by Walter Foster Creative Team
Color is a crucial part of an artist's personal style. Building on the basics of color and color theory, an artist can create their own trademark color style: from bold & bright to bi-color schemas to black & white with a color pop.
When mixing your own colors, it's important to have a basic knowledge of color relationships. The primary colors (red, yellow, and blue) are the three basic colors that all other colors derive from, and they can't be created by mixing any other colors. Each combination of two primary colors results in a secondary color (purple, green, and orange), and a combination of a primary and a secondary color results in a tertiary color (such as red-orange or yellow-green). Another term you'll want to become familiar with is hue, which refers to the color group or family (such as red) rather than the specific color (such as alizarin crimson and cadmium red light, which are both of a red hue).
Colors are also often identified in terms of "temperature"—that is, colors can be classified as being either "warm" or "cool," and each temperature can express moods as well as seasons. Warm colors—reds, oranges, and yellows—are associated with passion, energy, and the heat of summer or the changing colors of fall; whereas cool colors—blues, greens, and purples—create a sense of serenity and peacefulness and are associated with the cool temperatures of winter or the freshness of spring. There are variations in temperature within every hue, as well. A red that contains more yellow, such as cadmium red, is warmer than a red that contains more blue, such as alizarin crimson.
MIXING VIVID SECONDARY COLORS: To produce vibrant secondary colors, mix two primaries that have the same temperature (e.g., a cool red with a cool blue or a warm yellow with a warm blue).
MIXING MUTED SECONDARY COLORS: To create more subdued secondaries, mix two primaries of opposite temperatures (e.g., a cool red with a warm blue).
When placed next to each other, complementary colors create lively, dramatic contrasts that can add interest and excitement to a painting. In contrast, you can also mix in a little of a color's complement to dull the color. For example, mute a bright red by adding a little of its complementary color green.
PAIRING COMPLEMENTS: When complementary colors appear together in nature, they create striking scenes—for example, red berries among green leaves, the orange sun against a blue sky, or the yellow center of a purple iris.
Value is the relative lightness or darkness of a color (or of black). Variations of color values help create the illusion of depth and form in a painting. To expand your range of values, you need to lighten and darken your colors. With opaque media, like acrylic and oil paints, you lighten your colors by adding white and darken them by adding black. With watercolor, you can still darken colors by adding black; but to lighten them, you must add water. The more water you add, the lighter the value will be.
MAKING VALUE SCALES: Although these scales don't show all the light values possible, you get a good idea of the different values you can produce. Pure pigment is shown at left, and more water is added for successively lighter values
By mixing colors, you can create a full range of exciting color possibilities from just a small collection of paints (called a "limited palette"). The chart below shows the variety of colors that can be created from a limited palette of 10 colors. Each of the squares on the chart is a two-color mix. You can create an even greater variety by mixing together three colors, but most watercolorists agree that any number beyond that usually produces a dark, muddy mix. Charts like this are a useful reference, especially when created using your own palette and paint combinations.
VARYING MIXES: All the colors here are equal 50/50 mixes, but changing the proportion of one color can dramatically alter your results.
Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.
Leonardo da Vinci
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