Monday, June 11, 2012

TOP TEN: 10 Things Every Watercolorist Should Know About YELLOW

This week's theme is not-so-mellow YELLOW.

YELLOW is the color we associate with light and sunshine, daffodils and sunflowers, so it seemed like the perfect theme for the middle of June.

Here are 10 important things about the color YELLOW that I think everyone who paints in watercolor should know:

1)  YELLOW ATTRACTS THE EYE LIKE A MAGNET, so use yellow for cheery, optimistic, and spiritual paintings.  Yellow is sunny and bright, energizing and hopeful.  Yellow is upbeat (to Western minds, anyway) -- and is one of the primary colors in Native American art.

2)  YOU HAVE TO INTRODUCE ANOTHER COLOR TO YELLOW, TO DARKEN IT -- Yellow is an inherently light value.  Of all the colors, yellow reflects the greatest amount of light.  No matter how intense and saturated your yellow is, and no matter how many layers of yellow you paint on top of each other, it will not get much darker.  So, in order to get a darker value of yellow in a painting, you have to introduce another color, but still stay within the yellow family -- like quinacridone gold, burnt orange, burnt sienna, or raw sienna.

3)  YELLOW IS ONE OF THE THREE PRIMARY COLORS -- which means you can't mix two colors together to get yellow.  Yellow mixes with the other two primary colors to get secondary colors.  Yellow + Blue = Green.  Yellow + Red = Orange.  Good analogous color schemes for yellow in a painting are Yellow plus the Earth Colors, like Raw and Burnt Siennas; and Yellow plus its "Friendly Neighbors" (yellow-green and yellow-orange).


5)  IF YOU WANT YOUR PAINTINGS TO HAVE A WARM GLOW, ALWAYS PAINT THE YELLOW FIRST, AS AN UNDERPAINTING.  Yellow will light up your painting like no other.   You can't make colors glow, just by using bright mixtures -- they need to be luminous.  Strive for a GLOW -- not intensity.  You can create this glow by underpainting with yellow first, and also by dropping yellow into other wet pigments.  It is best to use yellows as brilliantly and cleanly as possible.  An underpainting of yellow can establish the impression of sunshine.  And, any warm color (reds/greens/browns) could benefit from a yellow underpainting.

6)  YELLOW DOES NOT DO WELL ON TOP OF OTHER PIGMENTS.  Even though yellow is the lightest and most delicate color, it becomes opaque and loses its luminosity when painted over other pigments.  So, in watercolor, you should not glaze yellow over another color in order to try to get a lighter or brighter color.  Adding yellow on top will not increase the glow.  It just becomes opaque, because the light cannot penetrate through to the paper.

7)  PUT YELLOW NEXT TO ITS COMPLEMENT, VIOLET; BUT, DO NOT MIX THESE TWO COMPLEMENTS TOGETHER.  The Yellow/Violet harmony is exotic, beautiful and bright, when placed side by side (some irises have this combination, as well as violets, columbine, and some sunsets).  But, they are not very pretty when mixed together -- you get a muddy color.

8)  HAVE A WARM AND A COOL VERSION OF YELLOW ON YOUR PALETTE.  Color temperature is relative.  When we're talking about the entire color wheel or the whole color spectrum, the warm colors are the yellows/oranges/reds -- the colors of sunlight and fire.  But, when we're talking about the yellow color family, it is good to have a cool yellow, like Aureolin Yellow or Winsor Yellow.  They have the greatest mixing potential -- making beautiful greens and vibrant oranges, and are also effective as underpaintings.  Your warm yellow could be New Gamboge or Cadmium Yellow, which are warm, intense yellows, and good to use as underpaintings for reds/oranges/browns.

9)  DON'T USE LEMON YELLOW.  (That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.)  It is not intense or saturated/pure enough for a yellow.  And, because it has white in it, it is not transparent, and any color it is mixed with, will tend to look "chalky".  If you want a light color of yellow, just add more water to your cool yellow (Aureolin or Winsor).

10)  QUINACRIDONE GOLD IS HEAVEN IN A TUBE!  Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but it is a very powerful, brilliant, transparent color.  It's beautiful on its own, but it is also great for darkening other yellows without muddying them.  Raw Sienna is another useful color, for glazing over an area to reduce its intensity. Because it is an unsaturated (duller) yellow, it has reduced mixing potential.


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