Letting the Paint Go

One of the areas I’m working on this fall is watercolor. Of course, I’m not using traditional transparent “Western” watercolors, but having fun instead with my Japanese gansai. I’m currently studying color mixing and color harmony, and I’ve been making lots of swatches of lots of colors.

Although I have 48 colors in my gansai set, I’m doing a lot of limited palette work. For this, I’ve chosen the following hues:

Cool Primaries

  • Carmine
  • Lemon Yellow
  • Cerulean Blue

Warm Primaries

  • Cadmium Red
  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Ultramarine Blue

To this, I’ve added black. I’ll be using it sparingly to create darker shades of my primaries and the secondary colors I mix from them.

Today I’ve been going over various color schemes again. I’ve played with color schemes many times in the past. It’s always fun. This morning was no exception. I think my morning watercolor practice was especially fun because I’ve learned a lot about letting go, or more to the point, about letting the paint go.

Watercolor can be tricky. We all know that. Some artists seem to be very good at controlling watercolor and getting it to go where they want. Not me. I really don’t want to take control. I want to put paint and water on my paper, and watch it spread around. I want to see those watercolor blooms growing here and there. I want to be more of an observer than a director. Yes, for me watercolor is a bit of a spectator sport!

For today’s assignment, I chose carmine as my main color. From there, I worked with a number of different color schemes. I did not actually mix the tertiary colors I used, but made them from existing pigments in my set.

I used very inexpensive watercolor paper for the project. It’s the “Master’s Touch” paper available from Hobby Lobby. While re-arranging supplies a few days ago, I came across an entire pad of the paper, so that’s what I grabbed this morning. I also did all but a tiny bit of my painting with a medium waterbrush. On one painting, I did pick up an angle brush — as noted below.

Here’s a quick look at the various scenes I painted. For the most part, I painted similar scenes with each color scheme, with one difference. I should point out, too, that these are very small paintings. I used one 9 x 12 sheet and folded it into quarters, painting a different scheme on each section.

First, using carmine as my single color, I did this monochromatic scene. I did use a touch of black to create the darker shade. This exercise was a lot about learning to create different values by using different ratios of paint and water. Although the color faded away completely as the painting dried, I began with a very pale pink sky. As I brushed the color on, I simply let it do whatever it felt like doing.

Monochromatic watercolor using carmine red and a touch of black.

My next color scheme was analagous — which uses three colors that are next to one another on the color wheel. Because I was starting with carmine — my cool red — I chose red-orange and red-violet to complete the scheme. Here I used a pre-mixed orange and a pre-mixed violet to add to my carmine.

Of the paintings I made this morning, this one is my favorite. I started again with the pale pink sky, and then decided to blend in the red-orange using a lot of water to create a very pale hue.

Analagous Color Scheme — Carmine Red, Red-Orange, and Red-Violet

As before, I just let the colors play, and again I added a touch of black to the mix. I do like the way the paint spread out here and there, creating its own misty scene.

The third painting was using a very traditional complementary color scheme. In all honesty, red and green has never been a favorite color combination of mine, but since I’d chosen to work with carmine red throughout the exercise, I chose a pre-mixed green — forest green — to complement it.

Complementary color scheme with red and green.

Again, my pale pink sky turned into a clear, near-white sky once the gansai was dry. This, of course, is one of the most important lessons to learn with watercolor. It’s not going to look the same dry as it did when it was wet. Obviously I need to keep working on that particular lesson. You’ll notice I started to add a bit of black, but then added carmine instead to create a brownish gray. Remember: Any time we mix complementary colors we end up with a brownish gray. This is because mixing complementary colors causes us to mix all three primaries. That’s one lesson I have learned.

My fourth scene — split complementary color scheme — was my least favorite as well as the most challenging. A split complementary scheme involves complementary colors with analagous colors. For this painting, I used my forest green as the dominant color since green is the complement for red. I then added in the analagous red-orange and red-violet. Using these colors, I just wasn’t sure what sort of scene to paint. So, mostly I just put colors on the paper and watched to see where they went and what they did.

Split complementary colors: Forest green, red-orange, and red-violet.

My red-orange sky faded into an almost yellow hue. As I put the gansai on the paper, I began to imagine a field of red-violet flowers. This was where I set the waterbrush aside and picked up an angle brush to create a few green stems. Overall, I wasn’t happy with this painting, mostly because I was so unsure of what I wanted to do with the colors.

Finally, to finish up my morning practice, I used a very familiar triadic color scheme. This involves choosing three colors that are equally distant from one another on the color wheel. The most-used scheme is probably the simple red-yellow-blue primary colors. I decided to work with all three of my cool primaries this morning.

Triadic color scheme using “cool” primaries: carmine red, lemon yellow, and cerulean blue.

As with the previous color scheme, I was a bit befuddled as I started this painting. Of course I could use the cerulean blue for the sky, but what then? Where and how would I add carmine red and lemon yellow? I shrugged, put some water on the paper, and began dropping in the different colors.

I picked the paper up and tilted in this way and that. I let the colors do their own thing. Later, I added touches of black to create — something. Trees? Bushes? Who knows! I got a little carried away with the dark color in the foreground, but it was all right. I’d finished the assignment, and it was time to move on to other things.

Surprisingly, I did like the final painting, simply because I liked the brighter colors, especially the cerulean blue sky.

In addition to the color schemes I used here, there are others — such as a tetradic scheme — that can be used to create color harmony in painting. Of course, I could have also chosen to use warm primaries for my triadic scheme, and had I wanted to, I could have spent much more time color-mixing and choosing the best secondaries and tertiary colors for my paintings today.

Overall, it was a fun morning in the studio. I enjoyed this project because I didn’t have to take charge or be in control of my gansai. It was good to stand back and watch the paint, to see how it reacted when I added more water or when I added more pigment.

Learning about watercolor is definitely a hands-on process. In fact, I think when it comes to watercolor, learning by doing is the only way we can ever figure out what these mischievous paints can do!








    1. Yes, it was a lot of fun. After my “crash course” of summer drawing, I’ve learned that what I need most is to RELAX when I’m doing art. There’s another post about that lesson coming up tomorrow. Attitude is so important, and I’m learning to “adjust” mine a bit when it comes to drawing and painting.

      Liked by 1 person

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