Mixing watercolours

Mixing colours for a watercolour painting can be tricky and for those new to the medium it can be a bit daunting. There are a few things you can do to make your life easier and at the same time it will also help you to get to know your paints that little bit better. For starters, if you are like me, you may find it tricky to know what the ‘official’ colour names are. It is always worth having a little guide to your own specific palette with the names written out beside their respective colours and their exact place in your tin. Should you change one of your pans, simply repaint the whole card or make a little swatch of your new colour and stick it over the top of the one you have replaced.

Secondly you can work on a colour mixing grid, you can lay this out in any way that you like, but the idea is that you want to try mixing all your colours with every other colour in your palette. In the example above I have drawn a grid in pencil and have put half my colours along the top and the other half down the side – this effectively gives me 81 colour mixes. However, I have not mixed the colours along the top with one another, and equally I have not mixed the colours down the side with one another. If I were to include those that would be a lot of mixes and a very big grid!! Also, this grid only takes account of mixes between two colours, and as you know sometimes I like to mix 3, sometimes 4 colours, it is no wonder that people get confused and just don’t know where to start!!

OK, so how did I get the grid on to my watercolour paper? Well I first of all designed it on some scrap paper and then simply transferred it using graphite paper. This avoids mistakes within the finished piece and all those unsightly blemishes you can get from incorrect pencil lines leaving marks behind. I deliberately included gaps between my sections so that there was no bleed between them, this allows you to work in a systematic way across and down the piece. Wet an individual grid square and then work in the colour in one half of the section, wash your brush and then apply the second colour to the other half. Allow the colours to naturally mix and whilst everything is still wet you can use your brush to gently blend the colours together in the centre.

What an array of colour combinations! Remember to keep your vertical colours to the left of the sections and the horizontal colours to the right this gives you consistency across the piece which will be easier to understand and use later.
A much simpler way of working with your colour mixes would be to focus on a single colour in your palette. So for example, here are a few of the combinations that can be made with alizarin crimson.

Hopefully this has given you a bit of an insight into understanding the way colours mix and blend. Should you want to see more detail on how I painted my colour mixing chart, I have a short video available in the Tips & Techniques section of Patreon.
Have a go with your own paints and see if it helps, or simply have some test pieces of watercolour paper to hand whenever you are working on a project and try out your colour combinations on these instead as you go along. Whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is to ‘keep those brushes wet’! 😉 Paul

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2 thoughts on “Mixing watercolours”

  1. I love the idea of mixing the colours on the paper and also doing a line of mixes with a single colour. Thank you Paul

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