My pure watercolour technique involves producing each of my watercolour paintings using just three watercolour pigments; red, yellow and blue. From these three primary colours, I mix all the different tones and shades that you can see in my finished paintings.
Why do I mix my colours?
With such a variety of different watercolours available to buy pre-mixed, I am often asked why I produce all of my own different colours. Instinctively, I know how to create the specific colours I want contained within my paintings and to be honest, this process has always worked well for me, even as a young child! When mixing watercolour paints, I have more control over my paintings. By mixing my own colours, rather than buying off the shelf, I can produce the exact shades I want to bring together.
My ‘go to’ brand for watercolour paints are Winsor and Newton Artist watercolour pigments and I use them in tube form. By using the tubes, this allows me to create a thicker body of paint. To start with I use three trusty ceramic egg cups for the three paints! This makes the paint more easily accessible for me to mix from. I then use ceramic palettes for mixing paints and developing the colours. These are just the right size to hold in my hand for when I stand and paint at the easel.
The Winsor and Newton watercolour pigments I use also have an excellent lightfastness and a strong pigment content, so the colours will not easily fade. This is important to me as my paintings can take 100-150 hours to create, I want to know that each will last a long time.
To mix my colours, I rely on my instincts. For example, I generally know how much blue or yellow paint I need to add, to create a particular shade of green. This also comes with years of practice too!
Here in this sheet, you can see I have created 54 different colours from just mixing combinations of the red, yellow and blue. There are many more colours and variations of colours that can be produced; however, these are just a selection. I worked quickly through this colour chart and didn’t think through the colours produced, but I just worked instinctively.
Tone and hue
The tone of a colour means the lightness or darkness of a colour.
The hue of a colour means the actual colour i.e lemon yellow or gold yellow.
By using only three colours of paint, I have a greater influence over the tone of a painting. There are times when I want to create a contrasting tone, such as when I’m painting autumn colours, where I want to emphasise the vibrant rusty reds and burnt oranges. To achieve a tonal contrast means applying a strong, darker colour next to a light, vibrant colour. You can see this effect in my Wrekin in Autumn watercolour painting.
The importance of water
When I create colours, the amount of water I apply to the paint affects the tone I achieve. The basic rule is, the less water the stronger the colour. However, this is sometimes a difficult balancing act, as I need water to create my mixed colours, whereas it would be a more simplistic process if I were to paint with pre-mixed watercolour pigments.
Further to this, not only does the amount of water affect the tone achieved, but so does the amount of watercolour layers I apply to the paper. The more layers I add, the stronger the colour I achieve. You can see the chart where I show the colour before and after more water is added to affect the tone.
Using mixed watercolour paints
Pigments that are mixed can be harder to keep bound together in the palette, so they need to be regularly re-mixed before applying the paint to the paper. A mixed pigment for example is when you use a yellow and blue paint to create a green mix, rather than using a ready-made green paint. Additionally, when I mix the paint, I will re-mix variations of mixed paints, to create another hue. All the various green hues in my painting Towards the Light were created from my three colours.
Using a mixed black paint
The greatest challenge when mixing all of my colours from just red, yellow and blue, is creating a black paint. Therefore, whenever I need black paint I need to make as much black paint as I will need for the painting. Otherwise my black mix might not be the same hue, each time I create it.
A mixed black paint can be very hard to bind together. It can start to separate as you apply it to the paper. Therefore, I have to make sure each layer of black paint is perfectly dry before adding another layer. You can see the separating that may occur in the photograph above.
In my painting Sunset through the Trees I had to apply many layers (approximately 40!) of my own mixed black paint. Each time I brushed a layer on, the colours tried to separate. I had to make the mix flow, so I could apply it smoothly to the paper and yet use as little water as possible, so it was less likely to separate. I also had to paint around the leaves, as I don’t use masking fluid. It was not an easy painting to complete but I think, worth it!