To be truthful, for me, grey is the most frightening colour – I don’t wear grey, I don’t like looking at it, I don’t have it in my house and I HATE grey cloudy days! So when I was told recently that my “greys” were greatly admired I was quite floored, this started a renewed process of investigation, what greys do I create and how do I use them?
Firstly, good quality watercolours are made from natural minerals (pigments) and due to these natural qualities, react and bounce off each other, quite fun to watch and experiment with. Manufactured blacks and greys are mostly made from a kiln firing process therefore they contain soot - for large washes they can be lifeless and dull and often dry substantially lighter than expected.
Secondly, in watercolour, our staples are our complementaries (red vs green, purple vs yellow etc). For example, to neutralise red, I add a little green, a secondary colour containing blue and yellow. When I add green to red I have 3 primaries which means the greying process is started.
I paint with tube paints and carefully select transparent watercolours, mostly I use Winsor & Newton pigments and then I add opaque or earth pigments for accents.
My favourite palette includes winsor blue (red shade), permanent alizarin crimson and burnt sienna. Sometimes I swap the blue for winsor blue (green) or French ultramarine and alizarin for permanent rose or another transparent “pink” like permanent magenta. I choose this palette because each of these colours have good tinting strength, therefore this palette, with just enough water to mix, will make an exciting and fresh dark and, with diluting, will create fantastic luminous greys. I start by making a violet, for shadow areas a cool violet (ie more blue, less red) and depending on the palette of the day, I may add burnt sienna.
For silvery greys try cobalt blue and permanent alizarin for a gorgeous violet then add just a wee touch of raw sienna or try winsor green and permanent alizarin or rose. Cerulean blue or cobalt blue plus burnt sienna, for darker greys try french ultramarine or indigo with burnt sienna. As you can see the sky’s the limit but of course this all depends on the pigments in your palette and what you can do with them – a matter of experimentation.
To start with, I mix light value greys in my palette but I make sure I can still see little pockets of the ingredient colours; in other words, sloppy, inefficient colour mixing is best, partly because it ensures there is no accidental overmixing and further, it allows the poetry of watercolour to show. After washing in a light value Grey around whites, I mix a stronger grey with the same pigments but in different ratios so that, for example, I wash a warm grey over a cool grey. I then select one of my accent colours and charge it in and then spatter some of the other colours while it’s still damp.
For me watercolour is about poetry, creating beauty and light and life. As Delacroix said 'Colour is the fruit of life' and developing a repertoire of greys will only enhance your colour work.
why do we need to learn to mix greys?
Mixed greys are often fresher, they’re more exciting and luminous, especially if you choose transparent pigments with which to mix your colour.
Bought greys (blacks) tend to be warm shades and can be quite dull, further warm greys advance and may confuse your message.
Greys, in realism, are needed to highlight and let saturate colours attract attention. If a painting consists of all saturate colours, it may be difficult for the viewer to understand your message, further, it could be too much for viewers. Most paintings require some sort of quiet, neutral space, to rest the viewers eye.
Often your palette’s left over paint (aka palette gunge) will have created a beautiful grey all by itself, a little water and a bold, damp brush swish through your palette will give you a great “dirty tea” that will knock back any excess whites or elements that need a little pushing into the background.
A light value greenish grey will complement a bright red or pink beautifully, as will a light value orange-grey bring some magic next to a deep blue.
do I use blacks?
I enjoy painting monotone paintings in black and then I add a pop of opaque colour like cad red or yellow.
A simple, monotone black sketch is a great design tool in preparation for a larger work.
Sometimes I add a tiny bit of black (neutral tint) to push a dark even darker.
One of the reasons I love watercolour painting is the speed at which I can achieve a painting. If and when I'm clever, I can have a painting today! It took me a long time to get to this point - I've been painting watercolour close to 30 years - it's not an overnight process!!
A huge obstacle for watercolour newbies is allowing the watercolour to have it's way. There's a saying "before I paint, I'm in control, once I put that brush down the watercolour takes over". The secret is, until you get a really good feel for water balance in your brushes, paint and paper, you need to let go and stop trying to control the uncontrollable. Watercolour, as it should be painted, will be difficult for you.
Embrace "mistakes" and "accidents", runs and bleeds and allow the painting to speak to you and tell you what it wants.
Have another read of my webpage "About Me" and note the last sentence - "I love watching paint dry!"
Stop fiddling and controlling and start watching what the paint does and note that where the water goes the paint will follow. You'll start to notice the really cool effects and passages - watercolours will paint themselves if we let them and they'll certainly do it much better than we can!
When we're painting watercolour it's time to stop and smell the roses!
The scary secret is, you might not get the results you wanted or expected and you certainly might not know what to do next - that's the shock of it!! Use your artist's sense of composition, value structure and design to decide next steps - does it need more darks or lights? are the shapes correct? is it balanced and unified, etc etc.
Make a cuppa and watch the paint dry!!
ciao i miei belli amici!!
FROM ORIGINAL POST 4/9/2017
The cool thing about Watercolour is that it is mostly not too difficult to fix.
I know, I know, everyone says how it is the most difficult medium but truthfully, everything new is difficult and the myth sayers I've met are the ones who can't paint (watercolour) and have given up.
The main issue most beginners in watercolour painting have is determining what the problem actually is!!
Sometimes there actually isn't a problem but we've got to that dreadful middle stage and don't know what to do next. If you definitely have an issue to solve, read on McDuff!!
If you decide the composition or design is a problem, redraw a value study of the corrected composition on spare paper and re-work the improved version into the painting. Yes - that's right paint over it, you might need more paint!
Could you draw/paint it better? Practice drawing the shape you require on spare paper, then practice painting the shape/colours etc on some spare watercolour paper. Wet the offending area, sponge out problem shape/area carefully and re-draw and paint.
A shape is not quite right - I've solved this problem in my paintings in 6 or 7 different ways. Here's a couple you can try (1) wedge a dark tone next to the problem area correcting the shape, (2) stencil lift to correct the shape or (3) soften an offending edge with a damp sponge.
What watercolour problems cannot be fixed? The most difficult actual watercolour problem I have found is too much opaque pigment mixed too much on the palette and then stirred up too much on the paper - too dead!
Sometimes a stencil-lifted highlight will work or you could try adding more detail to another part of the painting to draw attention away from the offending area or carefully glaze a transparent complementary colour over the problem area to knock it back.
Always try to push yourself to finish every painting whether you've decided it will be a 'good' painting or not. The truth is, you might not be able to fix a work you've deemed irretrievable but the effort of trying will teach you more about watercolour/painting/process than starting yet another painting that you'll struggle to complete. Further, if you've already deemed the painting a failure, you really can't make it any worse - keep at it!!
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There is no ONE WAY to paint a watercolour - Amanda Brett
Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working - Pablo Picasso
There are no mistakes in watercolour, just some extra surprises!!