Color My World

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.

Sunrise Marsh

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?

Color-Wheel-by-HomeWorkshopI 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?



  1. Oh that sounds like me! Probably sounds like everyone before they started working with color. I couldn’t figure out why deep cad red plus cobalt blue didn’t give me the pretty purple I wanted….well, cuz there is a hint of yellow in the red…so have to go to something like permanent rose or alizarin and cobalt or even better, french ultramarine…then I learned about rogue colors like alizarin crimson and quit using it so much and cool yellows vs warm yellows and oh my! On and on and on! I will be learning forever.

    I am very curious about gauche. Have you tried that?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, and let’s not talk about all the theories on color floating about….Color is fascinating…..if you ever want to see what you can do with just two colors, try Fr. Ultra. Blue and Burnt Sienna, my two colors to really have fun with. You can get a huge myriad of mixes. I am a color fanatic and I am too enticed by it. I took up knitting about 5 years ago for about a solid year. I discovered why I even cared to knit, it was all those colors and combinations of color! I would go in and buy yarn just because of COLOR! Anyway, that is all I have to say on that subject for now. lol 🙂

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    1. LOL…color is so exciting. When I first got my set of Prismacolor Premier pencils, I nearly fainted from the sight of so many beautiful colors. That was the moment when I said, “I’ve got to learn to draw.”

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    1. I dug out one of my watercolor books this morning and read it during the drive to visit my husband’s parents. Well, I didn’t read the whole book. What I mean is I read parts of it, and it’s got a lot of great information about pigments and the properties of paints. It’s going to be really helpful as I figure out which colors I want to start building my “good” palette with.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Isn’t it fun to constantly learn something new? I feel like I learn something new about art in general everyday too!

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