Fresh Color For Your Watercolor Paintings

Get bright, fresh color and avoid mud!

Do you often feel that the color in your painting looks dull or even muddy?  There are two solutions: use enough water and avoid over-mixing your color. 
Your paintings will be better off  if you don’t overmix the color with your brush. Instead, letting the action of the water do the mixing. 

The Best Of Watercolor

When handled well, watercolor paintings, are be filled with loose, glowing passages that seem to be lit from within.  These two properties make it absolutely unique among painting mediums.

The key to acheiving these special, unique effects relies on two things: using enough water to acheive and maintain transparency; and in NOT overmixing your colors.

Getting good at the wet-in-wet technique is the best way to insure your washes are transparent.

Fresh Color Mixtures

Over-mixing color is very common. It stems from the same impulse toward literalism that holds us to narrow ideas and perceptions of our subjects. So, when it comes to mixing a color for the trees in our painting we tend to think ‘green’. We pick a yellow and a blue mix them together on the palette usually to the point of obtaining a single, un-varying color. The over-mixing will already have dulled the color, even before it is applied to the paper.

A better approach is to create partial mixtures of our two colors, allowing the action of the water to do some of the mixing itself. The result will be an incomplete mix of the two colors. It will also likely be a bright, fresh, glowing mixture with subtle changes – or gradations – in the color and value.

Simulating Light

Even on the brightest day and on a brightly lit object, there are subtle changes in the quality of light. The effect can be observed everywhere and in all light conditions.

The loose, glowing washes of well done watercolor paintings are great at simulating the effect of light.  The ‘glowing’ part is really the effect of transparency and is what makes it look as if a passage is lit from within. This appears to be the effect of light striking the subject and bouncing back to our eyes.

The ‘loose’ part, is what we get with those partial mixtures of color, along with the effect of water moving and shifting pigments around in a wash.  When applied to the paper, these fresh, glowing, partial mixtures and  subtle gradations simulate the variety of light we recognize and sense as looking ‘real’.

Drawing Layout 

This lesson uses the same layout as in a number of earlier color studies.  The downloadable layouts are done with heavy lines to make it easy to see and copy onto your watercolor paper. It is best not to draw the lines too heavy on your paper, especially in the sky, since there is a good chance the lines will show through the paint. It’s not a deal-breaker, but those heavy pencil lines are sometimes a distraction.

What you’ll need:

  • Watercolor paper -7″ x 11″ Arches 140lb Cold Press recommended approx 7″ x 11″
  • Colors: Cadmium Yellow, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Raw Sienna, Cobalt Blue
  • Brushes: Medium Round, Small Round, Rigger

    Download :  DRAWING LAYOUT

    Related Lessons

    Basic Watercolor Techniques

    Enjoy These Free Lessons!

    We Also Have Over 200 Premium Online Video Lessons and Tutorials... Monthly, Quarterly, Annual Membership Plans. Pause or Cancel at Any Time.