Posts Tagged ‘cool’

Staying Out of the Mud

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

One of the banes of novice watercolorists is that old bugaboo “mud.” It took me a long time to realize what caused mud to develop both on my palette and in my paintings. Part of it, I knew, came from overworking the paint, combining too many colors to create the hue I wanted. Yet I wasn’t sure how many blended colors equaled too many.

I began working on the theory that cool-slanted colors shouldn’t be mixed with warm-slanted colors. But that theory didn’t prove true in every case. At last I realized that when opaque or semi-opaque pigments were mixed with transparent ones, the transparency was sacrificed, and the result became a muddied concoction.

The question then became, “How can I tell which pigments are transparent enough to work well with my palette, and which will I need to be careful using?” I eventually found the answer to that in the color charts most paint manufacturers provide. One of the paints that had been a staple for me from the beginning was yellow ochre, which I discovered was considered either opaque or semi-opaque (depending on the manufacturer). That pigment proved to have been the culprit in many of my muddy blends. Another popular color that caused problems for me was cerulean blue, which is often actually a mixture containing white, and is also semi-opaque.

I still use opaque colors, but with considerably more discretion than before.

There is definitely a place for opaque and semi-opaque pigments in watercolor work. And there simply seems to be little option for some hues. But I’ve learned that it’s usually more effective to use the opaque pigments in the base layer of a glazed painting or for detail on the top layer, rather than to blend on the palette with transparent paints for a widespread wash over the paper.

Unless you understand the components of the paint you use, it’s difficult to know what to expect of it. When a single-pigment paint is available for a certain hue, I try to use that rather than a blended version so it is easier to predict how it will react with other paints, how transparent it will be, and how stable the hue will remain over time.

Most paint manufacturers provide a chart that reveals most of this information for their own paints. To see comprehensive comparison charts, including transparency, opacity, and permanence of a wide range of colors and manufacturers, I’d recommend that you refer to Hilary Page’s book Guide to Watercolor Paints. Because the information changes continually, the author also provides free updated information online at www.Hilary

If you like this discussion of paints, you might also be interested in reading “A Palette to My Taste” (December 1, 2010) and “A Limited Palette” and “Selecting Paints” (both to appear later this year).

A palette to my taste

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Palette setup

Although my paint drawer includes several tubes of both primary and secondary colors, I find that I tend to actually use far fewer for any given painting. My clutch of most often used tubes includes two of each of the primary colors, three greens, two browns, and a purple. For each of the primaries, I prefer to have one at each end of the warm-cool spectrum, and (especially for blues) some options in between. The greens also include both warm and cool versions, but sap green is the only green I ever use without mixing in some other color to modify it. I rarely incorporate either black or white except when it is premixed into a multi-pigment paint or I need the black to achieve an extremely dark blend.

Whether I start with a warm-slanted palette or a cool-slanted one depends on my anticipated approach to the subject matter.

Occasionally, I include some other color, such as sepia, but most of the time my working palette is limited to only about six colors. Mixtures of these basic hues can create any variation I might need for a given painting. Maintaining a limited palette helps me ensure a sense of color unity throughout the painting.

The palette illustrated above includes, beginning at the lower left and moving clockwise, sepia, burnt sienna, [an unfilled slot available for an additional brown, such as burnt umber or brown madder], alizarin crimson, permanent rose, yellow ochre, [another open slot available for a additional yellow, usually new gamboge], lemon yellow, emerald green [though I might change this on occasion to a Hooker’s green], sap green, Winsor green (blue shade), indigo, Winsor blue (green shade), cobalt blue, French ultramarine blue, Winsor violet, and ivory black [though this spot may be opened up, also, for a different spur-of-the-moment choice].

I have also illustrated my most-used brushes, which include three #8’s (2 rounds—one synthetic, one sable—and a flat synthetic, which I use as a scrubber), a natural-hair sumi-e brush, a #30 synthetic, a toothbrush (for spatter work), a hake (pronounced “hah’-kay”) brush, a #2 Lizard’s Lick, and a #3 liner. The hake brush is used only to apply washes.

I always keep a sponge in the corner of the palette tray, as shown here, where I can wick off excess moisture from my brushes as I work. The same sponge can be used to wipe out the mixing tray after a painting has been completed. I rinse it out carefully and return it, still moist, to the tray. This helps keep the remaining paint in the cups from drying out too badly before my next painting session.

Because I tend to travel frequently and leave this primary palette at home, I do not use it every day and the paints and sponge both tend to dry out in the interim. That is why I don’t fill the cups as many other painters do. I prefer to work with the creamier consistency of fresh-squeezed paint, so I tend to squeeze out only what I expect to use in the next day or so, though I often leave any residue from previous days’ work in the cup. The exception is if the remaining paint in the cup has become contaminated with other colors by my failing to rinse the brushes adequately between colors. At that point I wipe out the offending colors, leaving as much as I can of the unsullied remainder.

If you liked this article, you may be interested also in my upcoming articles “A Traveling Studio,” “Selecting Paints,” and “Staying Out of the Mud.”