Get to know your watercolors.
I spent a good portion of my New Year’s holiday weekend getting my art studio (craft room, whatever) organized. I received a few nice gifts of various art supplies from family for the holidays and my space was starting to get overrun again with nowhere to put the new stuff. I purchased another nice small three-drawer storage unit from Target for just $10 and threw a bunch of supplies into that and partially rearranged where I was storing some of my other art supplies.
I ended up with a wonderful set of Brushos, Faber-Castel Pitt Artist Brush Pens, Faber-Castell Gelatos, Caran d’Ache Classic Neocolor II Water-Soluble Pastels, Prismacolor Nupastels, and Colourarte Silks Acrylic Glazes.
Maybe the one item I was most giddy to receive was a new watercolor palette.
I have a bunch of different tube watercolors from different manufacturers and really no good palette to keep them on. So when I unwrapped the palette I was pretty happy. It meant I could finally get a working palette set up. I set up all the colors I wanted in my palette last weekend.
My first step in doing this was creating swatches of all the tube watercolors I had on hand so I could choose from those swatches which colors I wanted in my palette. I had a lot of duplicate colors, like Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue, etc. So I chose the color from the brand that appealed to me the most – usually it was one that just seemed stronger and more vibrant.
Once that was finished, I cut the swatches into little strips and then arranged them in the order I felt I’d like to use on my palette. I then squeezed those colors into my palette in their desired order and then created yet another swatch reference that fits into my palette that shows the order of the colors and what their name and brand is, should I need to refill them.
There’s a fantastic video on YouTube that shows how this is done pretty closely to the way I did it. My watercolor palette is just different. It holds 24 colors. You can watch Setting up a new watercolor palette by clicking the link I’ve provided.
Now that I had my watercolor palette all set up and good to go, I felt it was time I finally did a watercolor mix chart.
This is an excellent exercise to do to show how many colors are available to you. If you feel your palette is limited… think again! And this palette doesn’t even touch on all the possible combinations available. This chart simply shows a mix of equal parts of different colors. My chart would be truly gigantic if I made room for various ratios of colors instead of 1:1. It would be even larger still, if I approached it with various levels of water, as well. As it is, this chart represents roughly 288 possible colors. 288 from 24!
To accomplish this, I set up a 24 by 24 grid on on a nice large piece of watercolor paper (for this I used my Arches Aquarelle watercolor block in 12- by 16-inch paper.) To create the grid, I opened up a file in Adobe InDesign and gridded out blocks in precise measurements that would fit the space I set aside on the watercolor paper. I made the grid area 10 inches by 14 inches. (Naturally, to get your desired grid measurements, take your total area available and divide it by the number of colors you’re going to be mixing, so mine was 10 / 24 = 0.42″ by 14 / 24 = 0.67″.) Since these were odd measurements, I felt using InDesign to create the grid template would be much easier than trying to get it precise with a ruler. If you know how to get those tenths measured out correctly on a ruler, all the more power to you, however! Or, as I realize not everyone has Adobe InDesign, then you have my sincere condolences on gridding it all out with precise measurements.
I printed my grid template then used it to reference marks on my paper with pencil, then used a straight edge to draw the lines.
Next I wrote down the names of the colors in my palette starting at the bottom left corner and writing them out both on the bottom horizontal edge from left to right and again on the vertical left edge from bottom to top in the same order both ways.
In each grid cell where the same colors intersected, I painted a swatch of that color in its pure state (no other colors mixed in.) This means that all my main colors travel diagonally along the grid from bottom left to top right. I swatched them in the same order in which they appear in my palette from left to right.
Now it was time to really have some fun. Time to mix colors and go “ooooh!” and “aaaah!” at what arose.
What is important to do here—and what makes this process time-consuming—is you must make sure you are using clean water the whole time you are doing this to ensure no previous colors contaminate your newest mix. This also means cleaning your mixing palette frequently, as well. I took lots and lots of trips to the sink while doing this. I would suggest having at least two rinsing cups available to you while you work on this or you’ll be changing your water every single time you finish a single color mix. Three rinsing cups would be even better.
I’ve been reading a lot about watercolor artists using porcelain palettes for their mixing so that’s what I chose to use for this exercise. I have a ton of shallow white porcelain bowls that I actually use as food and water dishes for my cat, so I grabbed a clean one of those. I knew he wouldn’t grumble if I took one to use for this.
To do the mixing, I continually misted my watercolor palette to make sure the pigments stayed active, and then I’d dip a clean wet brush into my first color, dab a bit of the color onto my mixing bowl, clean the brush thoroughly in two separate rinsing cups, dip the wet brush into the second color, thoroughly wash the brush again to get rid of any excess paint in the bristles, then mixed the two colors together with a clean brush.
I then painted the cell on my grid where the two colors intersected. So, for instance if I mixed Ultramarine Blue with Cadmium Yellow, I found where those two colors intersected and painted the corresponding cell.
I primarily stuck with one color the entire way through, working my way up the grid. So when I was on my Indigo color on the vertical list I stuck with Indigo all the way through all of my colors on the bottom of my grid from left to right. So it would be Indigo + Violet. Then Indigo + Mauve, Indigo + Magenta Deep, Indigo + Permanent Alizarin Crimson, etc.
I repeated this process for all of my colors until I got to my last color, which happened to be China White, mixing that with all the previous colors in the grid listing.
I really enjoyed doing this as I became very familiar with how my watercolors behaved. Some had very strong, dominating pigments. Others were timid and easily overwhelmed. I found some of the different brands in different colors behaved differently, as well, in that some remained nice and wet for a long time, and others dried very quickly (my Susan Scheewe Hooker’s Green was a real pain with how quickly it dried up.)
The last and final bonus out of doing this exercise is I ended up with a really beautiful piece of art chart to look at.
However, while I’d love to frame it and hang it on a wall, I actually need to keep it closed up in a dark space to ensure the colors don’t end up changing over time because of reacting to light. I’m not 100% sure how colorfast these watercolors are, as I think most of mine are along the lines of quality student-grade watercolors instead of professional (I’d love me some professional ones some day… when my pocketbook can handle them!)
If you haven’t created a watercolor chart ever, and you use watercolors quite a lot, I’d encourage you to consider doing one. You’ll get to see all the colors that are available to you as well as see how your different watercolors behave.
Do you have a favorite method of charting your watercolors? Please share!
Thank you for reading. Please like and share this page on social media if you found anything helpful.
Happy creating with all those glorious colors you’ve discovered!
List of materials:
Contains affiliate links. See disclosure for more info.
Arches Aquarelle Wat
Grumbacher Academy Watercolors
Winsor & Newton Cotman Watercolors
Susan Scheewe Watercolors
Uni-ball KuruToga Mechanical Pencil
Stainless Steel Ruler
Master’s Touch #8 Round paint brush
Ceramic bowl (mixing palette)