Bold Watercolor Darks

During the recent workshop in Casper Wyoming someone asked me, “What colors do you mix to get black? “Well”, I said, “I never really try for black because black is so flat”.

Also I have found that any attempt to mix a strong dark ends up with a certain zombie character. I once heard that if you mix Sap Green, Alizarin Crimson, and Ultramarine Blue, then the resulting color will be close to black. Did it. Turned flat.

I have found  that what does produces rich darks is the juxtaposition of dark colors. I use plenty of water so that I am not dry-brushing, and so that the colors will merge along the edge of the strokes. I don’t mix them on the palette, nor do I mix them on the paper. I allow water to gently pull them together.

For the dark colors I use Phthalo Blue, Quinacridone Pink, Transparent Pyrol Orange and sometimes Sap Green. Since the colors are laid down with water and in their pure state they retain their intensity even when dry.

Juicy darks can make the lights really pop!

Both Pthalo Blue and Transparent Pyrol Orange were applied very wet in the darkest areas. In addition I dropped in a bit of Horizon Blue while the surface was still very wet.

I avoided the habit of over-stroking because that would mix the colors and turn them into zombies. When you over-stroke, you watch it croak. Some instructors call this over-stroking “licking” or “petting”. The underlying belief behind over-stroking seems to be, “Why use one stroke when twenty will do?”.  It is however, impossible to make a stroke better by going over it again. With each pass of the brush the stroke loses integrity, clarity and freshness.

So the key is to have your brush saturated with moist paint and loaded with water. Then put the colors down where they can get to know each other in a wet environment and let the watercolor do its thing.

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