Color That Can Be Saturated and Subtle—Who Knew?

15 Dec 2011

I adore color—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. 600 Watercolor Mixes is a color workshop in itself. After paging through it and studying all the color "recipes" in the book, I really began to realize how expansive the possibilities of color 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!


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Comments

Sarahyeoman wrote
on 16 Dec 2011 2:49 PM

Thanks for the mention Courtney.Great article!

Sarah Yeoman