Part two of getting to know your palette is all about color mixing. In part one you used water and paint to lay down a block of each hue, and if you did as I recommended, you went a little further and varied the ratio of water to pigment to gradate each color from dark to light, and are now familiar with the pure colors in your palette.
However, in watercolor (and perhaps in all painting disciplines), the artist almost never uses pure color – at least not in representational art. While pure Hooker’s Green will look phony and plastic for foliage, when mixed with a little red or brown, it rings much truer and more natural.
In order to know what colors to mix to get the hues you desire you need to experiment and get familiar with the results of different color combinations. With only a few colors, the combinations are vast, and I have used only six colors from my palette for the sample color mixing chart above. Click on the image to enlarge it.
I painted each of the six colors twice, once along the left side of the paper, and once along the bottom. Then I mixed each color along the bottom with the colors along the left, stopping before I started repeating mixtures or mixed a color with itself.
As you can see, some of the hues are pretty predictable, or are not too visibly altered. Some colors (like cadmium red) are opaque and dominant their more transparent companions. The interest is in the colors that dramatically change – like the browns created by mixing hooker’s green with the two reds. Used in its most saturated form, cadmium red and hooker’s green would make a great black, don’t you think? Like many watercolorists, I prefer mixing my darkest (black) values from two opposite colors, making a richer, deeper, more “alive” hue than using black paint.
Also, look at the green created by mixing hooker’s green and new gamboge. Another example of a color brought alive by adding another hue. Hooker’s green is a gorgeous green anyhow, but when combined with other colors it just gets better.
My standard gray is also here on this chart – the combination of cobalt and burnt umber. I’m not overly enamored of my Winsor & Newton burnt umber – it’s too light and orange-y, in my opinion, but it still makes a rich grey shade that I use frequently. By varying the proportions of burnt umber to cobalt blue, I get a wealth of grays, and when I have a little purple in my palette, I throw that in, too!
You can expand this exercise by mixing your palette’s colors in a variety of saturations. Try increasing or decreasing the water in the mixture to see the resulting color when lightened or intensified. Increased familiarity with color mixing and what each color can do will increase your confidence as a painter.