Adventures in Color Mixing

I?m always open to experimenting and playing with colors, but simply mixing little dabs of color doesn?t excite me. So I devised a way to practice color mixing and still create a design.

To try this, take two sheets of 22×30 watercolor paper, a pencil, a yardstick, a right angle, and three tubes of paint—red, yellow and blue (I call this a color triad). To heighten the adventure, try a color combination you?ve never used before. The colors I?ve chosen here are yellow ochre, Indian red and cerulean blue.

Using the right angle, draw a 16×16 square on each piece of paper and divide it into 1-inch squares. Then divide the 1-inch squares into four 1/2-inch sections. But you?re not limited to squares. In these two examples I introduced a round element with a quarter as my template. (For a little variation, you can even work a larger area, such as on full sheets of watercolor paper.)

I worked all the way around the perimeter with one color that was light in value. To keep from getting mixed up, I work a 1-inch row on all four sides before starting the next row. I start light in value and build up intense colors and values, mixing some colors on the palette and others by building up layers of color. You learn to mix both ways. Both designs are created with the same three colors, but I chose the one above to have a warm dominance and the one on the left to have a cool dominance.

There are many things you can learn by doing this exercise with various colors. What would happen if I used raw sienna instead of yellow ochre? Why is it difficult to get dark colors when using three sedimentary colors? Why do these paints seem chalky? But no matter which type of triad you use, I bet you?ll be surprised at the range and relationships of the colors.

Creating and designing with geometric shapes is fun and entertaining. Add the challenge of mixing new colors and it becomes a rewarding learning experience.

Loraine Crouch is assistant editor for The Artist’s Magazine.

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