Posts Tagged ‘Color mixing’

Mixing it up

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

I’m sure you know how easy it is to fall into a rut.  That can happen with painting, too.  So sometimes it’s a good idea to mix things up.  It even happens in how we mix colors.  If we always mix them the same way, we may be missing out on special effects we could get by trying alternative methods.

It’s easiest to judge the outcome of a blend by mixing it on the palette and adjusting it there as needed.  Is the new color warm enough, cool enough, dark enough, or the optimal chroma?  But palette-mixed colors often appear over-blended or muddy, and they may look flat when applied to the painting.

Shell---1---palette-blend-f Flat, premixed color – In this example, I used a palette mixture of burnt umber and indigo to block in the shadow shape on the shell.  The resulting color is a flat, intentional but uninteresting gray, which will be used only as an underlayment for subsequent washes.

One way to overcome that flatness is to mix colors directly on the paper, wet into wet.  Of course, watercolor runs more freely than oils can, so the outcome in watercolor is less predictable.  Watercolor pigments respond to one another in a variety of ways:  some seem drawn to each other, blending readily and somewhat evenly; others blend only partially or unevenly; others may shoot off wildly in all directions when they contact one another while maintaining their individuality within the “mixed” area.  The proportion of water to its pigment load also affects how the colors may flow—running, swirling, or shooting.  And the type of pigment itself will contribute to how it behaves–settling smoothly like a stain, for instance, or granulating and clustering in clumps.

Shell-2---underwash-mix-on- Blending on paper – Here I used a mixture of burnt sienna and brown madder to apply a light overlay color over the entire shell, reserving only the highlights.  The portion of the wash that extends over the shaded area would be considered a glaze, but we’ll talk about that later.  The two colors in the new layer are both comparatively weak, so most of the transitions between the them are not very apparent.  I have also applied darker color spots (also blended wet into wet) for the shell’s major markings).  Additional examples of blending directly on the paper will follow.

(Painting oil colors wet into wet tends to produce a different effect.  Oil colors may be blended as thoroughly on the canvas as on a palette; or the individual colors may remain separate but often remain in place, as laid down by the brush, in such close proximity to another color that they appear to blend. This is termed “broken color” or “optical color mixing.”  This is a useful technique to maintain an effect of bright light or color, particularly when using complementary colors, which would turn gray if physically blended.)

In watercolor, optical mixing can be achieved by allowing an initial wash of color to dry and then applying another color over it, using a dry-brush technique.  Dry brush applies broken color over underlying layers, allowing the color(s) of the underneath layers to show through.  This technique tends to be most effective when opaque or semi-opaque pigments are used in the top, dry-brushed layer; if transparent color is used, it acts as a “glaze” of broken color over the underlying layers. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Shell---3---dry-brush-plus Optical watercolor mixing – In order to create more variation of color, I used dry-brush applications of both the original shadow blend and of transparent brown madder to suggest subtle striations in the shell’s surface. Revisiting previous techniques, I also applied the golden internal color (new gamboge and burnt sienna) in the shell’s fold, using the wet-into-wet technique.

Glazing is another valid method of color mixing.  For this technique, the underlying layer of color is allowed to completely dry before a wash of a second color is applied over it.  The upper layer of a glaze must be transparent to allow the underlying color to show through to create the blended color effect.  The effect is similar to layering several variously colored sheets of glass over white paper.  An opaque or semi-opaque glaze may be used to camouflage a previous application, though few watercolor pigments are completely opaque, and the opacity interferes with the luminosity for which watercolor is valued, often creating a muddy appearance. So opaque glazes should be used with discretion.

Shell---4---glazing-and-lifGlazing – I deepened portions of the shadow area with a variation of my original shadow mixture.  I also added a glaze of brown madder to the left side of the shell, intentionally lifting out some of the underlying shadow color in the process, to enhance the sense of the shell’s form. The irregular right-hand edge of that glaze is harder than I had intended and could have been softened by stroking a clean, damp brush from the dry area into the fresh glaze while the paint was still wet. Once again using the wet-into-wet blending technique, I also added the background of indigo, burnt umber, and brown madder. Notice the granulations and clustering of the background pigments around the two most prominent horns of the shell.

Shell---5---revised-backgro Revisions – The warm upper portion and the cooler lower portion of the composition refuted any sense of atmospheric perspective, so I reglazed the background with another wet-into-wet application, cooling and desaturating the upper portion with a wash of indigo, and warming the lower section with multiple glazes of brown madder and new gamboge. 

It’s important to note that when glazing, the underlying color must be completely dry.  Otherwise, the subsequent wash may lift some of the underlying pigment that has not yet entirely settled.  This displaced pigment will have a tendency to flow outward and will settle unpredictably as the new layer dries, creating an irregular ring (sometimes called a blossom or cauliflower) within the rewetted area, or it may create a hard edge at its perimeter, where the pigment is forced to stop its outward flow.  It may not be noticeable until the paint is dry, and although it can sometimes be softened or worked into the motif to appear intentional, as a cloud or shrub, for instance, it is very difficult to completely eradicate once it has formed.

Cauliflower – In this painting, because I applied multiple glazes to the background in too rapid succession, you can observe in the final, revised image that a hard edge was formed between the background and the lower edges of the shell.

As you can see, each of these mixing techniques produces its own results, which may be used separately or in combination with alternative techniques.  When we fall into a rut of using only one or two mixing methods, we limit ourselves unnecessarily.  Don’t be afraid to mix it up!