Monday, July 19, 2010

All The Pretty Colors

Color theory is important. Why? Because without it, there’s just too much mystery. It’ll always be a hit or miss proposition as to how to mix that beautiful sunny green, or why when you put two particular colors next to one another you feel slightly sick to your stomach.

When I got back to watercolors after a 12-year break I realized that not only did I need to expand my color palette for animal paintings but I also needed to expand my knowledge. Enter Jan Hart’s “The Watercolor Artist’s Guide to Exceptional Color.” I read it. Then I re-read it. Now I’ve covered it with sticky flags. At the time, I was using some not too lightfast student grade watercolors and I quickly realized that the color saturation for the professional colors was much richer and more interesting. So I got myself a few Daniel Smith watercolors and built a color palette based on Jan Hart’s suggestions.

Color Palette #1

Then I started experimenting. My first task was to understand how colors mixed. I started running tests to see how the colors I had chosen for my color wheel worked together. If I didn’t like the way a particular color was working with its complement, I moved to another that worked better. It took a while to get a palette I liked. Of course, I’m still changing it all the time. But here’s my current favorite.

Color Palette # 2

As you can see this palette has both warm and cool versions of many of the colors. It also has some lovely “tricky” colors like Cobalt Blue Violet, Cascade Green, and Amazonite Genuine. You may also notice that it has a double-dose of Fired Gold Ochre. That was a mistake, although I do like the color. Just too much enthusiasm the day I put the palette together. ;-)

Next up Limiting your palette as a way of expanding your colors!


  1. You had a great combination of warm and cool colors but it is my first time to hear about the tricky colors that you have listed. The blend of Cobalt Blue Violet, Cascade Green, and Amazonite Genuine with a double-dose of Fired Gold Ochre, I realized that there are really depth mixtures of colors if you only try to combine them.

  2. I am just learning about watercolor and palettes. Thanks for sharing what you are learning. I appreciate it!

  3. Thanks to you both for the lovely comments.
    :-) I have to say that I love Cobalt Blue Violet. It seperates out into both blue violet and red violet colors and is truly lovely. I'm using it in the piece that I'm playing with right now. :-)

  4. I am belatedly emerging from a self-imposed cocoon in between summertime vacations and spotted your post on the EDM Yahoo Group. Welcome to the group!

    I have Jan Hart's book too, and I find even
    after the fifth time reading it, I STILL find more tidbits! It's definitely a great color bible to have.

    Love your blog and your color theory studies!

  5. I'm going to have to look for that book. Goodness, do I need help in this area!

  6. It's a great book. I've learned a lot from it. :-)