How to Paint the Look and Feel of Spring

6 Mar 2014

Watercolor painting by Carl Dalio, Wall Street--Arches, Utah
The color in this work, Wall Street--Arches, Utah, by Carl Dalio calls
to mind the scorching heat of a summer day, as opposed to the more
delicate hints of color that accompany spring.
I’m a color junkie. In fashion, in design, and especially in painting, vibrant color is what gets me creative. But before the image of Mimi from The Drew Carey Show becomes forever attached to my name in your mind, I’ll point out that I can control myself…sometimes. It’s tough, though, especially now that spring is on its way and I’m starting to see hints of color everywhere.

But that’s exactly what I remind myself when I start to grab and mix 20 (okay, more like 30!) colors on a palette—right now I’m seeing hints of color. We’ve got quite a few more weeks to go before we are in the full-blown color feast of spring, so my mantra right now is: ‘color is subtle.’ Say it with me.

That means when painting, I’m not accentuating color everywhere. Instead I add in pops of color—grass green, poppy red, and lemon yellow—against a warm neutral like burnt sienna. It’s not that I’m trying to avoid high-octane colors—because really, who could resist?—but I’m using them to create more transparent layers or delicate washes, which means a lot more depth and nuance.

Acrylic painting by Marcia Burtt--Low Tide, Pink Sky
Marcia Burtt uses intense colors, as in Low Tide,
Pink Sky
, and mixes them to natural effects.
To that end, Watercolor Artist has been a revelation for me. It’s packed with watercolor painting articles on ways to make complex and subtle color mixes, step-by-step demonstrations about how to layer color, and reveals how renowned and skilled painters use color more abstractly. For instance, painting a hillside doesn’t just have to be all about the green. It can become an exercise in creating rich and inviting earth tones, too, in layers of green, yellow, red, and blue, with hints of them all peeking out.

That same idea is played out in so many artists' work. Marcia Burtt creates paintings of the beautiful California coast with a varied and extensive color palette, yet mixing pigments so effectively that her color schemes are incredibly subtle and full of clarity.

It’s the way that you use color—not just the color itself—that can give you the most satisfaction in your latest artwork. Spring will always be about fresh and vibrant color, but you can celebrate the season by thinking creatively and complexly about how to incorporate it. For more resources on using color with precision and power and so much more, check out the latest issue of Watercolor Artist! Enjoy!

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In the April 2014 issue of Watercolor Artist you'll learn about the paintings that took top prizes in the 5th Annual Watermedia Showcase, how to use linework in your watercolor painting, how to boost your color confidenceplus more watercolor techniques.


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ladyartprof wrote
on 27 Apr 2011 2:21 AM

Like your insightful tips.  I am an art teacher and also have a painting blog.  Thanks for sharing your knowledge.  Check me out at


on 7 Mar 2014 10:11 AM

You are a colorist after my own heart!! My mantra - use more colors rather than less, it's all in how you pull them together!

Courtney - I would love to give you one of my color wheel systems: Eye For Color. If you are interested, let me know where I can send it (you can message me in fb or email me:

Love your column!

Beverly Ash Gilbert