In class we practiced mixing the primary colors, red, yellow and blue to make a full range of the secondary colors, green, orange and purple. You will use the same red, yellow and blue for all three mixtures. Your finished project will look something like the photo below, starting at one color and gradually shifting to the other. I recommend you start with yellow when mixing green and orange, adding just a tiny bit of blue or red at a time, since yellow is the palest and weakest color. Please read all instructions before starting this exercise. If you still have trouble, I recommend you register for the class in January and do this exercise with me in person.
The red, yellow and blue you choose will dramatically affect the secondary colors you will create. Many primaries contain a small amount of one of the other primaries, so if it is mixed with the third primary, the result will be brownish and less intense.
I recommend you choose a cool red, such as alizarin crimson, carmine or magenta to create a good purple. Above I used carmine which created excellent purples. It will be easy to get a good orange regardless of the red you choose. “True” reds or reds that are orangish contain yellow and will make a brown when mixed with blue, as seen in the color wheel below. Most painters will purchase a quinacridone magenta and/or dioxazine purple if their palette can’t make a good purple, or if these are colors that they frequently use and they prefer not to mix them over and over.
You can use any blue that doesn’t contain white. Most sets have a phthalo blue which leans toward aqua, although it may be called “intense blue” or “bright blue” (seen below) and better quality sets contain ultramarine which leans towards purple (seen above) Both blues will make purple, although purples made with ultramarine are a little more vibrant. The red found in ultramarine causes greens that you mix to be dull (seen above) and phthalo blue makes brilliant greens (seen below.)
Most bright yellows found in sets will mix both green and orange just fine.
Once you have completed a chart that looks like the first photo, you can cut up the color blocks in the three primaries, and three of each secondary color, arrange them into a color wheel, and glue them in place as seen below.
I recommend you try this exercise with different combinations of primary colors, and also mix all three primary colors, red, yellow and blue together in different proportions and intensities, with careful notes on which colors you used. You will get subtle shades of brown, olive, dull blue and possibly even black. The goal is to build your mixing skills and to discover all the possible colors in your palette.
When mixing colors, I recommend you use two brushes, one for each of the two primary colors you plan to mix. Add water to and place a 1/2 teaspoon each of the two colors and add the tiniest bit of the darker color to the lighter color, as seen below. Paint a swatch each time you add a little more of the darker color.
For more support on how to mix colors, watch this video.
Once you are comfortable mixing colors, you can paint an entire picture with just the three primaries. I painted the picture below with phthalo blue, quinacridone red and Joe’s yellow (American Journey’s pure yellow)
The second exercise was to paint a flat wash in background. You can see a beautiful example by California watercolorist Mark Adams here.
Draw a simple round object, like an orange or an onion, on a smallish piece of paper. Mix at least two tablespoons of paint for the background and about a teaspoon for the object, swatching both colors to ensure that they look good together. It is very important that you mix enough paint for the area you wish to cover. You cannot stop and mix more paint if you run out, or else the paint on your paper will dry and you will have a hard edge. Paint the background first, avoiding the round object, using a large brush. Here is a demonstration by Steve from Mind of Watercolor for this technique. It is difficult to tell, but his paper is slightly tilted to encourage downward flow of paint.Let the paper dry for a few minutes, and then dry it completely with a hair dryer.
At this point, paint the round object in your second color, applying water and lifting paint to create a highlight. Then let it dry and add a shadow. I had difficulty finding a good video for this technique, but I hope you find this video by Mind of Watercolor helpful.