I talked about the palette of colors I finally selected to be “my” watercolor palette in this post.
That is only half the battle won. The next question is how well do these colors mix to produce new colors? I learned the hard way that mixing any old blue and any old yellow does not give you every possible green or even a pleasing green.
Some artists choose to use color mixing guides and I have done this myself. One of my current favorites is Color Mixing Bible: All You’ll Ever Need to Know About Mixing Pigments in Oil, Acrylic, Watercolor, Gouache, Soft Pastel, Pencil, and Ink by Ian Sidaway. The problem you run into pretty quickly is that you don’t always have the exact colors that are used to create the mixes in the Bible or the author doesn’t specify which company the paint comes from. There can be tremendous variation between companies even in single pigment, artist quality paints – so frustration happens more often than not.
I think the biggest issue though, is that if you rely on one of these books you don’t really understand what the paints on your palette do when mixed. Also if you decide to do a little plein air sketching in your journal – are you going to lug the Bible around with you?
I decided I didn’t want to rely on the crutch anymore (even if it was really nice and sort of fashionable) and decided to produce my own color mix swatches. Full disclosure here – while I was doing this it was pretty boring and drove me a bit batty! But once completed…the revelations were fantastic!
Everyone seems to struggle with the greens in particular – they can’t get the exact green they want or the colors end up “muddy” and unappealing. So I decided to start there. I took every blue on my palette (4), a pre-mixed turquoise, and 2 “convenience” greens and mix them with all my yellows (4).
Here are the results in all their experimental glory. A couple of points for navigation – the blues are down the left side of each page (ultramarine was done a bit differently but all the rest are done the same) and the yellows are on the right side of the page and they repeat in the same order as I go through the blues. The left 3 mix swatches are made by progressively adding yellow to blue and the right 3 swatches are made by progressively adding blue to yellow. This is important because which paint you add to which does make a big difference in the colors you get.
I was so happy to see the beautiful delicate greens that I got when using the ultramarine and cobalt blues with my yellows. Even the olive greens are transparent and glowing! Using pthalo green produces very bright, very happy greens (good for children’s books?), and a beautiful set of olive greens and green golds are produced with Undersea green. It was also interesting to me that I could replicate my palette turquoise by mixing a bit of gamboge into pthalo blue. Who knew my paints could do so much!?
I am a girl that loves to use purple so that was next in the mixing line up. Same rules apply as above to navigate the color swatches with the reds/purples on the left and the blues on the right.
Plenty of surprises here as well – the biggest being how easy it is to mix any shade of purple and how I really don’t need a pre-mixed purple on my palette. I can get just about any shade of purple using quin violet and the blues. And I love the “stormy” neutrals produced using quin scarlet.
And a very big surprise – look at that almost black neutral that is so full of life produced with alizarin crimson and pthalo blue. I learned later that this is a common way to mix a very dark lively neutral and I discovered it all on my own!
The best part is I now know what my palette can do and when I need a green or a purple I know which colors to reliably turn to (plus I always have my swatches to use in a pinch).
I would say that the mixing test drive of my palette was a “glowing” success.