Red, Yellow, Blue

I had a great time this week with a one day workshop at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The class was taught by Georgia Kandiko, a long time educator, award winning professional watercolor artist and as she describes herself, “an arboretum devotee.”

Georgia provided us the opportunity to limit a painting to three colors. In my case that meant ignoring 21 other colors on my palette for three basic colors- red, yellow, blue!  In teaching color theory to K-12th graders for 30+ years these three colors would be primary colors. The term “primary colors” refers to a collection of three colors that can be combined to form a range of additional colors. In reality, you can pretty much pick any three colors and call them “primary” colors. Mixing two of your primary colors together will result in a secondary color; mixing one of your primary colors with one of your secondary colors will result in a tertiary color, and so forth. Mix all the primary colors together and you will mix a neutral gray.

I used Daniel Smith’s Permanent Rose (red), Aureolin (yellow) and Thalo (blue). I said farewell to my other 21 colors. The painting began with sketching out a magnolia blossom in three different stages.

The painting progressed with just painting the blossoms. Each petal was painted with clear water and then a diluted version of each primary color was dropped into the petal’s puddle of water. By tilting my backing board, the primaries mixed to a point that seemed reasonable. As each petal dried I by  added more primary or mixed primary color for shadows and contrast.

The next stage was to paint the background. Before doing so, I used clear packing tape and created the boundary where I wanted the background. I was careful not to get any “puckers” in the edge of the tape. I was surprised that the packing tape did not effect the fibers of the paper or my painted blossoms when I later removed it.

Again, I carefully painted around the blossoms with clear water. Dropping the three primaries into the wet background and tipping and tilting the board allowed the colors to run and mix together. Where the paper was left dry the color would not run so my blossoms were safe. With my brush,  I lifted branches and buds out of the semi-wet paper.

The last stage was to remove the tape and extend some of the branches out from the background and highlight some of the branches that I had lifted color out with my brush. The finished watercolor  can be matted or left as is for framing!

Magnolias. 11″ x 14″ Watercolor. 2018. Kathy Grundei

Did I miss all 24 of my watercolor colors? Perhaps, but once I got into using a limited palette I rediscovered that a limited palette helps with: 1. creating a greater balance throughout the painting, 2. creating a color harmony that is easier to achieve, 3. having a  less chance for over mixing, 4. making it faster to paint, and forcing me to think about tone and composition.

In short, a limited palette is more efficient. If you use just three or four colors on your palette and use them consistently, you gain more control over your color mixing. It simplifies the thought process. Monet loved to use a limited palette to paint some of his amazing outdoor impressionistic work. He achieved more luminescence by having to utilize more mixes rather than from a variety of colors. He used just three colors, a warm and cool of each.

So, I am convinced to try other cool and warm primary triads and see what I can achieve!

Thanks for reading!