Oct 6, 2016

Fighting the Horrifyingly Crazy Battle of Colour Mixing - Painting & Drawing Tips


Is colour mixing a challenge?  Do you feel sometimes you are loosing the battle?  You start your project, everything is wonderful and then suddenly . . . .

Things are not working out.  Your colours are not doing what you want. Or you need to add a colour but nothing looks right. 

SITTING PRETTY - 5 x 7 Watercolour and Ink  - $130 Matted
I feel your pain. My background is black and white.  I love to work with black ink and graphite pencils.  The sculpturing of values in grey scales.    That really excites me.  The textures of graphite on paper, the sharp edge of an inked line.  They suck me in and devour me. 

But I want to work with colour too.

So my studio is often a battle ground; my black and white world fighting it out with colour.  Sometimes it can get pretty ugly.  My inks are permanent.  They don't give up easy. 
In the midst of battle a few secrets have merged. 
(Before I continue, I must point out that I work in watercolour.  Most colour mixing information is based on oils and acrylics.  Sometimes things apply but sometimes they don't.  Watercolour has its own magic that oil and acrylics just can't duplicate.  That's why I like it. )

So back to the colour mixing battle.

You have a better chance of winning if you have a bit of ammunition.  My first step is to limit my palette.  Yes I still keep warm and cold yellow, red and blues. There really is no set ones, most artists have their own combination.  This is based on their subject material and their own research.  These are colours they have worked with for a long time and know what they can do.  Putting together a palette and then painting with it for awhile is one of the best pieces of ammunition you will have.

I do have a regular palette too that I like for painting my wildlife on our west coast.  But I wanted something different for my picture "Sitting Pretty".  The grey I usually use is Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna but it seems a little cold to me and I wanted something warmer.  And I wanted to try a few things I have been reading about. 

The palette for this picture was: Phaylo Blue (Green Shade), Burnt Sienna, Cad. Red, Cad Orange, Cad Yellow, Green Gold (Daniel Smith).  I hardly ever work with the Cadmium colours and I find Phaylo Blue gets way too dark for me.  So this was really a new palette for me.

My first job was to make sure I had complement colours so I did some mixing to find the greys. 
The winning grey was . . . Phaylo Blue with Burnt Sienna.  Yes, it had a bit of a green tone but some areas I could make more bluey (not sure if that is a word).  It just spoke to me. 

I was happy, the Stars were aligned, things were good.  I merrily sculptured Alvin, my cat.  However, once he was done, he did have a bit too much of that greenish thing.   Suddenly I was in trouble.  This is one of the battle points, right.  Suddenly colour doesn't work. 

Don't panic. Don't give up.  Take a deep breath, and evaluate. ( I really think this is the most important step.  Frustration and disappointment takes over and a clear head does not prevail.)
Spot on the right has no red glazing on it and the one of the left I glazed only half of it so you could see the difference it made.  More coats would of course changed it even more.  

First, what do you like?  I liked my cat, he had lovely shape and volume.  He had mass and really seemed fluffy.  Second, what do you not like?  (The order of these questions is very important.  Too often that critical side of your brain dominates your thoughts and you forget about the good things.) What I didn't like was the strong green tone of my grey.  So grey it down.  Get the complement.  (I know you read this all the time but do you remember in the heat of battle.) I took a very thin wash of the Cad Red and washed over all of my cat and extended into the white. I let it dry.  Oooooh . . . . .
I kind of liked that.  How about another layer.  Again, very thin, almost just dirty water.  Very wet so the colour wouldn't lift and run.  I let it dry.  That's it.

You know where I was now.  In Fiddleland.  Ready to fiddle a bit with Alvin.  The answer: Slap your hand and drop your brush.  Get out of Fiddleland.

When I was safely away from my cat, I picked up my brush and painted the rest of "Sitting Pretty".  I loved some of the colours I mixed with this palette and they really went well with 'my new grey'.  Filling in my patterning shapes really gave me a chance to 'test out' lots of combinations.  And once I was done I realized that my Alvin looked great just as he was.  "Sitting Pretty" was done. 

Each battle will churn up the paints and you will learn more about colour.  Don't hesitate to 'dig in' and go for it.  I find having a few books on hand helps me keep a cool head and provide ammunition.  Two that I find helpful are:
Stephen Quiller's book "Color Choices, Making Color Sense out of Color Theory"
Jeanne Dobie, "Making Color Sing, Practical Lessons in Color and Design"

How are your battles going?  What kind of palette do you favour?  Do you have any books/pointers to help you out?  I would love to hear about them.  I know you are thinking 'just take a colour course'. And I highly recommend that but even then, when you are hard at work in your studio, little skirmishes can erupt. You won't remember everything from the course and you need something now. 

Fall is coming fast but there is still time to paint and draw outside.  Check out my series of  Drawing Tips for Summer Fun.  It is a four part series starting here.  Great ideas for quick sketches in your journal or plein air pieces.  Best of all when the cold wind blows you can take these ideas inside and keep on going.

Looking for a starting point in your drawing?  I will be happy to get you up and running.  Call  now and set up a few lessons to get you on the road with your art.
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Brenda Hill CDM said...

the cat just pops right out with the coloured background

Wendy Mould AFCA said...

I know hey, I was really pleased with my adventures into new colours. It really is something I would not normally have done. Glad you enjoyed him.