Toning Down Too-Bright Colors

Q. I’m having trouble toning down colors that are too bright. If I add white, the color becomes opaque. If I add black, it gets too dark and looks horrible. What do you suggest?

A. When a color is too bright, you want to “gray it down.” This means neutralizing the color by adding its complementary color to any degree that you want—either on the warm side or the cool side—which means the color you make may not necessarily be gray. For instance, in the chart at the right, I mixed French ultramarine blue with burnt sienna to gray it down. The resulting color is pictured directly next to it.

I also grayed down the burnt sienna by adding a little French ultramarine blue. You can keep mixing until you get the color you want. The violet was grayed down with aureolin and under that, the aureolin was grayed down with violet.

In the second color mix from the bottom, alizarin crimson was grayed down with sap green. And under that, sap green was grayed down with alizarin. This basically shows you how neutralizing the complement will make your value neither too red nor too green—unless you want it to be. Your color possibilities are virtually endless!

Catherine Anderson is a Signature Member of the American Watercolor Society and the author of Basic Watercolor Answer Book. Her DVD, Creating Multiple Glazes in Your Watercolors, is available now on her web site www.catherineanderson.net.

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