweet-a-books.
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