While preparing for the recent watercolor demonstrations I’ve been doing, I cut open the tube of Cadmium Red Deep that I never use.  I don’t use it because I think it is as ugly as Cadmium Red Light is beautiful.  After making the Color Scheme Game color wheel using Cad Red Deep as my primary red, I discovered the potential of beauty within that color I deemed as ugly.

No. 1 - Artist Trading Card - Watercolor

No. 1  – Watercolor – 2.5″ x 3.5″

This limited palette of raw sienna, cadmium red deep and ultramarine blue produces lovely neutrals.  The watercolor demos are over for the next two months, but I continue to use this odd palette.  In fact, I have replaced a dozen of the paintings I originally planned to hang in the upcoming solo exhibit at Connexions Gallery with new paintings created with this palette.  I can’t help but be reminded of the story The Ugly Duckling.

Raw Sienna, Cadmium Red Deep and Ultramarine Blue

Raw Sienna, Cadmium Red Deep and Ultramarine Blue

My favorite toy was a spinning top like the one pictured below.  Eventually, from too much use, I bent the rotating helical screw blade that turned the gears and caused the three discs to turn.

Spinning Top

When my daughters were born, I hunted everywhere to find such a top and could only find tops with four discs, not three.  They didn’t work to create the illusions of the secondary colors radiating out from the center as the top spun.  Fourteen years later I finally found the top in a specialty toy store and bought all that they had.

While glancing about to find what the subject of my next ‘Family Treasures’ drawing would be, I saw the spinning top.  In an instant I realized that I have learned a great deal over the past year having played The Color Scheme Game every morning of every day. I had always wondered why the orange, green and purple that appeared on the spinning top were so muted.  As I glanced at the yellow, blue and red on each of the discs I heard myself laughing aloud.  Hah!  Mystery solved!

What a joy it is to arrive at a point where the study, the exploration, the experimentation …. results in assimilated understanding and knowledge.  Try it….. you’ll like it …..

I thought my iphone would be able to capture the radiating secondary color mixes.  It did, but barely. I should have turned my phone in the other direction.  At least I learned how to upload a video to YouTube.  Link to Spinning Top Video.

For those of you who have been following my blog, you know by now that I get distracted easily.  Every time I clear space in my head, a new idea for a series of paintings fills the gap.

Early morning light… 6:30 am and 7:30 am

In addition to experimenting with the new, Seasonal Variation of The Color Scheme Game, I am exploring the colors of the landscape through the day.  I attempt to match the colors as closely as I can with little, if any, concern for describing the landscape itself.  I make note of the date, time, weather conditions and the colors I mix.  the BFK Rives printmaking paper that I have been using in my handmade sketchbooks may not be the best paper for this purpose.  I find I am using more water, diluting the pigment more than I usually do when playing the game.

Journal of Landscape Light: painted with watercolors on BFK paper, early morning on September 26, 2012

Sometimes strangers go unnoticed in a crowd, sometimes they call attention to themselves by their shape, size or attire.  And so it is with elements in a painting.

“Stranger in a Strange Land” (14″ x 22″) watercolor

While preparing for tonight’s demonstration of The Color Scheme Game for the members of the Art Association in Roxbury, NJ, I painted an abstract composition of geometric shapes, larger than I normally work when playing the game each morning.  I thought this might work better than the over-sized keys.

Over-sized Keys on a Keyring

I’ll be painting beneath a mirror. The audience can watch as I work on a flat table.  The room is a large cafeteria.  I’m concerned that demonstrating my morning ritual of drawing in my sketchbook will be difficult to view because of the small size of the sketchbook.  However, by playing the game on a large piece of paper I would present the game as a way to create something to mat and hang on the wall rather than as an important and fun exercise to sharpen my skills and explore new territory without the pressure of making everything work.

There is one small shape in the geometric abstract that I washed out and repainted.

Detail of “Stranger in a Strange Land”

This resulted in a blue-green shape that clearly does not belong in the color scheme of the painting.  This is a perfect example of what can happen when painting a street scene en plein air ….. the light of the late afternoon sun is reflecting off the buildings, streets and trees …. a crowd of people are shopping at an outdoor market ….. a woman is wearing a beautiful, blue-green dress that the artist can’t resist painting into the scene ….. but the effect of the light is lost as the artist mixes a beautiful blue-green color based on what she thinks she sees instead of the color as it is affected by the sun and the late afternoon sky.

Abstract Painting: ( 14″ x 20″) drawn first in pencil followed by washes of watercolor using a limited palette of one red, one blue and one yellow.

Giant Keys: (14″ x 20″) drawn first with fountain pen filled with Noodler’s Black Ink followed by watercolor using a limited palette of one red, one blue and one yellow.

I highly recommend making small color wheels using only three colors. Label them carefully with both the manufacturer and the name of the color.

Possible combinations of six pigments, warm and cool

Professional grade can differ greatly from student grade.  A “hue” will contain more binder and less pigment.  Manufacturers also differ significantly.

Looking at photos of color wheels is not the same as making your own.  by making your own you will immediately understand the characteristics of the pigments, the transparency or opacity, the tinting strength and the tendency toward warm or cool.  The mystery of mixing greens and purples will vanish.  The little color wheels can be carried with you when you paint en plein air.

In The Color Scheme Game Workshops, I ask the students to bring one tube each of any red, yellow and blue watercolor.  Each student makes one color wheel.  We end up with a variety of pigments being used and a variety of oranges, purples and greens to compare with one another when the color wheels are completed.

The ideal limited palette includes a warm yellow, cool yellow, warm red, cool red, warm blue and cool blue.  With those six pigments almost any color can be mixed, including all the beautiful neutrals.  A few of my favorite colors that can’t be mixed are the cobalt violets and the turquoise blues.  when travel space allows, I usually bring viridian and burnt sienna for convenience and economy.  I can mix those two colors but it is more costly in time and money to do so.

I used the following colors to make the eight wheels shown above.

Aureolin (Winsor Newton) – cool yellow, transparent, professional grade

Gamboge Hue (Grumbacher) – warm yellow, slightly opaque, professional grade

Phthalo Blue (Sennelier Aquarelle Extra Fine) – cool blue, fairly transparent, professional grade

Ultramarine Blue (Cotman) – warm blue, slightly opaque, student grade

Carmine (Holbein) – cool red, transparent, professional grade

Cadmium Red Light (Grumbacher) – warm red, opaque, professional grade

At first glance the Aureolin and the Gamboge Hue might appear identical.  However, their unique characteristics become apparent when mixed with other pigments.

Note that no matter what the proportions of cadmium red light to phthalo blue might be, one will never arrive at a purple, only variations (often beautiful) of browns and grays.  There is too much yellow in both the cadmium red light and the phthalo blue.  The yellow negates any purple that might be tempted to appear.

The following are the eight combinations possible with six pigments, a warm and cool of yellow, red and blue:

Warm yellow, warm red, warm blue

Warm yellow, warm red, cool blue

Warm yellow, cool red, warm blue

Warm yellow, cool red, cool blue

Cool yellow, warm red, warm blue

Cool yellow, warm red, cool blue

Cool yellow, cool red, warm blue

Cool yellow, cool red, cool blue

It’s worth the time to create the color wheels.  Please believe me!  Let me know, after making the wheels, if you agree.

The palettes arrived!

Step One: Primary Colors Yellow, Blue, Red

I was amazed by how difficult it was to find an inexpensive, round palette that provided the necessary quantity of wells to work for The Color Scheme Game workshops.  Most of the palettes had only ten wells.  This one has ten wells on the outer ring, but the six wells on the inner ring make it acceptable.

Step Two: Secondary Colors: Orange, Green and Purple

Colors can be kept separate and clean.

Step Three: Warm and cool variations of each primary and secondary color

This is where it gets a little dodgy because the wells are out of alignment and there are only ten.

Step Four: Adjustments and additions…. the fun begins!

Adjustments can be made and additional colors mixed to create more even transitions.  It’s perfect!  Two extra little wells in the center …. perhaps for ultra dark mixes?  Perhaps for ultra translucent mixes …. whatever your pleasure1

I am delighted with these little palettes.

I purchased them on ebay from a vendor called ‘shinykingdom’.  They were half the price that I saw listed on other sites …. though I saw them on very few sites.

When you have a tube of paint with a generic sort of name like “Speedball Red”, it’s difficult to know what it will do when mixed with your other pigments.  Will it behave more like a cadmium red or like an Alizarin Crimson?  Can a purple be created when mixed with a blue?

Color Mix comparisons

Comparing the results of these color wheels, Speedball Red is a cooler red than I had imagined it would be.  It’s much closer to Alizarin Crimson than to Cadmium Red Light.  I will make another sample mix using a Cadmium Red Medium and a Vermillion.

Notice that using Cadmium Red Light and Joe’s blue (Phthalo) the mix is more of a brown than any sort of purple.  Good to know!  There is far too much yellow in the Cadmium Red Light, preventing a purple from appearing.

Color Wheels created using watercolor paints.


Here is another variation of the basic three hue mixes for the Color Wheel Game Color Wheels.

New Gamboge, Speedball Red, Joe’s Blue (Phthalo) Color Wheel

The Color Wheel on the left is another example of a fifteen minute watercolor, color wheel presented in the Color Game Workshop.  To the right is a color wheel showing neutrals created by mixing near complements from the colors created for the wheel on the left.

Two Variations of the near complement mixes

You have two choices when mixing near complements, the one to the right of the complement and the one to the left of the complement.  The two wheels above show both variations as well as showing different ways of applying the paint to create the color wheel.  I try to get as much information as possible in each wheel.  These neutral mix color wheels are far more time consuming than the fifteen minute basic color wheel.  It is soooooooo easy to get confused and mix the wrong colors.

These wheels were made using New Gamboge, Speedball Red and Joe’s Blue (phthalo).  It is a versatile color palette and may become one of my favorites.

One of the first things we do in the Color Scheme Game Workshop is create a quick (fifteen minute) color wheel using any yellow, any blue and any red.  Students are required to bring only three tubes of paint to the workshop.

Color Scheme Game Workshop Color Wheels

The first color wheel is divided into twelve segments.  Using only the three primaries, a twelve hue wheel is created without too much fussing.  A second wheel is created by mixing each of the twelve hues with one of its near complements to get an idea of the range of neutrals possible.  The wheel above was created using Winsor Yellow, Cobalt Blue and Rose Madder (I love the unique aroma of Rose Madder!)  It’s obvious that three tubes of paint can give you a wide range of colors.  It’s fun to compare the different color wheels that have been created using different yellows, reds and blues.    The neutrals, of course, are limitless.

I encourage students to create these simple color wheels at home using a variety of different primary hues.  They can be painted directly in a watercolor sketchbook to use as easy reference when deciding colors to bring with you when traveling with minimal equipment and paints.  Cut-out templates for various color schemes are used with these color wheels for playing the Color Scheme Game.

When I first arrived in Maryland I tinted about thirty canvases and boards to have them ready for a week of painting.  I painted more than half of them with a wash of Terra Rosa, my standard underpainting color.  As an experiment, I painted eight or nine with a wash of Permanent Mauve, a color that I have not been using on my palette lately.  It is not one of the colors on my Richard Schmid Color Charts.

View of the Wicomico River, Whitehaven, Maryland

After the first day of painting I found that the Terra Rosa underpainting was too warm and didn’t work as well with the colors of the landscape around me.  After the third day of painting I had used all of the canvases and boards that had been washed with the Permanent Mauve.  Those paintings were more satisfying.

the second wash on the remaining panels

As I became more tuned in to the marshes, I liked the Terra Rosa even less.  It’s great for the farmland surrounding me in New Jersey, but doesn’t make it for me in the Chesapeake Bay area.  After setting up my easel at Broad Creek, I brushed a wash of Permanent Mauve over the remaining Terra Rosa panels and let them dry in the sun on the trunk of my K-car.

En plein air easel setup at Broad Creek

Here is my Broad Creek setup.  This was the last of the canvases that had been originally washed with Permanent Mauve.  It felt as if the marshes painted themselves over this underpainting color.

Close up of painting and palette at Broad Creek

That big glob of cadmium red on my palette remained a big glob throughout the week.  I used this color the least, only a touch every now and then to tone down the greens.  Viridian took the prize for the most used color.  Thanks to the Richard Schmid Color Charts I was able to use it to mix all the various greens as well as some gorgeous purple/lavendars ! with it.  Viridian and Alizarin plus white surprised me.  I had forgotten that the mix can lean toward purple.

With all of these new color experiences in mind, I will experiment with other underpainting wash colors to create various moods and illusions of light.

Painting:  painted en plein air, 5″ x 5″ oil painting on gessoed birch panel washed with dilution of Terra Rosa oil paint. View of the Wicomico River, Whitehaven, Maryland.