Welcome to Polly's Blog

Welcome to Polly's Blog
Watercolour, humour, this and that

Saturday, 4 July 2015


I recently held my very own workshop!!!  Yes, honest.  Talk about stress. But I heard in our little art club that people didn't know about warm and cool colours, transparent colours etc.  So, I plucked up the courage and gave it a go.

I was very influenced by two artists in particular.  Hazel Soan whose workshops and holidays I have been on and is the Queen of Colour Information, and Colin Ratcliffe who was a tutor at Higham Hall in the Lake District who passed on the setting out of your palette and separating cool from warm colours.

Here is just some of the information that may be of use to one or two of you.

FIRE & ICE Here’s the notorious colour wheel, that I like to think of as Fire and Ice. Bright reds and yellows against the iceberg colours, some colours veering towards fire and some towards ice. Eg. alizarin veers towards blue on the wheel where Ultramarine veers towards red.  I use mostly transparent colours to avoid mud.  I am going to ignore staining and non staining, and lifting colours, that’s another story!

BOOKS THAT I RECOMMEND BY HAZEL SOAN (QUEEN OF COLOUR).                                    
1. Collins 10 min Watercolours by Hazel Soan  (which explains all aspects of      watercolour, wet in wet/ colour mixing/ people etc) I think it’s great value for money.
2. Hazel Soan’s Watercolour Rainbow, which is a definitive watercolour ‘colour’ book.
3. Learn Watercolour Quickly – Hazel Soan (see chapter 3)

COLOUR  Cool veers to green/blue and Warm hints of red
Here’s my palette with warm colours separate from the cool, so I don’t have to think about where my cool colours are so that I don’t get a bright mix if I don’t want one.   Transparent colours are the darkest (apart from yellow), you can hardly tell what colour they are e.g. Pruss, alizarin and modern names like quinacridone and permanent.  Opaques are the lighter creamy colours and are heavier pigments, which makes them opaque you more likely to get mud. E.g. Cad Red. & Cobalt. Similar colours may be trans or opaque with different manufacturers so always check.

NB If you put 2 cool colours you will get bright mix, 2 warm a dull colour, cool and warm softer colour.  Will make sense I hope.

Tubes v half pans. Tubes are softer and easier to mix sometimes you have to scrub the half pans. But pans are easier to carry.  Best of both worlds I squeeze tubes into pans.

Artists v Students.  Colours are the same, main difference is the stronger pigment in the artists so you need less to mix your colours.

Control of water is most important. Lots of water and the paint moves and spreads more.
Less water and the paint won’t spread as far.  Lay lighter colour down first and add second colours alongside, same wetness, the second colour pushes away the first. If you want to add a deeper controlled colour like a spot, wait til the shine goes off the paper and drop in thicker paint, the thicker the less it will spread.

I recommend 2 pots of water, one for clean water, so you are less likely to get mud.

Big v small brush.  Large is quicker, looser, less control of water good for wet in wet.
Smaller brush need less water so more control, good for details at the end.

Be bold with your colours. Watercolour dries much dries lighter than you expect.

Milk, cream, butter are the consistencies of paint, from washes to laying in thick colour into an already wet wash.

Cool Red                     Alizarin -          Perm. Rose
Warm Red                   Cad Red -         Vermillion, Pyrrol Scarlet (mostly opaque)
Cool Yellow                Aureolin -         Lemon Yellow (opaque), Transparent Yellow
Warm Yellow              Ind. Yellow -    Cad Yell, Hansa Yellow, New Gamboge
Cool Blue                    Pruss -               Pthalo Blue, Winsor Blue
Warm Blue                  Ultra -               Cobalt (opaque)
                                    Raw Sienna –    Cool
                                    Yell. Ochre  -    Warm (semi opaque)



Try and have a limited palette when painting, it’s more harmonious and easier for colour mixing.

Opaques are useful at the end of the painting for highlights and for oomph.

2nd wash pushes away the first

Ways to mix your colours/put a dry layer over another dry layer on paper/blend on paper wet in wet/mix in your palette

List of Transparent/opaque/warm/cool/colour mixes (I treat semi opaque as opaque)

NB Some makes are slightly different so you need to check.  My notes are based mainly on Winsor & Newton.                                           

TRANSPARENT: (least likely to get mud if you use only transparent colours)
They’re darker and look almost black in your palette.

Warm Colours
Burnt Sienna
Burnt Umber
Indian Yellow
Sap Green
OPAQUE:  Chalky colours, more likely to cause muddy colours. Generally brighter in your palette       

Warm Colours
Cad. Orange
Cad. Red
Cad. Yellow
Cobalt Blue
Light Red                                            
Yellow Ochre

Cool + Cool = Bright
Warm + Warm = Dull
Cool + Warm = Softer colour

Opaques are good for adding highlights and oomph at the end of the painting so don't ignore them!

 Cool Colours
Alizarin Crimson
Aureolin (Yellow)
Permanent Rose
Prussian Blue/Pthalo Blue
Raw Sienna
Raw Umber

Cool Colours
Cerulean Blue
Lemon Yellow
Paynes Grey    
Titanium White      

Here are the examples I asked them to try using their own mixes.  With some suggestions for colours which you might be able to read on the sample sheet.

Sorry my notes are a bit here and there, and in the end I have passed on to you most of my knowledge.  Hope it helps just one more person.

I will do another short post, with some suggested colour mixes.

.Remember you’re an artist like a musician or a poet.  You are here to entertain not record pictures exactly the same as a photograph, so take risks, change composition and colours. Let the colours flow into each other. Let your imagination run riot.  Have fun.  It’s playtime!
Remember, if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         


  1. Excellent information on colours Polly, this will really help me too! x

  2. Share knowledge and experiences is always good . You write helpful how to do, simply and clearly.

    1. Phew that's a relief, that you understand. Glad to pass on my knowledge to people who aren't able to go to courses and workshops etc

  3. Awesome explanation! I love the end quote!

    1. Hope it was clearish!!! The quote, I think, was from Howard Hughes.

  4. Great post, Polly! Very interesting and clear!

  5. Thanks Judy. Means a lot coming from you.

  6. Dear Polly - what an amazing lesson and so kind of you to share it with us. Color can be so complicated because of so many choices. Great information here friend. Thank you! Hugs

    1. Oh thanks. Glad you approve. Nice of you to pop by xx

  7. Wow, Polly, you did not tell us you've got a PhD of watercolour! Thank you for sharing the well organised information. We really appreciate your kindness and generousity. Best wishes, Sadami