While I’ve been doing a lot of “black and white” drawing lately — graphite, charcoal, conte — I’ve also been playing around with my watercolors more than ever before. Instead of just dabbling — and dribbling — I’m taking a little time to learn more about the art of watercolor, and as a result, I’m enjoying it more than ever.
I don’t profess to be good at it, but I’m getting better. I like the way some of my skies are turning out, and no matter what the results look like, it’s always fun to play with colors.
When I first attempted watercolor a few months ago, I naively thought that red was red, yellow was yellow, and…you know how the rest of my thoughts went, I’m sure. On the plus side, I did have a grasp on basic color theory.
Very basic, I now know. Goodness, gracious, but there’s a lot more to it than I’d ever thought possible!
My previous knowledge consisted of simple facts. Primary colors. Right. Red and yellow make orange. Right. Blue and orange are complementary. Right. And, oh, how I prided myself for knowing that lighter hues are tints, and darker ones are shades.
Of course, what I didn’t know was how much I didn’t know, you know?
I once thought the color wheel was simple. I didn’t know there was more than one. I used to think reds and oranges were warm, purples and blues were cool, and I was never quite sure what to do with that ambiguous green.
Now I’ve discovered that artists can choose warm blues or cool reds. I’ve learned, too, the proper protocol of always putting the primary color first when naming a mix. In the past, I had no compunctions about calling a color violet blue.
I won’t make that mistake again, trust me.
I did know a few basic color schemes. I’ve been introduced to so many now I’m wondering how anyone keeps them straight.
Color theory, I’ve learned, isn’t a simple subject. Entire books have been written about it, a fact that amazed me when I started browsing for information. I’ve even downloaded a few from Amazon. Some are good, some are better, and some aren’t worth the download.
Where I’m having the most fun, however, is in learning about the different pigments and the hues they produce. Yellow isn’t simply yellow. It could be Cadmium Yellow — Light, Deep, or Medium — Arylide Yellow, or Aureolin. And that’s just for starters.
A very helpful site I’ve found is Pigments and Paints: What You Make Art With.
In the past, if I read “alizarin crimson”, my thought was “well, any red will do, won’t it?” Did having specific pigments make a difference? Really? I’m probably making a few watercolorists cringe at my thinking, or at least have a good laugh over it.
If you were to ask me what colors I used in my little “Yellow Dawn” painting above, I couldn’t tell you. It was created before I really understood that colors are more than colors. I used yellow and orange. I used green and blue. I just had fun playing.
As I’m learning and beginning to understand how very different one blue can be from another, I’m compiling lists of the watercolors I have. I’ve discovered three “lemon yellows” among my watercolors — one by Sakura in my “Koi” field kit, another from Staedtler, and yet another tube in my original Daler-Rowney set — the first watercolor set I bought. How much do they vary from one manufacturer to another? That’s something I plan to research “hands-on”.
It’s fun to know more about the colors I’m using. Although the information seems almost overwhelming right now, I think with more experience, I’ll gradually come to know the colors and their properties. I’ll probably find a few favorites.
I’m learning, too, to create my own specific palettes, such as four colors to use for skies, or choosing specific pigments of “red, yellow, brown, and white” in order to “get the skin tones right.”
You know what I like best, though? I love saying the names of these paints. I feel like a true artist as I whisper “Payne’s Grey”, “Cerulean Blue” or “Viridian Hue”.
Now, I’m off to do a little painting. How shall I color my world today?