Mixing Colors

Q. I’m having a terrible time learning how to mix the colors on my palette and I’m so frustrated. Is there anything you can suggest to help me learn to mix colors so I can get the variety of luminous colors I want without turning my palette into a mud puddle?

A. I’m asked this question a lot, and I see many watercolor paintings that look as if the artist avoids mixing colors.

The solution to your problem is simple, yet important: You need to make a color wheel. Start by making a simple color wheel with just the three primary colors—try rose madder, cadmium yellow light and cobalt blue.

Next, you’re going to make your complementary colors with these three primary colors. Complementary colors are exactly what they say: They complement one another. Mix rose madder with cobalt blue to get a violet; mix cadmium yellow light with cobalt blue to get green; mix cadmium yellow light with rose madder to get orange. Now you have a complete color wheel. Keep it by your side while painting until you really understand color.

The best lesson a teacher once gave me was to paint for awhile using only the three primary colors. If you try this, you’ll eventually learn how to get every color of the rainbow and more.

Keep in mind that the beauty of watercolors is mixing. There’s nothing more boring than to look at a painting and say, “I wish the artist would stop using that same color.” You want people to look at your paintings and say, “I wonder what color that is?”

Tera Leigh is a writer and artist living near San Francisco. She writes columns for several magazines, including Decorative Artist’s Workbook and Artist’s Sketchbook (from the editors of The Artist’s Magazine). Her Web site is www.teras-wish.com.

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