Mixing Grays

Q: I use Payne’s gray for shadows and skies, but my paintings appear dull and lifeless. Any advice for me?

A: Toss out your Payne’s gray! It’s a boring, dull color guaranteed to take the life out of any painting. Most beginning watercolorists reach for this color for their shadows or cloudy skies, simply because they don’t know what colors to mix to get a dark color. I know, because I used to do the same thing. My paintings were often dark, depressing and extremely boring.

The beauty of watercolor is mixing your own colors. Nothing is more joyful (or helpful) for a watercolorist than learning colors and mixing them correctly. Mixing colors to create a beautiful gray or a dark color is very simple.

In Magnolia (A) I used Payne’s gray to form the shadows of this elegant flower. When I painted the shadows on I didn’t blend the area with water right away, so the edges of the shadows appear hard.

In Magnolia #2 (B), I mixed a purple with a transparent yellow to get the gray for the shadows. Because there’s a touch of yellow in the white flower, I chose yellow and its complement, purple, to create the shadows.

When you need a shadow, or a darker color, remember to use the complementary colors of the object to get the correct color. It’s that simple.

Scott Burdick lives in King, North Carolina. His artwork appears in many collections and can be viewed on his Web site—www.Scott Burdick.com.

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