Neutrals make powerful watercolors


Simple watercolor using neutrals

Glazes top and bottom, charges in center

Mixing color for effect

Making use of neutrals can give your watercolors a powerful boost.      

Take a look at the two color charts.  The combination is simple.  A red, a blue and a yellow is all that is involved.   Choosing the best red, blue and yellow will depend upon your experience. How do you know which combination to use? Experiment!

What is in the charts?    

The chart on the left is made up of Winsor & Newton Permanent Alizarin,  Holbein Marine Blue  and M.Graham Gamboge.

The chart at the top consists of American Journey Joe’s Blue, Winsor & Newton Perylene Maroon and M.Graham Gamboge.

While all of the paints are in the red, blue or yellow category you should be able to see that there are differences in the results. Compare the pale wash examples to the stronger wash examples. Also note the change in effect between the combinations.  Take time to explore your paints on a piece of paper not when you are actually painting. When you are painting you should have some sort of concept in mind.  However, it makes good sense to keep a separate piece of watercolor paper close by.  It can come in handy when you are trying to make sure of a color passage BEFORE you apply it in a critical area.

Get a grip on color 

I  am accustomed to lecturing on color theory for several hours in my classroom. It is a vast subject.  However, on this page I’ll stick to essentials. If you study the concept of subtractive color you will realize that as painters who work with pigments we have certain boundaries.  In pure theory our red is known as magenta, blue is called cyan  and yellow is called yellow. Simple enough.  However, not every paint named yellow is close to process yellow, not every blue is process blue and pure magenta really doesn’t look like the reds most of us are accustomed to seeing.

What is the solution?

If you have not done so, take the time to look at these process colors.  Every printed color page you view is based upon subtractive color theory. Be aware that it is different than additive color, the color of light, such as the color you see on this screen. Take time to learn the difference.  If necessary, memorize what the colors look like.  If you will do that you will find your color mixing frustration level greatly reduced.

Two approaches

As you examine the charts you will note that the swatches in the center look different from the other examples.   The center swatches were produced by charging.  Charging is the act of loading another color into a wet or moist field. It is very much like wet into wet painting.  You will note it produces a soft effect while the other swatches that are glazes have hard edges.  Both techniques have their place.

St.Clair Barn

The watercolor at the top is a small painting measuring about 10″ x 14″ (25.40 x 35.56cm). It was produced using Grumbacher Thalo Blue, Grumbacher Indian Yellow, and Winsor Red. Every neutral was created by manipulating the ratio of color in each wash. The painting contains combinations of glazing, charging and dry brush.  Basic flat washes were applied first.  Selective areas were charged with color while still moist. Can you see where?  Hint: the sky was washed in and while it was drying the foreground and middle ground  of a pale yellow/red wash was applied. The sky was not allowed to touch the foreground and middle ground lest they bleed together.  That was the plan. However, if you look on the left side you should be able to see that some of the blue sky seeped into the middle ground while on the right past the barn you can see almost pure white paper.   After all of this dried, the entire sky was dampened with clean water (this was done to prevent any inadvertent streaks).  At this point a darker combination of thalo blue and red was used for treeline.  As it was drying more of the mixture was added to the trees to enhance the dark value. The charging was done with the tip of the brush and the color was allowed to bleed into the wash.   The barn roof is another combination of blue and red.  In the final stages a dry brush technique was used in the grassy area.

Any Questions?

Please feel free to contact  me.

Similar pieces and more involved tutorials are available in Mastering Glazing Techniques in Watercolor, Volume I at

About masteringglazingtechniquesinwatercolor

Watercolor painter and author of several watercolor books on painting technique. Recent inductee/recipient of the Marquis Life Time Achievers Award.

Posted on July 27, 2012, in Uncategorized, Watercolor painting and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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