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Watercolor tips: Never make mud (unless you want to)

One of the most common hurdles when learning watercolor is how not to make "mud". For clarity sake, "mud" isn't just brown, but any color that occurs that isn't intended.

Fig 1. A color study of 3 colors: Maroon Perylene, Anthraquinone Blue and Yellow Ochre



First, it's important for us to realize that water is a fickle medium. We need to be careful about colors accidentally mixing when we don't want to. This means we have to be aware what areas of our paper are wet, and which are dry. When I paint, people comment on how often my brush travels across the page. That's not just because I have creative ADD and can't focus in one place, it's also because I'm letting areas dry by working on other areas of the painting. It's also not uncommon for me to work on more than one piece at a time to make sure that large areas are dry so I don't accidentally mix colors I don't want to mix.


Second we need to come to terms that watercolor, despite its apparent simplicity, is also a complex medium. It's colors are transparent which means that any color we put down will always have an impact on any color that gets painted over it. What this also means is that unlike other mediums we don't really have the opportunity to "erase" or go over areas if we don't like the colors we placed down. To overcome this, we need to paint with confidence by first simplifying our tools. Taking a look at fig 1. we can see the array of colors that are possible with just three colors. Amazing range of greens can be achieved with just different concentrations of 2 colors. Fig 2 shows a similar color study where we can see the wonderful shades of orange and earth tones that happen with Maroon Perylene and Yellow Ochre. You'll notice that none of those combinations of colors will give us an undesirable "mud" color. When I first started learning how to paint with watercolors, I had a limited palette of colors. Take your time and do your color studies and get an idea of how colors mix and which colors to mix together.

Fig 2. Color Study of French Ultramarine, Maroon Perylene and Yellow Ochre.


In Action

Take a look at this video I put together on using a limited palette and how to create a series of color studies prior to painting the final artwork. Choose your colors carefully, be patient and have most importantly have fun. Make sure you like and subscribe to my youtube channel for more watercolor tips.

Support the Artist

You can help support the creation of the articles, and videos that I create by using the following links from Dick Blick to purchase your art supplies and tools. Here are the colors and brands I used for this article with links for you to purchase.

A deep staining red with a wonderful transparency.

Yellow Ochre - M. Graham > An opaque to semi-transparent dark yellow. Make sure you dilute it well when layering or it can be over powering.

This perfect transparent blue pigment is a great color for the solid azure hues.

A dark Transparent staining blue that I use for creating some darker shadows and shapes without having to go to a black or payne's grey.

Browsing for more colors? Feel free to use this link to support this site. If you have any questions, please leave a comment!

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