Watercolor Technique and Experimentation – Part 1

Lately, I have been working on using only the primary colors when I paint. This means that I am attempting to use only red, blue, and yellow. From these, it really becomes unnecessary to have any other colors in your pan, though it sure is nice to have a variety of hues. Complementary colors mix to create grey tones, which is why shadowing with complementary colors is preferable to shadowing with grey or black. In case you don’t remember, complementary colors are the ones directly opposite one another on the color wheel, and, when used together but not blended, create nice contrast and balance. Leaning slightly more heavily on one of the primary colors changes the warmth of the grey. Oh, and of course, you mix the primaries to get the secondaries. I knew all of that in theory, and hoped that I could do it easily. So I needed to challenge myself in a different way.

For the past week or two, I have only been painting in these primary colors.  I’m only allowing myself to use colors I mix from the primaries. Unexpectedly, purple has been invaluable, as I am working with quite dark colors most of the time. Adding purple tones down the brightness significantly and, because it is a secondary color, it will serve to negate any yellow in the mixture, as yellow is the complementary color and the only one not added to make purple. Yellow is the primary color I use least, as I mix quite dark browns, and when mixing light browns, water is better than adding more pigment to my mixture. For those of you who are unfamiliar with painting in watercolor, it might not be obvious but water is used in place of white. Some watercolor pans come with a white paint, and it can be used when you don’t have a white paint or gel pen, but it is unnecessary. The same goes for black, though I do like to use black to create natural tones. Using less water to your watercolor serves a similar purpose to adding black to acrylic or oil paints. Mixing the grey tones mentioned above also achieves the same effect.

Bird of Prey Painted in Watercolor
A watercolor kestrel gazes into the distance.

The kestrel pictured above (available on our Zazzle store) utilizes this technique. The blue grey color at the top of his head fades to a paler shade as it approaches the red-brown chest feathers. This is achieved by using more diluted paint further down, and applying new paint to the wet area only at the top of his head. That way, the paint will filter down into the body slowly and leave the most concentrated (and the darkest) area at the point of application. I have also just referenced the wet-on-wet method, which is exactly what it sounds like. To an already wet portion of paper, you can apply watercolor paint and create really beautiful effects. The opposite is dry-on-dry, nice for creating scratchy lines, and perfect for painting wood designs. In the middle,perhaps the most common method, is wet-on-dry which, again, is exactly what it sounds like. Wet paint on dry paper. The color doesn’t run very much and won’t blend, so it is good for laying down flat areas of color and precise details which can’t run or flow anywhere.

For more watercolor designs like the kestrel, check out our Redbubble store. Check back in next week for a continued discussion of watercolor technique and process, including the age-old question: Why isn’t the salt thing working? Until then, thank you for reading and goodbye!


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