Saturday, February 2, 2013


When asked, my beginning students asked about the possibility of having a lesson or two on how to get good, strong darks.  They are having trouble getting good darks and wondered how I do it.  So I did some color swatches and realized that the reason I get good darks is because I'm starting out with some pretty dark pigments!  I hadn't realized how dark my palette colors are - and all the colors I buy that aren't on my palette but are in my bag.  When you begin your color mixes with these colors, you can't help but get good dark greys and "blacks" of different temperatures!  Of course, I mixed colors to see what darks I could get and what variety I got, too - and that may be the lesson the students get.  I think they enjoy making swatches and I will contain it to just single pigment colors that are transparent or semi-transparent, so they don't have to worry about making mud.  (Almost all of my colors are transparent or semi-transparent.)

What's on your palette?  Dark colors, light colors, or a good mix of both?  Which colors are your favorite mixes for darks?  Here are some of mine I played with...

These were made by putting one color on the left side, one color on the right side, and then blending in the middle.  Sometimes one of the color was so pushy, it just took over the other side.  The Prussian Blue flowed right into the Pyrrol Crimson and then the blue side dried while the crimson side remained wet much longer, making that edge.  Other just flowed and remained in the middle.

The bottom mix is the traditional Burnt Umber + French Ultramarine Blue (both Daniel Smith colors).  I didn't care for what it did although it separated and granulated a lot but the mixed color is very dark and muddy looking to me.  But the Burnt Umber is pretty muddy looking.  I decided using the newer Transparent Brown color (which Christopher Leeper turned me on to in his workshop last fall) is a prettier pigment and a better mixer.

When I mix my colors, I always think about complementary colors and how they work together.  So when I have a reddish brown (Transparent Brown), I mix it with a greenish blue (Prussian Blue), thinking that the reddish brown is my "orange" and the greenish blue is my "blue" complementary colors.

The reddish violet then mixes with a greenish color (Viridian, a color I never use but looks pretty good mixed with this Mineral Violet from Holbein).

At the bottom, I mixed the two colors directly, putting them both down wet and brushing just enough to mix them.  So Indanthrone and Quinacridone Burnt Scarlet (another color I had yet to use!) makes a good grey-brown warm color while Prussian Blue and Pyrrol Crimson makes a good dark grey, almost black that looks cool to me. 

It's a fun process, without much stress involved, and you learn to renew your palette colors (Transparent Brown and Quin Burnt Scarlet and Pyrrol Crimson are all going on my palette now instead of in my bag) for the new year!

I hope when you click on the photos, they enlarge enough so you can read the colors well. 

Now on to painting a little black calf to try out those new mixes!

I hope you are safe and warm, wherever you are.  We are having our first real snowstorm of the year - supposed to get up to 4 inches today with a winter weather advisory from 7 am this morning to 7 am tomorrow morning!  Get out the shovels and snowshoes!!!


Caroline Simmill said...

Hi Rhonda I am a great believer in colour mixing swatches. I use them for painting in oils, acrylics and also watercolour. You are right it is important to know your colours well and to see all the beautiful darks you can achieve in many shades. Recently I did some samples of watercolour blues, I was amazed to see how many you can buy in tubes and that you can add a hint of another colour to create some lovely grey shades that are fresh looking and not drab at all! Your swan painting is lovely.

Vicki Greene said...

Those are nice dark mixes. I have way too many colors on my palette but just can't seem to give any of them up -lol.

Watercolors by Susan Roper said...

Rhonda, how important are these palette studies of your paints for painting darks?! Yet, I never seem to do more than guess the best I can and try whatever I can when needing darks. You are the best for researching these color combos. Thanks.

Gaylynn said...

Great lesson Rhonda. I will have to work on those swatches. :-)

CrimsonLeaves said...

I like seeing color swatches myself. I also find I get darker colors when I paint wet on dry. I'll never have the upper hand with watercolors as so many artists do. I spend too much time trying to put the color where and how I want it and in the end, my fussiness causes a piece to fail.

Vandy said...

What a great way of doing colour swatches. SImple but very effective. I keep all sorts of references on my studio pin board. I think a few of these will be going up there soon too.

Thanks Rhonda

Watercolors by Susan Roper said...

I recently saw a painting that had a dark background that was mixed on the paper, with a red and a green, and it was fabulous. It had lots of areas that weren't mixed as completely and it added such a sense of mystery with the ghostly shapes back there. I think we all need to revisit what colors we mix now and then, it helps. Good for you for sharing this exercise with us, that helps too!

RH Carpenter said...

Thanks, Caroline. Blues are my favorite - blues of all colors - and I often touch in a bit of red or yellow or whatever, to change the tube blues I have (which are a lot! ha ha).
Vicki, I know what you mean - I have a hard time making myself change much from my first pigments in the split primary colors of red, blue, yellow. I have far less yellows than blues and reds and have many more greens than I thought I had!
Susan, yes, it's necessary to learn the colors you have rather than use those recommended by others - I enjoy it but it does seem less "fun" than painting a full painting - unles you're in between paintings and it's a good way to rest and rejuvenate before the next painting comes along.
Gaylynn, good to hear from you! Enjoy your colors and mix them up as much as you can - it's fun and meditative and a bit geeky, but what the heck - you learn as you go.
Sherry, I, too, enjoy just seeing the color swatches from other artists. Trying to force watercolor to do anything usually doesn't work.
Vandy, I didn't spend a lot of time and effort on these - the main thing was put it down really dark, then lift to see how pale and back to white it would go. Some I put down and lifted and knew I would put that tube away and not use it - like Indigo which has not life to it. And some felt "greasy" when I mixed them with water and put them on the paper - like Viridian. I don't like the feel of it - which is why I don't use it. But it's a good mixing color, I see.
Susan, I like to mix on the paper and let the colors blend into the darks - easy to do and the paint does all the work for you, creating warm vs cool and a good mix of the colors where they separate. My thing is always using transparent colors - very few opaques.

Meera Rao said...

great swatches and a nice reminder to mix on paper to get beauty :)

RH Carpenter said...

Thank you, Meera. I always mix more on the paper, when I can, laying the colors side-by-side on my palette or just pulling the colors in, one by one and seeing what they will do. I think less brushing adds even more variety and you can still darken, change the temperature, etc.

Pam Johnson Brickell said...

Love the zen of color swatches. Such a great place to start before taking colors out for a spin. Great post, Rhonda! Looking forward to seeing how the sweet calf progresses :)

RH Carpenter said...

I wish I would remember - or have the discipline - to test out every new color I get, but I often don't. It would be a good exercise and I'd still be painting!