Learn how to create luminous watercolor washes and glowing color mixing

A series of notes on Susan’s Watercolor palette.

Part 1 -What Transparent pigments does Susan Harrison-Tustain use?

All of the pigments I use are used in fine washes so they could all be described as being
transparent. The Schmincke pigment is very finely ground and it is dense in
the tube so we only need a tiny amount to color in our washes. Being extra finely ground –
these pigments are absorbed into the inner layers of the paper more easily than other brands I have tried – so they are perfect for my painting techniques.

Here is a list of the manufacturers comments regarding the transparency of the pigments I use:

208 Aureolin Modern – semi transp
220 Indian Yellow – Transp
218 Translucent Orange – semi transp
363 Scarlet Red – semi opaque
357 Alizarin Crimson – semi transp
351 Ruby Red – semi transp
367 Purple Magenta – transp
484 Phthalo blue – semi transp
494 Ultramarine Finest – semi transp
519 Phthalo Green – semi transp
530 Sap Green – transp
787 Paynes Grey Bluish – semi opaque
Part 2 – How to compensate for too much red in skin tone

I am often asked how to compensate for an overly red skin tone.

The magical thing about the method I use is that you can adjust the look of any wash or
combination of washes by simply simply adding further washes of other colors.

For instance if I lay in an underwash of yellow and then once dry- add a skin tone mix of Alizarin Crimson, one of the yellows and maybe some Thalo blue – the end result is entirely dependant on the balance or imbalance I have created with those hues (that means which color this mix favours – if any).

If I have more blue in the mix – the mix will look more in shadow.

If I have more yellow – the mix will look glowing but there is always the possibility if we use too much yellow, the mix may be a bit too yellow for our liking (or it may look as if the light source favours yellow).

If I have the red component too strong in my mix – the skin tone will look too flushed (or it could look as if the light source favours red).

I can of course also balance the mix so it neutralizes all of the colors and we end up with a
grey or dulled, muted color.

I hope you can see that my point is that when we use layering of hues, we can adjust our final color so it favours what ever color we want to dominate – or we can cancel the predominant cast of color out and give a perfect balance – therefore creating a greyed, dull hue. These are ideal to use juxtaposed next to a lovely glowing color as these greyed, dulled colors will allow the fresher, lively color to glow even more than it would has it been placed next to another bright glowing color. So please don’t think of greys and dull browns negatively. They are found in nature and are quite beautiful. I use them to my advantage all the time.
I digress:
Compensating for too much red is easy. You have a few choices:

Is your skin in shadow or light or both?

If it is in shadow – as soon as you add some of the complementary color – green – or a mix of
Thalo blue and Yellow – you will find it will dull that red down greatly. (I would opt for the blue and yellow mix- I will explain more about that a few paragraphs below)

It is important to note that blue tends to kill any glow – but of course – as with everything – that depends on the amount of blue you use. Hence the reason for going cautiously initially.

Use fine washes – but do let them dry before adding the subsequent washes.

So you can add more as many fine washes you wish, if you require them – but only once each wash has become bone dry. I like my colours to glow through my shadows so I use blue in very fine washes so I can build the blue up slowly allowing me to determine the strength of blue I want without risking applying too much in one layer. It is always better to build fine layers.
Remember one of the wonderful things about my Priming Method is that you get to see (a
sneak preview) of the impact of a wash before you have to commit. What I mean by that is
that when you lay in a wash – because it is wet you are able to see what the two or three
washes of that colour will look like over your underwashes. We all know that once it is dry – that wash will dry so much lighter. So what does that tell you?

If your wash looks fantastic when it is wet – then you know that you will need one or two more of those fine washes to give you the depth of hue you need to give you the same effect you got when that wash was wet.
If you dont like the color – then immediately drop a paper towel on the top – or flow in somewater and then drop a paper towel on top. (Dont try this if the new wash has been on thepaper for a little while. It may cause streaking.) Soak up the offending wash and start again.
Or if the color is okay but you think you need more yellow or more red – then just adjust your subsequent washes to compensate for that.
So you see – nothing is a problem.

You are learning to analyse and judge the hues and the density of your washes. You can relax because you know that with my methods – you can prejudge or subsequently compensate with future washes.

Part 3 – How to paint shadow areas in Watercolor

Using my Priming Method I lay in at least one underwash of yellow.

My shadow mix is often warm in color temperature. So I will sometimes use

Alizarin Crimson
and a touch of Thalo Blue.
I let this mix favor the Alizarin Crimson. But if I want a warmer mix – I will sometimes add a touch of Scarlet Red.

I use Schmincke watercolors exclusively for the reasons mentioned in my previous posts.
When working in shadowed areas that I want to glow with warmth – I find I am often adding more red and more yellow in subsequent washes. Blue is ideal to use to help describe shadows. But blue dulls my beautiful glow down so much more than I imagine it will. So use it cautiously – in fine washes initially.

The trick is to have your yellow underwash glowing in a multiple fine washes of yellow. The darker your shadow – the more saturated you will need your yellow hue. Remember to keep your washes fine. If you use thick layers of paint – the paint will lift when you lay in your subsequent washes (shadow washes).

This will give you a fabulous glow from underneath which looks incredible. Check out the gallery in my website and you will see what I mean. Click on the image below.

Some of these paintings are available as Giclee Fine Art Prints. Visit the Fine Art Prints Page to see close ups of these images.

Part 4 – Shadow color mixes
Shall I use Blue and Yellow or should I use sap green?

When mixing a shadow color you have many choices. I always use a small amount of blue in my shadow mix to create a realistic shadow.

But sometimes I use Sap Green instead. Why? Because it gives a softer look to my shadowed area. Sometimes I require a softer look. This is often in subjects such as skin tone.

Sometimes adding Thalo Blue to a skin tone can create a large shift in the color temperature. It may cool the shadowed area down too much. By using Sap Green instead (which of course has a small amount of blue in it) you will find your shadow mix will give you a more natural in final hue. But there are times when Thalo Blue is required and is ideal.

I hope you can see that there are no hard and fast rules. Each variation has it’s applications and benefits.

It is interesting to note that using mix of blue and yellow gives you more choice in your balance of colour versatility. A slight dominance of blue or yellow will give you more color choices.

In your shadow mixes you can use Aureolin Modern or you could use Indian Yellow – depending on the warmth you want (the glow).
You also have the advantage of being able to adjust the ratio of the hues. You can make the
mix favour blue or favour yellow or balance out to give a more neutral final hue.

If we think about our complimentary colors – it stands to reason that Sap Green can be used in a shadow on a pink skin tone. Try these different permeatations. Create a color mix chart for your reference. You will be amazed at all that you will learn from this.

Trial the hues in fine washes to see what suits your needs. You can always adjust the Sap Green by adding a touch of Thalo Blue or one of the yellows too.

Part 5 – How to paint a light skin tone

Analyse what you have in front of you. Do you need to paint a light skin tone? If this is the case – remember to use a small amount of yellow in your underwash. Then use a basic skin tone mix:

Aureolin Yellow (or Indian Yellow if you want a very warm skin tone)

Alizarin Crimson (or Scarlet Red if you want a very warm skin tone)

Touch of Thalo Blue (or Sap Green if you want a warmer skin tone)

Is your skin tone overpowering the yellow? Maybe you dont have enough yellow underneath? Or maybe your red is simply too strong. Simply adjust the other hues to create the skin tone you require.

My skin tones almost always has some blue in it at some stage (sometimes Sap Green which of course has blue in it). The highlights on a face that is lit from natural light will have always be cool so they will be very light and favor blue rather than any other color.

If you give this some thought – it stands to reason that the highlights are cool – therefore the shadows have to be warm in color temperature. So let’s think about this further. If our highlights did not favor blue – then we would find we have an imbalance in our mix that would result in orange. (red and yellow)

If we have orange – our highlights would look warm in color temperature wouldn’t they. This would look unnatural. So can you see why color temperature plays an important role in allowing us to create and mould form? Warm shadows, cool highlights give the impression of rounded form.

Color temperature can be confusing. At a later date I will write an article for you on how this can be easily understood. But for now – do take my word for it! You will find my methods work well.

When working in an area that is affected by light – the important thing to remember is not to go too dark with your green or blue otherwise you will loose the look of light.

One thing to keep in mind is that when you add your background you will probably find your main focal point – face or person – can then look too wishy washy. At that stage, it is not unusual for me to have to deepen (make more saturated) the depth of color I have used in my main subject.

Our subjects can look perfectly rich in hue when it is against the white of the paper. But when we add our background – we can immediately see we need more depth of hue in our subject.

Or due to an error, we may find we have to go deeper in hue. If this is the case, all we need to do is compensate for that by bringing the rest of the depth of color in the painting up to the level of the alteration. It is about transposing the saturation of the painting up a notch to keep it all balanced and looking natural. I believe that is the key – ask yourself “does this look natural”. If it does – then you are finished! Well done!

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