What do many musicians dislike most? It’s the daily drudgery of scales and arpeggios – until you’ve mastered them, that is, after which they just become something you do automatically, and which provide the building blocks for better playing. I know it’s the same with painting. But I freely confess that I’ve been shying away from some of the most important watercolour exercises. My excuses were that:
- I want to spend my limited time actually painting a picture, not doing un-creative practice
- It might be boring
- Nobody bothers with this stuff anyway
- Why would I waste my paint?
I counted my paint pans – 24, not including black and white (which I hardly ever use). I dug out my biggest watercolour paper and drew up 24 x 24 box grid. That’s so many boxes that each one measured only 11mm x 14mm. I was a bit worried that this might be too small, but in actual fact it worked fine. I reorganised my palette into colour groups – that was fun – and then labelled the axes with the paint names in the order that I intended to work through them. I subsequently discovered that I’d missed one out on one of the axes. This was very irritating, as I’d labelled them in pen, so I had to correct this in order for the chart to work properly.
And then I set to with the paint. It’s a methodical, slightly meditative process, requiring concentration. I’m sure I didn’t follow the recommended method, as I put my main colour on the paper and then added the next colour to it, mixing on the paper rather than in the palette. My excuse is that this might show me a range of colours that could be achieved in one square, as often I work this way in painting. I chose to repeat the colours on the grid to make it a full rectangle, reasoning that two shots at mixing each two colours together might be more representative than just one.
As I went along, I made some interesting observations:
- I discovered that there were a few colours which, if necessary, I could easily remove from my palette as the mixing results were very similar. I could drop Indigo if I kept Payne’s Grey (or vice versa) and the same goes for these pairs: Raw Sienna and Yellow Ochre; Winsor Green (blue) and Winsor Green (yellow); and Cadmium Yellow and Indian Yellow.
- I find that I love my new colour, Quinacridone Red, which I’d only just added to my paintbox. I think there’s a lot of potential there.
- The Siennas make some wonderful colours when combined with the blues. I’ll definitely be doing more of that.
- I really dislike Indian Red. It’s a bully of a colour and dominated every other I mixed it with. However, I think it might still have its uses, so I’m keeping it.
- Cerulean looks dreadful when it’s going on wet, but actually dries very nicely.
- I think I’ll try to make more use of violet for mixing very darks, there’s a lot of potential there.
All in all, this was a really very useful exercise which I hope will reduce the amount of ‘flying by the seat of my pants’ I do when painting. I’m glad I took the time to do it, and now my only worry is how I’m going to carry the chart with me when I paint, until I really know my colours!