Colors of Watercolor

Colors of Watercolor

Important topic

Like other types of paints, watercolor has several properties. Today we are going to talk about colors. You are mistaken if, at first glance, it seems to you that that is a very understandable theme. Furthermore, it is difficult to understand the theory of watercolor, let alone the techniques of mixing colors.

However, in this article, we will discuss the most important points regarding a general understanding of the color palette of watercolor paints. Each artist has his favorite color sets that are both a result of spontaneous development and conscious desire. Besides, each watercolorist chooses paints that are suitable for him. These are the ones you simply cannot do without. All the rest can be mixed using them.

Colors in Watercolor

  • •    Primary colors;
  • •    Secondary colors;
  • •    Tertiary colors.

The main (primary) colors in a paint set are red, blue, and yellow since they cannot be obtained by mixing other colors. Most small paint sets usually contain each primary color, plus some earthy tones such as umber and sienna.

Each of the chief pigments comes in one warm and one cold color; red is warm, blue is cool, for example. However, they will have an offset to an adjacent color on the color wheel, which determines how warm or cool the given shades are. That property is worth applying when you create space and distance in your painting, using warm tones in the foreground and cool tones in the background.

When the primary colors are mixed, they create secondary colors, or complementary colors - orange, purple, and green. Most watercolor sets also contain a few secondary colors, such as purple and green. Nevertheless, there are subtle differences between warm or cold ones. Using it, you can influence the viewer's perception of your painting.

A tertiary color can also be called an intermediate color because it mixes approximately equal amounts of a primary color with a secondary color that follows on the color wheel. For example, if you mix red with the right adjacent orange, you get a red-orange; if you combine red with left adjacent purple, you get red-purple.

You can create additional intermediate colors by repeatedly blending adjacent pairs on the color wheel until you have almost continuous subtle color transitions. By mixing adjacent colors one creates a harmonious relationship anywhere on the wheel. The endless progression and flow of color is a beautiful image. Just imagine how gardens and flower beds of related colors please the eye.

What is Chinese Watercolor Painting?

Chinese watercolor painting, which is surprisingly thin, delicate, airy, and seemingly transparent, always delights and fascinates the viewer. Incomprehensibly beautiful, it amazes with its expressiveness and laconic form of performance. The flowering of classical water technology in China began in the 8th century, during the Tang Dynasty. Many famous artists of that time served as secretaries at the palaces of the emperors and became famous not only for their talent as a painter but also for their artistic abilities.

They strove to reflect the world around them: they enthusiastically drew trees, domestic animals, scenes from peasant life, and often illustrated poems. Although watercolors did not exist in ancient China in the modern sense, the technique of the so-called water painting was identical to watercolors. Depicting landscapes, plants, animals, birds, or creating small plot scenes, the artists accompanied the drawings with inscriptions. About 2000 years ago, a kind of soft paper was invented in China.

Over the years, the quality of paper improved, but the basic principles of working with it have remained the same. The softness of Chinese paper does not allow the application of the method of multiple layering. It requires the application of a painting spot at once in full saturation. The tip of a brush or a pen is used to clarify details. The original material in the art of Chinese artists is ink.

What Is the Secret of Making Chinese Watercolor?

Much attention is paid to the process of its preparation. In the last century, it was made in the form of plates, today Chinese watercolor paint looks like small graceful briquettes. To use ink, artists broke off a piece of it and rubbed it on a stone. Hard briquettes are grinded on special plates now. Watercolor ink is made by hand according to ancient recipes. The masters' recipes are kept secret, but their meaning is more or less unraveled. The base material is soot from the combustion of sesame oil.

The spot is rubbed with a small amount of skin and fish glue and the juices of unknown plants, which gives the Chinese water colors extraordinary subtlety and the ability to lie down on paper or silk with very ease. In this case, the ink absorbs into paper or silk fiber the same way as the dye in the cloth. Also, it is difficult to wash the paint off from the base.

During the Tang Dynasty in China, there were three main categories of artists: divine (shen), refined (miao), skillful (neng); within each category, three more levels were distinguished - high, medium, and low. Chinese masters had a brilliant visual memory. They never worked directly from nature and reproduced landscapes with mountains, streams, trees from memory.

Transparency of Watercolor

Transparency of watercolor is the main feature, which differentiates it from other paints. Thus, the paper should shine through the layer. The transparency of watercolor pigments is different. There are covering watercolor paint pigments. These pigments are not as thin as the rest. You may risk getting a cloudy opaque layer using them in pure form or mixtures.

What are these colors? Cadmium orange, cadmium lemon, chromium oxide, iron oxide, light red, etc. How to understand what they are covering? If the pigment is easily taken on a brush thickly, then the paint is opaque watercolor paint. The same makes sense when the paint is diluted with water, but the layer on the paper is unclear. In mixtures, such paint gives even more turbidity and opacity.

What Colors Are Made up of several Pigments?

If you want your watercolor to be brilliant, then do not use opaque pigments. The more pigments are, the more opaque the watercolor painting is. "Mix no more than three colors," say the artists and many people follow it. However, have you ever thought that some of the colors in your palette are already a mixture of pigments? Moreover, if you mix this paint with another one of such kind, then you get a mix of not two colors, but four or six!

The manufacturer indicates them! Look at the label designations. Take, for example, such an index: P.Y.35. That is the international designation for yellow pigment. For instance, olive color is a mixture of three pigments: green - P.G.17, yellow P.Y.1, and black P.Bk7. (By the way, it is a good tip on how to mix this or that color from primary paints, right?)

Opaque Paints

Opaque watercolor can surprise with its brightness and ease of application. However, it can be used as regular watercolors if diluted with enough water. Due to the high content of pigments, the colors remain bright, so one may create many fantastic designs.

Thanks to the watercolor transparency, light penetrates through all the layers of paint. They seem to shine from the inside as a result of which the lower layers of paint create color effects. In opaque watercolor, the opposite is true. The light beam cannot fully penetrate the paint layer, which affects the quality if you are working in the glazing technique.

What is Lightfastness?

That is the fade resistance of paints. Unstable ones can simply white over time or disappear from the surface of the paper. Of course, paints are now not what they were in the 19th century. Watercolors no longer need to be stored in the dark. Time has no power over it. Subsequently, low-light-resistant paints are no longer on sale. The color fastness is also indicated on the label.

  • •    * - low lightfast (poor);
  • •    ** - medium lightfast (good);
  • •    *** - lightfast (excellent).

Which Paint is Better: Transparent or Opaque?

First, you need to figure out what the difference is. The transparency of the watercolor allows the lower layers of paint to show through. Opaque watercolor paint blocks everything underneath. Also, it mixes worse with other paints. Opaque watercolor does not create smooth transitions. That means that it is impossible to create a gradient effect, which is often used when depicting sea waves illuminated by the rays of the setting sun or the play of a stormy sky.

All labels should indicate which type of watercolors you are holding: opaque or transparent. But if you come across paints without a designation, then you can check it yourself. To do this, take a blank sheet of white paper and draw a black strip on it with a marker. Now take your paints and make brush strokes perpendicular to the line. Then everything is simple. If you can see a black strip under the watercolor, then that is transparent watercolor, if the paint overlaps with the black color, then it is an opaque watercolor paint.

Now back to the question, which one is better. Most artists prefer transparent paints as they are easier to use. However, that does not mean forgetting about opaque watercolors. It can be used in a certain amount and for some art tasks, that is, where there is no need to make smooth transitions. Besides, the colors in the opaque watercolor are more saturated. However, if you overlay several colors together, then most likely you will see a somewhat unrealistic shade, since, as mentioned above, they do not mix well. Finally, you just need to understand in what cases to use this or that type of paint. If you are a beginner, be sure to try two types to understand which one is better for you.


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