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       "Over mixing your colors
        can cause them to flatten
        and ruin their effect."


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    examples of mixed and overmixed

Tips and Advice on Mixing

  • Helpful advice for beginners
  • Getting to know your watercolors
  • Practicing with your three primaries
  • Six very helpful and informative tips

Learning how to get the best possible results when mixing your colors does come in time with knowledge, and the right amount of practice. But, at anytime we happen to stumble upon some helpful tips and advice being offered that will guide us in the right direction, we welcome those helpful tips and advice with open arms.

Helpful Advice for Beginners
Getting to know your watercolors
  Before you begin mixing your watercolors, and applying them to your painting, I would recommend that you take some time to familiarize yourself with your pigments' performance first and test each one, starting with your lightest colors.
For best results, make sure all your paints are clean and dry.

Permanent Rose
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Hooker's Green Light
Holbein's Sap Green

sample of watercolors tinting strength

Step 1
Starting with your lightest watercolor, stroke your clean and wet brush once across the top of your watercolor pigment, using the same pressure on your brush that you will be using when testing all the other watercolors.

Step 2
Then apply that brush stroke onto a piece of 140 lb. Arches Cold Pressed watercolor paper, or other brand of watercolor paper that you plan to paint on.

Step 3
Write the name of the watercolor next to the brush stroke.

Step 4
Repeat Steps 1 through 3 for all your watercolors, making sure you rinse out your brush well between colors. Change your water often to keep your watercolors clean.

After all your watercolor brush strokes have dried on your test sheet, take a look at the colors. In the example above, look how strong Permanent Alizarin Crimson's tinting strength is compared to that of Permanent Rose. Compare Hooker's Green Light to Holbein's Sap Green. Until you become familiar with mixing your watercolors, you want to refer to your test sheets. In time, mixing watercolors will become second nature.

The color test sheet above shows you that you need to take several brush strokes of Permanent Rose compared to Permanent Alizarin Crimson, of which you will need only one light brush stroke.
Practice mixing with your primaries
One of the best pieces of advice that anyone could offer you
would be to learn how to mix all the colors imaginable
using only your three primary colors;

  yellow        red        blue
The approximate cost for three tubes of the finest quality watercolor paint;
New Gamboge,
Permanent Rose,
French Ultramarine Blue.

$22.00 USD

The cost of all the colors you will be able to make from those three tubes of paint;


Watercolor Tips and Advice
Tip 1
—   Test your colors on the same brand of paper.  
painted examples
For consistent results, test your watercolors on the same brand paper that you plan to paint on. To keep costs down, use a lighter-weight paper of that brand. For instance, I paint on 300 lb. Arches Cold Pressed paper, but I test my colors on 140 lb. Arches Cold Pressed paper.


Tip 2
—   Mark and save your watercolor test sheets.  

painted examples

When you achieve the desired value and color on your test sheet, mark it with a circle or arrow. Write in the name or initials of the watercolors that you used, such as Sap Green + Manganese Blue. (Since I have more than one Sap Green in my palette, I also write the initials of the manufacturer and circle them.) That way, if you have to stop painting for a couple of hours, or even a couple of days, you will be able to mix the watercolors again and match each color and value to the ones on your test sheet. Always save your test sheets for future reference.

Tip 3
—   Test your colors in the same manner as when painting.  
example 1
example 2

Sometimes the value will appear lighter on your test sheet than on your actual painting. What usually has happened is that the area you were painting was intricate and you painted it slowly. As the watercolor bead sat on your paper waiting for you to move it with your brush, the color had more time to sit on the surface of the paper, resulting in a darker value.

1.  Was the value I had originally tested.
2.  Is the value I will need.

If the area you are about to paint looks intricate, try testing your color in a similar manner to that of your actual painting.


Tip 4
—   Try not to start your puddle with lots of water.  
palette showing two values

It works best to mix your watercolors to achieve the color and value first. Then make a mental note of roughly how many times you stroked your brush across each of your paints: for instance, quite a few brush strokes of French Ultramarine Blue and only a couple of brush strokes of Permanent Rose. When you get the right color and value, repeat that combination plus water until you get the size puddle you need.

Tip 5
—   Try not to overmix your colors.  

painted examples

In the first example, I made a puddle of color, but I barely mixed the colors with one another. Each brush stroke applied to the paper brought something different.

For the second example, I kept stirring the same puddle with my brush which flattened out the colors. Each brush stroke applied to the paper was almost consistent in color as with the previous brush stroke.

Tip 6
—   For glowing color, stay with colors that have not been pre-mixed with their complement.  
glowing colors

For the first example, I used only non-staining watercolors; two transparent colors, and one semi-transparent color.

The non-staining and transparent properties of the pigments allow each of them to intermingle beautifully on the surface of the paper.
muddy colors
For the second example, I used two opaque colors (one of them staining), and one transparent color.

As you can see, the three colors mixed together managed to create the look of "mud". The staining power of the yellow clearly dominated over the other two colors, and the red and blue were already grayed colors, making the final mixture appear heavy, dull, and lifeless.

NEXT:   Watercolor Values   

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