Try these 10 watercolor tips when choosing and mixing colors and pigments for your palette:
- Choose colors you love. Some people add all sorts of pigments to their palettes because someone they admire loves them. If you don’t enjoy them yourself, they won’t get used.
- Choose colors that are useful alone and in mixes. For example, Magenta PR122 is a fabulous mixing color, but I don’t enjoy it alone because I feel it looks too unnatural. I prefer the look of Quinacridone Rose PV19 as a basic cool red that also mixes beautifully. I also tend to choose stronger pigments over weaker ones—for instance, Phthalo Green rather than Viridian—as you can water down stronger colors but you can’t strengthen weaker pigments.
- Choose colors for their hue and for their characteristics. For example, you might choose Phthalo Blue for a staining cool blue or Cerulean for a granulating and non-staining cool blue. One is great for skies, the other for glazing, though both will mix as cool blues. I use both, but if urban sketching I would choose the Cerulean Chromium.
- Be able to mix clean colors. Make sure you have the colors you need to mix clean colors. Reds, in particular, need to be carefully thought about here.
- Utilize Earth colors. Earth colors will combine with primary colors to speed up the mixing and painting process. I love earth colors and the extra characteristics they add to a painting.
- Choose lightfast pigments. Even if you’re working in a sketchbook, it’s worth using pigments that won’t fade. You never know if you may one day wish to take out a page and frame it. I have experienced the disappointment of seeing the pigments I used from my first student set fade from my paintings in my own lifetime. I consequently do my own lightfast tests and don’t use anything that can’t survive the harsh Australian sun.
- Mix with limited colors. Practice mixing any color you need with (preferably) only two pigments. And don’t forget about the rich range of colors you can get mixing opposites and near opposites. You should also explore how earth pigments mix with primary colors.
- Keep favorite mixes on hand. If there’s a color you mix a lot, consider creating a premix yourself or buying it in tube form. I love Undersea Green by Daniel Smith. It’s easy to premix myself, but it, along with Sap Green, are very attractive and useful convenience greens, so I buy them in tube form.
- Maintain color harmony. Experiment and explore the full range of mixing options within your palette colors but limit the pigments you use in any particular painting to maintain color harmony within your work.
- Optimize your palette. When setting up your palette, consider the order in which you place the colors and make sure you shake the tubes well before opening them. I also recommend stirring each color in its well to make it touch the edges so it locks in place as it dries.
Jane Blundell is an exhibiting watercolor artist living in Australia. She is a member of the Australian Watercolour Institute, teaches the medium and participates in several urban sketching groups. Her extensive research into the behaviors of the “king of artist materials” has lead to a lifelong interest in the medium. For more watercolor tips, visit her at www.janeblundellart.com.