Watercolor classes versus painting at home

Some students only attend watercolor classes or workshops. They rarely produce artwork at home or in their studio. I am always encouraging my students to try and paint as much as possible at home. In addition to attending my watercolor classes. I did this because I noticed that those that did so progressed much faster than students who just attended classes. Recently I realised the main reason why these students progressed at their faster rate. It has all to do with developing their observation skills versus memory skills.  Let’s look briefly at the pros and cons of watercolor classes.

Pros and cons of watercolor classes

If you attend a class or watercolor workshop you will achieve a number of things. Firstly there is the camaraderie of working with other students. Secondly you learn watercolor techniques from your teacher who can also critique your artwork. Thirdly, regular classes keep you moving along with your watercolor painting when you might otherwise be tempted to give up.

One of the paintings I have my students produce in my watercolor classes by watercolour painting Joe Cartwright
One of the paintings I have my students produce in my watercolor classes.

However observation skills can suffer when you attend a watercolor class or workshop.  This is because students concentrate more on trying to remember everything their teacher is saying, rather than observing what is happening with their own work. Your teacher may show you a step in a watercolor painting which you are expected to follow. When you go back to your easel your first thought is usually to try and remember what you have just been shown. Instead of you thinking through the steps you need to take to complete your watercolor painting you spend your time trying to “remember” what you were told. To progress with your watercolor painting what you need is the ability to think through the steps for yourself. You also need to observe the affects you create with your watercolor paints. Observation is critical to improving your watercolor painting techniques.

Furthermore there can be plenty of distractions in a watercolor class. Other students talking, your tutor or other students looking over your shoulder as you paint. Concerns about what others might think about your painting. Cramped space, poor or different lighting, etc. All of these things can hinder you ability to observe.

When you are painting at home, you are forced to think through your own steps to complete your watercolor artwork. You are also more likely to observe what is happening on your paper than in the classroom. It is much more important for you to observe what is happening on your own watercolor painting than to sit there and just try and remember the steps someone else has given you. Furthermore, when you are working on your watercolor painting at home or in your studio you are not distracted by other people. This makes it much easier for you to concentrate and observe. It is for this reason that I have found that students that do some work at home in addition to their classes always progress the fastest with their watercolor painting skills.

In summary, observation is critical for watercolor painting, probably more so than for any other medium. It is much easier to observe when you are at home in your own studio rather than with all the distractions in a class. Obviously for more experienced artists this is not such a problem, but then again an experienced watercolor artist is less likely to be attending watercolor classes or going to workshops. I hope the above is of some use to you in your watercolor painting journey.

Watercolor newsletter June 2012

Watercolor Newsletter #1 – June 2012

Welcome to my first Painting With Watercolors (watercolours) newsletter. It is intended as a summary of what has gone on with regards to my Painting With Watercolor site in between newsletter releases. Primarily this will include new demonstrations and articles.

I hope to include some other interesting and useful information regarding watercolor painting which won’t have yet been posted on the website.

The importance of the right attitude for tackling watercolor paintings

I often hear people say that watercolor painting is really difficult or that it takes years to learn. Even so I find some students can get very upset with themselves when they do not quickly start producing good work. They look at other peoples’ work and wonder why theirs hasn’t gone so well. So what is right in all of this?

Well firstly while watercolor is more difficult to learn than some other painting mediums it does not necessarily mean it will take years to learn how to paint good paintings. What is certainly true is that we all come to this medium with different life experiences, in my case I had studied engineering which had developed my observation skills and helped me get a better feel for what the water was doing on the paper (this happens to be critical), others have had experience in other mediums so their understanding of colors may be more advanced, while others bring a love of design or anything creative which can help with the more spontaneous sections of a watercolor painting.

However apart from our previous experiences there are some things we can all bring to our early watercolor work. The first is a desire to learn and more importantly to have fun with our watercolor painting. Having fun is very important I feel, especially if you are taking on this subject in your later years as a pastime for some of your spare time. You should never lose sight of your desire to have fun with this medium. Take a moment as you paint to marvel at the beauty of the watercolors flowing and mixing on your watercolor paper.

In addition to having fun and a desire to learn. The right attitude should be a belief that with practice you will succeed, sure there will always be something you can improve, but you should always acknowledge what has worked with your painting first before looking at what hasn’t worked. In time you will find more and more passages have worked and less haven’t. Look at the areas which haven’t worked with curiosity rather than disappointment. Look at what has happened and how the effect could have come about e.g. letting the paper dry too much before going back in with a very wet brush, too much water in your mix, not enough water in a mix, painting too slow, etc. By analyzing your work this way you can improve it in future paintings.

Sometimes when we are having difficulty with an area and can’t solve it then that is when we should go and ask other artists if they can advise on a solution or a reference, or we can look into the watercolor books in our library (I have about 150) or these days we can do a Google search of the internet and will most probably find something there to help out. When I first started with watercolor I loved the challenge it presented and treated everything that didn’t work with curiosity and interest. This attitude helped my work to progress.

I my classes I am always tasking my students with more challenging pieces to paint. I do this to keep them progressing. For most people (but not all) the idea of always painting the same subject, because we know we can succeed at it, would be quite boring. For this reason, I keep challenging myself with my watercolors and actually get quite excited when I see a piece that makes me think , “Now how was that done?”

So for those of you that sometimes get upset with your work, I hope the above is of some use.

Keep painting with curiosity, observation, and the conviction that you will succeed and you will certainly produce some nice watercolor paintings. Have fun painting!

Latest Demos

Beach Sunset

In May I posted a new watercolor demonstration. It is titled “Beach Sunset” and is a good painting to teach you about wet on wet passages, splattering watercolors, and how to paint an atmospheric beach scene. You can see it on my website or by clicking on this link here: Painting an atmospheric  beach sunset scene.

Have a go at it if you like and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Removing wrinkles or cockles in your watercolor paper after your painting is finished

I put together an article along with a short video on one way to flatten your watercolor paintings after they have been completed. This is one technique I have found very useful and you may too. Removing wrinkles in your watercolor paper.


The importance of water and time

I also posted an article on the importance of water and time when painting with watercolors. People often concentrate on colors and color mixing while the most important ingredients are actually water and time. It is water that allows us to produce some of watercolor painting’s most beautiful effects. Time is also very important as often we have to wait for just the right moment (when the paper has had a chance to dry just enough) to create certain watercolor marks.

Here is a link to the full article: The most important watercolor ingredients


Other News

Coming up

I am in a process of producing a series of video demonstrations which I will sell as DVDs or as downloads at an affordable price. They will be very much in the same style that I run my workshops and regular lessons only you will be able to review them at will. The focus on the DVDs will be very  much based on education, teaching you useful techniques as I paint through a full watercolor or pen and ink painting. I will provide more updates at things progress.

Next Demonstration Painting

This is the next painting which will go up on PaintingWithWatercolors.com over the couple of weeks.

Painting shadows finished Light over Shearing Shed
Painting shadows finished Light over Shearing Shed

Surveys running on my website

During May I implemented some software which will allow me to run various surveys regarding watercolor painting. My current survey asks visitors about what types of paintings they most like to paint in watercolor. So far landscapes are ahead but I will provide a more comprehensive update in the next newsletter.


My wife and I are taking a 4WD trip through the Kimberley region of North West Australian during June. Hopefully I will bring back some nice paintings and plenty of reference material!

Contact Joe

If you have any watercolor questions about my watercolor newsletter or would like to contact me please do so through my Contact form above.

Earth watercolors and color mixing

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 mixed with Burnt Sienna gives a strong dark color
Figure 6: French Ultramarine mixed with Burnt Sienna gives a strong dark color

French Ultramarine + Raw Umber = (B + r) +(Y + b) = B+Y+r = dull green color.

French Ultramarine mixed with Raw Umber gives a dull green color
Figure 7: French Ultramarine mixed with Raw Umber gives a 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

Earth colors

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.

The watercolor color mixing formula

Color mixing

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

French Ultramarine plus Alizarin Crimson results in a bright secondary color
Figure 2: French Ultramarine plus Alizarin Crimson results in a bright secondary color

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

French Ultramarine plus Cadmium Red results in a dull tertiary color
Figure 3: French Ultramarine plus Cadmium Red results in a dull tertiary color

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

Cerulean Blue mixed with Aureolin results in a bright green color
Figure 4: Cerulean Blue mixed with Aureolin results in a bright green color

French Ultramarine + Aureolin = (B + r) + (Y + B) = B + Y + r = Dull Mix

French Ultramarine and Aureolin results in a dull green
Figure 5: French Ultramarine and Aureolin results in a dull green

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, how to mix bright versus dull watercolor colors

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.

Color mixing formula.Mixing a Blue, Red and Yellow will give you a dull grey to black color depending on proportions of each color mixed
Figure 1: Mixing a Blue, Red and Yellow will give you a dull grey to black color depending on 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