Watercolor Magic: Painting the 3-Color Effect

Two Distinct Qualities of Watercolor

Those watercolor painters who understand and exploit the differences between staining pigments and sedimentaries are happy painters indeed. No other paint medium I know of relies on and benefits so much from these two distinct qualities—not oils, temperas, pastels, or gouaches. Whether stainer or sediment, the two types behave differently in the palette and on the paper.

Sedimentary colors are essentially coarser, chalkier, heavier and more opaque than stainers, which can be thought of as ink-like in their behavior, and will stain the paper to some degree. Because of that, we often lay down sedimentary washes first, and glaze with the more transparent stainers.

3-color effect in watercolor

Some common watercolor stainers are: Prussian Blue, Ultramarine Blue, Indigo, Hooker’s Green, Sap Green, Viridian Green, Dioxazine Violet, Quinacridone Rose, Alizarin Crimson, and Indian Yellow, to name but a few. Some common sedimentaries are: all Cadmiums, Ochres, Umbers, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Blue, Horizon Blue, Permanent Red, Naples Yellow, Davy’s Gray, Sepia, and so on.

Sedimentaries will also quickly “settle out” of any mix with water, and if not kept stirred as we paint, can be inconsistent from one moment to the next. Stainers are very consistent in mixes with other stainers, but will tend to separate from sediments in any mixture on the palette as the heavier paint settles to the bottom of the color mix. The important thing to know is that a sediment/stainer mix can be made to separate some on our paper as well. This is where the real fun begins.

cross-section in watercolor

If we recognize that cold press and rough papers have considerable texture to them, we can take advantage of that knowledge to create subtle visual effects with our watercolor paint mixes. When we look at a cross-section of our paper under magnification we see hills and valleys. Staining paint will flow over the paper and bite into it fairly uniformly. Sediments, however, are heavy and coarse, like gravel, and will tend to roll off the hills and settle as deposits in the valleys. What this means is that in any sediment/staining mix, the texture of the paper can cause the mixed color to separate just enough on the paper so that we can get a 3-color effect. We can see the mixed color, as well as each of the sediment and stainers which made the mix! Is this not amazing? Try it yourself and see if you can create this interesting effect. To learn more about creating vibrant, exciting colors with watercolor, look for our article, Watercolor Mixing Secrets.

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–John and Ann



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John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

About John Hulsey and Ann Trusty

John Hulsey and his wife, Ann Trusty created the website, The Artist's Road - Painting the World's Beautiful Places.  The Artist's Road inspires with practical art tips and painting techniques for the traveling artist, video painting tutorials and demonstrations, workshop resources, artist profiles and interviews and remarkable painting locations.  The Artist's Road is an artist community for oil, watercolor and pastel artists.  Articles cover intriguing art travel experiences artists have had while painting the world's beautiful places. "I believe I must speak through my art, for the preservation of Nature and the natural landscape from which I take my inspiration and living." John Hulsey is an accomplished artist, author and teacher who has been working professionally for over thirty years. In addition to producing new work for exhibition and teaching workshops, Mr. Hulsey continues to write educational articles about painting for national art magazines, including Watercolor magazine and American Artist Magazine. He has been selected as a "Master Painter of the United States" by International Artist Magazine where his work was previously chosen to be included in the top ten of their international landscape painting competition. He was awarded residencies at Yosemite, Glacier and Rocky Mountain National Parks. "I strive in my art to celebrate the mysteries of Nature - the fleeting light on the landscape, the unimaginable diversity of creatures, the beauty of each leaf and flower." Ann Trusty  is an accomplished third generation artist whose work embodies the natural world and is created through direct observation and translation of her subjects into her paintings. She has found inspiration in the dancing light across the water of the Hudson River (where she had a studio for ten years), as well as the big sky and waving tall grasses of the open plains of the Midwest (her current home). Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States, France and Turkey in both museum and gallery exhibitions, and has been reviewed favorably by the New York Times.