One of the questions I am most frequently asked by my students has to do with how to mix greens. No other color generates as much confusion regarding how it is mixed. Green is produced when you mix blue with yellow. However, as most blue and yellow pigments are not pure colors i.e. they contain a little of a second or third primary (red, yellow or blue) color, there is a tremendous range of pigments which can be used, in combination, to produce a green. I think this may be one of the reason artists can have trouble mixing it. Continue reading “How to mix greens using watercolors”
Using Earth Watercolors
The earth watercolors are already a mix of the three primary colors, however each leans a little towards one primary or secondary color. For instance, Burnt Sienna has a strong orange leaning, Raw Umber has a slight greenish tinge, Raw Sienna is a yellowish brown with a slight greenish tinge, while Yellow Ochre is obviously a Yellow with a slight red leaning.
Looking at these earth watercolors this way explains why French Ultramarine (primarily a blue) when mixed with Burnt Sienna ( Orange = Red(R) plus Yellow(Y)) gives you a beautiful dark color, almost a black at times, depending on the relative amount of each pigment mixed and the quantity of water used.
French Ultramarine + Burnt Sienna = (B + r) +(R + Y) = B+Y+R = Strong dark color.
French Ultramarine + Raw Umber = (B + r) +(Y + b) = B+Y+r = dull green color.
Full list of colors in my palette along with their color bias (leaning)
Here are the rest of the water colors in my Winsor and Newton palette for reference:
French Ultramarine: Warm blue = B + r
Cobalt Blue: Almost a pure pigment not warm nor cool = B
Cerulean Blue: Cool blue = B+ y
Alizarin Crimson: Cool red = R + b
Cadmium Red: Warm red = R + y
Cadmium Orange: Warm orange with a lot of yellow and some red = Y + R
Cadmium Yellow Pale: Warm yellow color with a little red = Y + r
Aureolin: Cool yellow = Y + b
Cobalt Turquoise: acts like a cool greenish blue, has lot yellow in it = B + Y
The earth colors are more complicated as they already have some of each of the three primaries in them. Effectively they are already greys (colors made when you mix three primaries together) which lean towards one or more of the primaries. The indications after the equals sign ( = ) refer to the colors the brown leans towards.
Burnt Sienna: Orange brown earth color, can be treated as a dull orange = R + Y
Raw Umber: Slightly greenish brown earth color = b + y
Yellow Ochre: Warm Yellow earth color = Y + r
Hopefully this information about earth pigments and their component colors will help you to become more confident with your own color mixtures.
We can create a very simple formula from what was covered in the previous segment on color mixing, that will tell us whether we will end up with a dull (tertiary – three primary colors) or more pure color (secondary – two primary colors) from the mixture of two pigments.
If we mix French Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson we get the following:
French Ultramarine + Alizarin Crimson = (B + r) + (R + b) = B + R = Clean mix
If on the other hand we mix French Ultramarine and Cad Red the result is:
French Ultramarine + Cadmium Red = (B + r) + (R + y) = B + R + y = Dull mix
It is the addition of this tiny bit of yellow in the mixture (the third primary color) which results in a more subdued purple, than the French Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson mix. When looking at color mixtures I am leaving out any effect due to the relative transparency or opacity of the particular pigment.
Why is the color mixing formula important?
There are a number of key reasons why this is import.
Firstly, if you cannot predict just what color you will end up with when you mix two pigments together it will leave you a little uncertain and this will impact your work.
The second reason comes from the knowledge that the further away an object appears from you in a landscape then the duller the colors look due to the effect of atmosphere between you and the object you are viewing. Hence, by using this knowledge of color mixing you can easily mix duller paint combinations to correctly place your objects in the various landscape planes e.g. distant, middle distance and foreground.
Now obviously, one can learn which colors mixtures of your various pigments will produce by trial and error, but hopefully with this knowledge you will be able to take out the trial and error and much more quickly learn how to mix clean and pure or dull and grey colors at will.
It also means then you have a tool to better judge whether the addition of a new pigment to your pallet will add to the range of colors you can currently mix.
Time spent really looking at your pigments and analyzing just what their component colors are will save you a lot of confusion and frustration later on. It will also boost your confidence while painting and this will show through in your work.
By the way, pigments with the same name but from different manufacturers do not necessarily have the same component colors. For this reason the examples in this article only relate to Winsor and Newton artists quality watercolor paints. I had a student trying to mix a particular dull dark green color for which I used Raw Umber as a component it is a yellowish brown pigment with a very slight greenish tinge, but the brand of Raw Umber my student was using was more of a red brown in color so no wonder her green mixes leaned further towards the red than mine.
Here are a number of other mix formulas for your reference:
Cerulean Blue + Aureolin = (B + y) + (Y + b) = B + Y = Bright Mix
French Ultramarine + Aureolin = (B + r) + (Y + B) = B + Y + r = Dull Mix
In the final section we will look at the earth colors and see how the watercolor mixing formula applies to them.
Continue to: The Earth watercolors and color mixing
Color mixing formula
All too often students find themselves wondering where a particular color has come from. They set out to create a bright green with a blue and yellow watercolors but they do not quite get the color mixture they were after. Instead of a bright green they end up with one which is quite dull. To help understand what is going on we will talk about what I can the color mixing formula.
The cause of this is often a lack of understanding of the impure colors which make up most of our primary color (Blue (B), Red (R) and Yellow (Y)) pigments. Most blues are not pure blues, and the same applies to the yellows and reds.
Before we investigate this further, we need to remember that if you mix blue, red, and yellow you should end up with a dull grey to black color depending on the proportions of each color mixed.
So whenever these three colors come together in your mix of paints your resultant color will not look bright but will instead look a little dull. If only two primaries are mixed together then a bright secondary color will result – it is the addition of the third primary which dulls colors off.
So what do we mean by impure colors. Well, it means that the main color, such as the blue in the case of French Ultramarine, has tiny additional amounts of one or both of the remaining two primary colors, in the case of French Ultramarine it is a small amount of Red. This is why it is called a warm blue. Because of this the trick to predicting your resulting color from your mixes is not just to think of your colors as one (blue, yellow, red) but to look at them as their component parts. For example, French Ultramarine is a Blue (B) with a tiny bit of Red (r), Alizarin Crimson is a Red (R) with a tiny bit of Blue (b). Here I am using upper and lower case letters to reflect the relative quantities of each Primary in your typical.
This way of looking at colors however would apply to all brands of artist watercolor paints.
In the next section we will look at this color mixing formula in more detail to see how it can help us mix brighter or duller colors at will.
Continue to: The watercolor color mixing formula