Color That Can Be Saturated and Subtle–Who Knew?

I adore color in watercolor painting—deep ruby reds, bold blues, verdant greens, rich golden yellows…I could go on and on, but one thing that I often forget in my zeal is that color is not just a matter of hue. Saturation and subtle color layers also play a huge part in how a successful painting comes together.

That’s especially true in watercolor. Because the pigments can be both transparent and opaque, and because colors are so easily layered on top of one another, there are an infinite number of colors to create in any watercolor painting.

In Christopher St. Leger’s work, I see how prismatic his colors are, and by that I mean that no one color seems to be taken unmixed from palette to paper. The artist builds complex colors through delicate washes and intricate blending. And he applies the paint in such a way that you get a sense of the “basic” colors he starts with, and how he mixes them into something else entirely.

Wilma by Christopher St. Leger, 2009, watercolor painting, 26.5 x 22.
Wilma by Christopher St. Leger, 2009, watercolor painting, 26.5 x 22.

Sometimes the best test of a color’s depth is looking at one that we often take for granted. Sarah Yeoman, an Artist Daily member whose work I just love, has shown me how neutral colors like brown, beige, and grey are in fact some of the most exciting and complex colors to create. In her watercolor painting Falling Light, I see how many colors went into making the browned foliage underbrush, and trees, as well as the grey-blue-white of the air and sky.

Falling Light by Sarah Yeoman, watercolor painting, 22 x 30.
Falling Light by Sarah Yeoman, watercolor painting, 22 x 30.

But an artist also has to know when to turn up the color. Give it to us bold and powerful. That is what Nessa Grainger often does in her watercolor art—incorporates strokes of bold color that energize the painting and make it seem like something exceptional is happening.

Daybreak by Nessa Grainger, watercolor painting, 28 x 36.
Daybreak by Nessa Grainger, watercolor painting, 28 x 36.

Color is the last thing any painter takes for granted, but knowing how to get the most out of color can take some doing with watercolor. In addition to techniques on watercolor as a medium, in the 50 Watercolor Essential Techniques Bundle, you will find instruction on color, layering, and more. After spending time with the resources in this kit, I am beginning to realize how expansive the possibilities of color and form in watercolor really are. It’s made me better understand what I am seeing when I look at other artists’ work, and it has also given me the confidence to explore watercolor all around the color wheel. Enjoy!

VloothuisWCLiveLandscapeSymbolsPart2PtgP.S. Right now our favorite painter Johannes Vloothuis is giving a Landscape Symbols Online Workshop. You can participate live or watch the painting sessions whenever you want from the comfort of your home or studio! Sign up now and enjoy the workshop!

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Courtney Jordan

About Courtney Jordan

  Courtney is the editor of Artist Daily. For her, art is one of life’s essentials and a career mainstay. She’s pursued academic studies of the Old Masters of Spain and Italy as well as museum curatorial experience, writing and reporting on arts and culture as a magazine staffer, and acquiring and editing architecture and cultural history books. She hopes to recommit herself to more studio time, too, working in mixed media.   

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