Color Theory II

Color Theory II
Understanding How to Translate (or make) the Color:
From childhood art class we recall the three primary colors, red, and yellow, blue. They are the basis (or primary) for all colors (hues).
Secondary colors are orange, green, and violet.
Then there are ter’-tia-ry colors: (‘ter-she-,er-re) (containing a third) yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, and red-orange.
All the hues in the color world can be derived from ten basic families: Red, orange, yellow, green-yellow, green, blue-green, blue, purple-blue, purple, red-purple.
(10 basic hues plus black; and/or combined values of multiples = millions of colors)

Class Exercise: Create Your Own Color Wheel.
Complementary/Contrasting colors: Each primary, secondary, and tertiary color has its complement or contrasting color. When evenly mixed they produce a totally neutral color, in which neither color is distinguished; sometimes referred to as ‘mud.’
Complementary colors appear brighter when placed together. They complement each other, like vanilla ice cream and chocolate syrup. When painting with any one color, always keep in mind its ‘complement’ to strengthen your center of interest.
‘Saturation; A quality of color combining hue and saturation; Brightness or strength of a hue.’
(Blue vs. Light blue) Pigment from the tube is at its maximum chroma. Seldom do colors in nature appear at that level of intensity. The challenge for the artist is constantly weakening with water, or graying down their color to approximate what you are seeing.
Or tones, means the ‘value’ (think of money or jewels) the lightness or darkness of the hue. We change the value by adding water to the pigment.
Class Exercise: Create Your Own Value Charts
Starting with #9 as white through #1, black, create your own value chart using ivory black and water. Create a color chart using complementary colors to grey down each other. Using values of black combined with values of color to grey the color.
Color Temperature: Warm, Cool, Neutral
Color temperature has a lot to do with controlling ‘mood.’ Warm colors we associate with warmth; happiness, excitement; Red, yellow, orange, earth colors. Cool colors are moody, contemplative; blues and purples. Red-purples and green are neutral colors, but can easily be shifted to either warm or cool. Warms played against cools defines plane change; light and shadow, foreground against middle/background.
Target color:
How do I find my ‘target’ color? (The color I see) Locate the two closest ‘neighbor’ colors among the ‘ten families’ on the color wheel. Determine the value (s) and paint a test sample.
Staining Colors vs. Sedimentary Colors:
Sedimentary colors tend to be opaque, lay on the surface where as staining colors tend to be transparent, settle deep into the paper. (Reference chart to determine) Advantages & disadvantages.
Class Exercise: Create your own staining vs. Sedimentary color chart.

There is no magic to mixing any of the ‘millions’ of colors. Each color is an extended member of the original ten families. Identify the color using the marvelous tools God gave you. Then with a little practice find the closest ‘neighboring’ colors and from that observation mix the color that you see. Remember; ‘Don’t be Afraid of the Water.’

Setting Up Your Palette

Now that you have your paper stretched, it’s time to paint. But first, you need to set up your palette.

Sounds easy enough…squeeze out the paint on the palette and begin. However, if you give this simple task the proper attention to begin with, it will save you a lot of time and frustration in the future.

Palette: Any palette with a large mixing area(s) and a cover will do. I use both the John Pike and Robert E. Wood pallets. I try not to invest too much money in them as my palettes seem to get a lot of abuse. I have slammed the rear hatch of my SUV on one; left another on the roof of my car, etc.

Paints: I recommend that you use only tube paint of good professional quality. I use Winsor & Newton, but Grumbacher, Grumbacher Academy, Winsor & Newton Cotman, Holbein, Da Vinci, and many others are also good.
My current palette is:  Sepia, Vandyke Brown, Raw Sienna, Yellow Ochre, Cadmium Yellow, New Gamboge, Lemon Yellow, Burnt Sienna, (or Indian Red) Rose Madder, Alizarin Crimson, Winsor Red, Ivory Black, Sap Green, Winsor Green, Prussian Blue, Cerulean Blue,  French Ultramarine Blue, Cobalt Blue, Indigo  Blue, and Antwerp Blue. Place your warm colors on one side, and cool, or their complimentary colors, on the other side.

Squeeze out a generous amount in each well. To keep your colors moist and supple, open your palette at least once a week and mist your colors with water. They will remain a soft consistency, ready to paint when you are.

A word of caution: Dark moist places, like the inside of your palette, can be a breeding ground for the dreaded mould. That you definitely do not want growing in your paint wells. Place a moist small flat sponge and a copper penny in your palette to prevent mould. Make sure it is an older coin of real copper. One final piece of advice: There is no need to purchase every color the paint manufactures are offering. Learn to mix the color you need. A little ‘Watercolor Wisdom.’

Next month; Basic Washes and Blending

Watercolor Wisdom


Why Watercolor Wisdom?

When I decided to write a monthly blog on watercolor, I had to ask myself; ‘Self; why are you doing this? What makes you think that you have something of value to share with others?’

Answer: Over the past forty some years of my career as an artist, I have been the fortunate recipient of many tips from other generous artists; most of them free.

Reflecting back on these unstinting gifts, I decided it was time to share. I hope that some of this acquired wisdom will benefit you. For example:

Stretching Watercolor Paper:

The watercolor medium is challenging enough in its own right. But when your painting surface resembles the rolling hills of West Virginia, it becomes downright frustrating. I have tried most of the stretching techniques: Soak the paper and tape it down with reinforced shipping tape: Works great…until you try to remove the gummy stuff from your finished painting. What a mess! Stapling: Yes, the dozens of staples keep your paper taut; but try carefully removing them with a screwdriver. What a pain! You may have the unhappy experience, as I did, of gouging your finished painting: A total loss.

A few years ago at a Tony Couch workshop, he shared some ‘watercolor wisdom’ that I will pass along to you.

Cut your painting board ½” larger than your paper on all four sides. (For a full sheet, the board is 31”x23”; half sheet 23”x16”; quarter sheet 16”x12”) Make sure your board is of waterproof material. (Varnished masonite, lucite, gator board)
Place your paper on the board and soak it well on both sides, scrubbing it gently with a sea sponge to release the sizing. Don’t spare the water. Let it stand twenty minutes, then secure the soggy paper in place with four to eight strong paper clamps, (from any office or art supply store) and stand it up over the kitchen sink to drain. When dry, you are ready to paint.

As you apply those big washes, your paper may begin to buckle. Simply release a clamp or two, stretch the paper with your (clean) thumb, and clamp in place again. Your finished piece should dry flat and tight. Simple, foolproof, and works every time. A little ‘Watercolor Wisdom.’

Next month; Setting Up Your Palette

Past Students

My workshops are designed for the aspiring watercolor artist, those with some experience, and those who are just getting started. Each class begins with a painting demonstration. As the painting progresses I will provide you with a simple step-by-step explanation of every segment of the process. Along the way I will add additional demos on design, value studies, washes, painting skies, waterscapes, trees and shrubs, misting, splattering, and sponging. What have my students said about the classes? Find out here.


Welcome to my website! You are no doubt as excited by the water color mediums as I am. When you look at a painting do you subconsciously ask…’how did he or she do that?’ Every month I will share some “Water Color Wisdom” with you and answer your questions.

Your feedback and questions are always appreciated.

My Updated Bio

Most people have a natural curiosity about artists and instructors. What is this guy all about? Here is a link to check me out. Ray’s Bio! Typically artists have a long pedigree of titles and degrees after their name. Sorry, I don’t have them. I studied art at home and went to work in various art studios and ad agencies. It is that fifty years of first hand experience that I offer to share with you.