The March 2016 article “Painting on Location with QoR Modern Watercolors” included a suggested palette of six QoR paints selected for their own attributes and for their ability to create a spectrum of beautiful saturated colors. This article will first discuss the selection process, and then demonstrate the paints’ mixing potential when organized around an artist’s color wheel.
Selecting the Paints
Paint colors rarely cooperate fully with an artist’s attempt to organize them into mixing systems. Not every blue and red will create a vibrant violet or every red and yellow, a lively orange. That is not to say mixes producing less saturated color cannot be beautiful and are not intrinsic to a watercolor painting. However, while artists may easily dull down a paint, we cannot readily make the paint on our palette more saturated. Starting with paints that allow for bright mixes can expand the potential we bring to painting.
It is rare to find a pigment that creates a true ‘primary’ paint capable of clear mixes on both sides of the color wheel. A red that makes both vibrant purples and fiery oranges, for example, is hard to find. One way to compensate for this is to have two paints for each primary color: a blue that leans toward violet to mix violets, and a second blue that leans toward green to mix greens. How do you determine if a color is predisposed toward one or the other side of the color wheel? Through mixing tests. Using a green-biased blue with a green-biased yellow will result in a more vibrant green. A less saturated and more muted green would be the result should an artist use a violet-biased blue and/or an orange-biased yellow (see Image 1). These muted blends are quite lovely, and can really make a painting sing. However, the color might also devolve into mud when the artist is not paying attention to how the mix is used.
Initially we desired two saturated paints for each primary color (red, blue, yellow). This would give us six paints that would combine to create strong secondary (violet, green, orange) and intermediary colors (yellow-orange, red-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, red-violet, blue-violet). The QoR watercolor line has many vibrant colors, so mixing tests helped guide our selections (see Image 2). We also needed at least one pair of paints on the color wheel to mix a chromatic black.
Once we selected finalists for the primaries, we found that our mixing tests were not providing a satisfactory black. We knew from previous experience that QoR Ultramarine Blue and Transparent Pyrrole Orange create a beautiful chromatic black that granulates (from the blue) and separates in interesting ways while drying (see Image 3). If we removed the orange-biased red in favor of QoR Transparent Pyrrole Orange, would the orange mix with Quinacridone Magenta to create a vibrant orange-biased red mixture? We found that it did. We made the switch, and had our palette of colors!
A Six Paint Color Wheel
Our color wheel is built from six paints: two blues, two yellows, a violet-friendly red, and an orange
The two yellows:
- Yellow for greens: Cadmium Yellow Primrose (PY35, ASTM LF-1, semi-transparent, non-granulating, staining)
- Yellow for oranges: Cadmium Yellow Medium (PY35, ASTM LF-1, semi-transparent, non-granulating, staining)
The two reds (and an orange):
- Red for violets: Quinacridone Magenta (PR122, LF-NA although our tests show LF-excellent, [i] transparent, non-granulating, staining)
- Orange-leaning Mixed Primary Red: mixture of Transparent Pyrrole Orange and Quinacridone Magenta
- Orange: Transparent Pyrrole Orange (PO71, LF-Good based on our tests, transparent, non-granulating, staining)
The two blues:
- Blue for violets: Ultramarine Blue (PB29, ASTM LF-1, semi-transparent, granulating, semi-staining)
- Blue for greens: Manganese Blue (mixed hue, PG7 and PB15:3, ASTM LF-2, transparent, granulating, non-staining)
Since pigments have different mixing strengths, combining equal amounts of two primaries might create an intermediary rather than a secondary when one of the paints overpowers the other. It is important to use your judgement as you mix. To create violet, we mixed violet-friendly Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Magenta until the mix seemed to lean toward neither blue nor red. To create green, we mixed green-biased Cadmium Yellow Primrose and Manganese Blue until the green color appeared to visually balance between the primaries. Intermediary colors were then mixed to fill the step between each secondary and its primaries.
To create the color wheel itself, we brushed the paints and mixes out onto damp Arches Natural White 140 lb (300 gsm) Cold Pressed Watercolor Paper. Painting onto damp paper contributed to the velvety look of the most saturated washes. Once dry, the paper was cut to shape and adhered to a fresh sheet of watercolor paper using GOLDEN Heavy Gel (Matte). A board placed over the freshly glued collage flattened the papers as the gel dried.
The painters in the Materials and Application Specialist team of GOLDEN are paint geeks, and we love mixing color. We hope this color wheel will be both informative and inspirational. We encourage you to share our joy and mix some QoR paints of your own! What happens if you substitute other yellows for the Cadmiums in our palette? Which yellows mix more vibrant oranges? Which yellows are friendly to green? Take notes as you mix, and your explorations will be resources you can return to in the future. You might even take this one step further, and explore glazing two colors rather than physically mixing them. In watercolor, there can be a difference between the color created when physically mixing two paints together, and the color created when glazing washes of the paints over one another. Although this article focuses on the mixing, in a future endeavor we might see what happens with glazes rather than mixes. If we do, we will be sure to share. In the meantime, we wish you joyful watercolor mixing!
[i] Sarah Sands, “QoR Lightfast Testing Update,” October 21, 2015, accessed June 30, 2016, https://justpaint.org/qor-lightfastness-testing-update/