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Hints, Tips & Techniques for Water Colour - Colours

Click on the headings to discover details about using the different colours within our water colour ranges.

Colour ranges and their combinations
Basic palettes
Colour mixing
Additional colours for particular techniques (Landscape painting, Portrait painting, Secondary colours, Transparent colours, Opaque colours, High key colour, Low key colour, Granulating colours, Lifting/ Staining colours)


Colour Ranges and Their Combinations

In the past, water colours have been the medium most susceptible to fading from light due to the thinness of the wash.  As the 20th century rolled on, the permanence of pigments and the colours available have continued to improve. The result is today’s painters have palettes and permanence that past masters could only have dreamt about.

Basic Palettes

Your initial palette should provide a wide colour spectrum and should have a good balance between transparent and opaque colours and between strong tinting and weaker tinting colours. Permanent colours are always desirable and the main palette should ideally be low in price. The common practice is to maintain a broad palette of about twelve colours and add to it for specific requirements. Here are the recommended palettes:


Artists' Water Colour
Winsor Lemon, Winsor Yellow, Scarlet Lake, Permanent Rose, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, French Ultramarine, Winsor Blue (Green Shade), Winsor Green (Blue Shade), Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Chinese White.

Cotman Water Colour
Lemon Yellow Hue, Cadmium Yellow Pale Hue, Cadmium Red Hue, Permanent Rose, Alizarin Crimson Hue, Ultramarine, Intense Blue, Viridian Hue, Raw Umber, Yellow Ochre, Burnt Sienna, Chinese White.

Colour Mixing - The Six Colour System

Restricted palettes are used by both beginners and serious painters to develop their understanding and use of colour. The six colour system uses two reds, two yellows and two blues as a ‘primary’ palette. This provides both a blue shade red and a yellow shade red for example, which will ensure clean violets and clean oranges from your palette.  The additional colours recommended in the basic palette introduce a wider range of tones and greater variation in opacity and tinting strength.

Artists' Water Colour and Cotman Water Colour Wheels 
Artists' Water Colour Wheel                   Cotman Water Colour Wheel 

Additional Colours For Particular Techniques

When choosing new colours, an excellent investment is a hand painted colour chart of the range. For a small price, you’ll be able to see all the colours in graded washes, helping you to make the right choice before buying new tubes. The colours named are from Artists’ Water Colour, although many are also available from the Cotman range.

Landscape Painting
New or different colours can really broaden your painting vocabulary. For landscapes, yellows, blues, greens and earth colours are always useful.

Landscape Colours
Nickel Titanium Yellow, Transparent Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Indanthrene Blue, Cobalt Blues, Winsor Blue (Red Shade), Prussian Blue, Cerulean Blue, Manganese Blue Hue, Cobalt Turquoises, Cobalt Greens, Viridian, Winsor Green (Yellow Shade), Terre Verte, Oxide of Chromium, Hooker’s Green, Permanent Sap Green, Olive Green, Green Gold, Naples Yellow Deep, Raw Sienna, Light Red, Caput Mortuum Violet, Burnt Umber, Payne’s Gray, Davy’s Gray, Ivory Black, Titanium White.


Portrait Painting
Portraiture needs that spark of life and character; clean, crisp colour mixtures and tones will achieve these. Pinks, violets and earth colours will make some of the subtle tones required for portraits.

Portrait Colours
Lemon Yellow (Nickel Titanate), Nickel Titanium Yellow, Cadmium Yellow Pale, Cadmium Orange, Cadmium Scarlet, Cadmium Red Deep, Rose Dore, Quinacridone Red, Permanent Carmine, Rose Madder Genuine, Purple Madder, Permanent Magenta, Cobalt Violet, Permanent Mauve, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Turquoise, Naples Yellow, Naples Yellow Deep, Raw Sienna, Light Red, Venetian Red, Indian Red, Caput Mortuum Violet, Burnt Umber, Davy’s Gray, Ivory Black, Titanium White.


Secondary Colours
In addition to the bright secondary colours you will achieve from your basic palette, single pigment ‘secondaries’ are important, eg. Winsor Green (Blue Shade) can make brighter mixes than if you use a green mixed from a blue & yellow.

Secondary Colours
Winsor Orange, Quinacridone Magenta, Permanent Magenta, Thioindigo Violet, Cobalt Violet, Permanent Mauve, Ultramarine Violet, Winsor Violet (Dioxazine), Cobalt Turquoises & Greens, Viridian, Winsor Greens, Oxide of Chromium, Green Gold.


Transparent colour with Gum ArabicThe Most Transparent Colours
Using the most transparent colours allows each wash laid down to have the maximum influence on the next one. Infinite optical colour mixtures are possible. Addition of Gum Arabic will also increase transparency.

Transparent Colours
Aureolin, Gamboge Genuine, Indian Yellow, Rose Doré, Quinacridone Red, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Carmine, Rose Madder Genuine, Quinacridone Magenta, Purple Madder, Permanent Magenta, Thioindigo Violet, Winsor Violet (Dioxazine), Ultramarine (Green Shade), Winsor Blue (Red Shade), Antwerp Blue, Prussian Blue, Viridian, Winsor Green (Yellow Shade), Hooker’s Green, Permanent Sap Green, Olive Green, Green Gold, Raw Sienna, Quinacridone Gold, Perylene Maroon, Burnt Umber, Gum Arabic.


The Most Opaque Colours
Using the most opaque colours gives flatter washes and greater covering over previous washes. Opaque colours are also useful for toning down colour mixtures. For even greater opacity, try combining some Designers’ Gouache colours into your technique.

Opaque Colours
Lemon Yellow (Nickel Titanate), Cadmium Yellows, Orange and Reds, Vermilion Hue, Winsor Emerald, Oxide of Chromium, Cobalt Green (Yellow Shade), Naples Yellow, Naples Yellow Deep, Light Red, Venetian Red, Indian Red, Caput Mortuum Violet, Sepia, Indigo, Neutral Tint, Blue Black, Ivory Black, Lamp Black, Titanium White. All tints made with white.


High Key (Bright) Colours
These are generally the colours with high tinting strength. High key palettes are popular with flower painters and for more abstract effects in water colour.

High Key Colours
Bismuth Yellow, Cadmium Yellows, Orange and Reds, Quinacridone Reds and Violets, Winsor Violet (Dioxazine), Indanthrene Blue, Winsor colours, Titanium White.


Low Key (Subdued) Colours
These are generally low tinting strength colours. Low key palettes are also achieved with tints (colour plus white) and shades (colour plus black).

Painting by Emma PearceEmma Pearce    Low Key Colours
Antwerp Blue, Cerulean Blue, Cobalt Turquoise, Cobalt Green, Viridian, Terre Verte, Oxide of Chromium, Naples Yellow, Naples Yellow Deep, Raw Sienna, Light Red, Indian Red, Caput Mortuum Violet, Burnt Umber, Vandyke Brown, Sepia, Indigo, Payne’s Gray, Blacks, Davy’s Gray, Titanium White for tints.  

Granulating coloursGranulating Colours
The granulation of some colours is prized by watercolourists to achieve texture on the paper. The more colours are mixed together and the larger the quantity of water, the more granulation results. If you wish to minimise granulation, distilled water may help, to maximise this effect try using our Granulation Medium

Granulating Colours
Cadmium Red, Cadmium Red Deep, Rose Madder Genuine, Cobalt Violet, Permanent Mauve, Ultramarine Violet, Cobalt Blue Deep, French Ultramarine, Cobalt Blue, Cerulean Blue, Manganese Blue Hue, Cobalt Green, Viridian, Oxide of Chromium, Raw Sienna, Raw Umber, Ivory Black.




 

 

Lifting/ Staining Colours
Lifting washes can mean anything from a complete wash down under a tap, to get a ‘smokey’ background, to the sponging out of a small area to lighten or rescue it. The following staining colours will stay in the paper and lift less easily than the other colours in your palette. The use of Gum Arabic will reduce the degree of staining. Generally Winsor & Newton water colour papers are more conducive to lifting than others.

Staining watercolour

Lifting/ Staining Colours
Bismuth Yellow, Cadmium Yellows, Winsor Lemon, Transparent Yellow, Aureolin, Gamboge Genuine, Bright Red, Cadmium Scarlet, Scarlet Lake, Vermilion Hue, Cadmium Red, Winsor Red, Rose Doré, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Alizarin Crimson, Permanent Carmine, Permanent Rose, Purple Madder, Permanent Magenta, Winsor Violet (Dioxazine), Winsor Blues, Prussian Blue, Winsor Greens, Winsor Emerald, Oxide of Chromium, Hooker’s Green, Permanent Sap Green, Olive Green, Gold Ochre, Quinacridone Gold, Venetian Red, Brown Madder, Perylene Maroon, Caput Mortuum Violet, Vandyke Brown, Indigo, Payne’s Gray, Neutral Tint, Gum Arabic.

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