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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Cadmium Orange

In the past, I used Cadmium Orange as the tertiary yellow-orange on the color wheel. It is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below. But, there are newer paint color alternatives that I prefer now. They are Transparent Orange and Cadmium-Free Orange. Why? Because Cadmium paints are toxic. So, I avoid using them.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Cadmium-Free Orange, the complementary color is:

Ultramarine Violet
Ultramarine Violet

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Cadmium-Free Orange:

Winsor Blue
Winsor Blue (Green Shade)
Permanent Mauve
Permanent Mauve

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from YELLOW-ORANGE to YELLOW-GREEN the analogous colors for Cadmium-Free Orange are:

Aureolin
Aureolin
Permanent Green Light
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)

Triadic

This Triadic consists of three INTERMEDIATE colors. In addition to Cadmium-Free Orange, the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Manganese Blue Hue
Manganese Blue Hue
Winsor Violet
Winsor Violet

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Watercolor Paint

Watercolor Paint Characteristics

Watercolor paint characteristics describes the physical qualities of color pigments. Understanding the characteristic of each watercolor will help in deciding which paints to use and how to use them for the best results.

Transparency

A transparent watercolor allows light to pass through its pigment particles and reflect back to the eyes the color of the surface the paint is applied to. The effect resembles light reflecting through colored glass.

  • The white of the watercolor paper is reflected through the first layer of transparent paint.
  • If a second layer of transparent watercolor is glazed over another, the first watercolor will reflect through the second layer causing a color change (e.g. a transparent blue painted over a transparent yellow will result in a green color).

Transparent watercolor paints mix well with all other paints except for those that have staining characteristics. Transparent watercolor is best used for glazing and layering techniques.

Opacity

A opaque watercolor allows little or no light to pass through its pigment particles. Opaque watercolors are best used singly or mixed with staining transparent watercolor paints. Otherwise, they have a flat appearance that resembles house paint, and have an earthy neutral nature.

Opaque watercolors can be effectively used alongside transparent or semi-transparent watercolors using the variegated technique.

Saturation

Saturated watercolors are pure of other color additives in their pigment. Saturated watercolors require a lot of water to dilute them. They have intense, staining qualities that overpower other colors they are mixed with. They also have transparent or semi-transparent characteristics.

Unsaturated watercolors have white, black or other colors added or have a mixture of two or more pigments in them causing a loss of purity and transparency.

Permanency

Permanency refers to a paint’s ability to withstand fading when exposed to light; its lightfastness. It also refers to a paint’s ability to not change its hue color over time; its fugitiveness . Watercolor paint manufacturers use a numerical rating system on their paint tubes of 1 to 4 where 4 is excellent and 1 is unsuitable.

Granulation

Some watercolor paint pigments have granulated characteristics that are natural. They have visible particles of paint that settle into the valleys of textured watercolor paper. Granulated watercolors are best used for painting grainy textures such as a sandy beach, masonry or stone, an organic passage in nature, or a blue sky.

Recommended

To learn my process and see painting demos, I invite you to signup for my Watercolor Mini-Course. And, join my email list to help improve your painting skills. You can view my artwork on Instagram @vanissajames or by visiting my gallery website: Vanissa James Fine Art.

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Watercolor Paint

Which Watercolor Paints Are Transparent

I first learned which watercolor paints are transparent by reading Jim Kosvanec’s book, “Transparent Watercolor Wheel: A Logical and Easy-to-use System for Taking the Guesswork out of Mixing Colours” (affiliate link) first published by Watson-Guptill on May 1, 1994. They republished it in paperback on April 15, 2000. However, both editions are no longer in print. But, you can buy it from used book dealers on Amazon. You can also borrow a copy from your local public library.

Jim Kosvanec did extensive studies of watercolor paints and developed a color chart that categorizes color names into “rings” on a color wheel, as follows:

  • Ring 1 – Transparent Non-Staining
  • Ring 2 – Simi-Transparent Non-Staining
  • Ring 3 – Transparent Staining
  • Ring 4 – Semi-Opaque & Opaque
  • Ring 5 – Whitened & Blackened

Transparent Watercolor Colors

There are two groups of transparent watercolor colors. They are “non-staining” and “staining” found in Ring 1 and Ring 3 of Jim Kosvanec’s color wheel.

Ring 1 – Transparent Non-Staining Colors

Ring 3 – Transparent Staining Colors

Beware When Mixing Transparent Staining Colors

Transparent staining colors in Ring 3 only mix well with other staining colors in the same Ring 3. If you try to mix Ring 3 colors with Ring 1 transparent non-staining colors, the staining color will overpower the non-staining colors. They will also overpower other colors in Ring 2 and 4.

Mixing Ring 1 & Ring 2 Colors

To quote Jim on what colors mix well, he said:

Transparents mix or glaze with other transparents without restrictions. Transparents mix well with all others pigments except staining colors, which can “dye” them. Semi-transparents may be used like transparents but with more restraint.

~ Jim Kosvanec

Ring 2 – Semi-Transparent Colors

Here are the semi-transparent watercolors Jim Kosvanec classified as Ring 2 on his color wheel. These colors mix well with Ring 1 transparent colors identified above.

Recommended

I use Ring 1 transparent non-staining colors for glazing my first layers of color. Then I add colors from Ring 2 for depth and darker tones where needed. And, for my darkest darks, I use colors from Ring 3 sparingly. To learn my process and see painting demos, I invite you to signup for my Watercolor Mini-Course. And, join my email list to help improve your painting skills. You can view my artwork on Instagram @vanissajames or by visiting my gallery website: Vanissa James Fine Art.

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Watercolor Paint

What Watercolor Colors To Buy

What watercolor colors to buy is a personal choice. Experienced watercolor artists develop their own favorite color palette. But, for a beginner, you can start with the bare minimum three PRIMARY hues:

  • Yellow
  • Blue
  • Red

Having only the three primary hues, you can mix all the secondary hues and the hues that fall in-between. But, who wants to do all that mixing? So, why not buy the SECONDARY hues as well:

  • Green
  • Purple
  • Orange

The hues in-between the primary and secondary hues are called TERTIARY hues, they are:

  • Yellow-Green
  • Blue-Green
  • Blue-Purple
  • Red-Purple
  • Red-Orange
  • Yellow-Orange

All of the above consist of the 12 hues on the color wheel. Each of these hues have associated COLOR names that differ slightly depending of the watercolor manufacturer’s labeling.

What Are The Common Color Names

The following chart displays the most commonly used watercolor color names for each hue:

Watercolor Manufacturers

To see a list of well-known watercolor brands click here.

Recommended

If you are on a tight budget buy the watercolor Color Names listed above: numbers 1 to 6. My favorite brands are Winsor & Newton and Holbein. I also buy a few Blick colors. I recommend that you always buy the professional-quality watercolor paints, especially if you are planning to sell your watercolor paintings. To learn my process and see painting demos, I invite you to signup for my Watercolor Mini-Course. And, join my email list to help improve your painting skills. You can view my artwork on Instagram @vanissajames or by visiting my gallery website: Vanissa James Fine Art.

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Watercolor Paint

How Watercolor Paint Is Made

Prior to the mid-18th century, watercolor artists handmade their paints by mixing powdered pigments with sugars and/or hide glues or some other binder and preservatives. Brothers William Reeves and Thomas Reeves invented the moist watercolor paint-cake in 1781, at the start of the “golden age” of English watercolor painting. The “cake” was immediately soluble when touched by a wet brush; a time-saving convenience.

William Winsor secured the patent for the metal paint tube invented by American oil painter John Goffe Rand. Winsor improved the design by adding the screw cap in 1904, and started manufacturing the Winsor & Newton moist watercolors in tubes.

Today, watercolor paints are sold in tubes and pans in a variety of sizes. Tubes are the most commonly used and are sold in sizes 5ml, 10ml, 14ml, 15ml, 21ml, and 37ml depending upon the manufacturer brand. Pans come in full-pan and half-pan sizes.

Tube Watercolor Paints

Watercolor paints in tubes are soft and moist. They are made with natural or synthetic pigments suspended in a binder of gum arabic with glycerin added as a wetting agent. By reading the label on the tube, you will discover the pigment formula number(s), transparency rating, lightfastness rating, staining property rating and an approved product seal.

Watercolor Paint Manufacturers

Here is a list of popular watercolor paint manufacturers in alphabetical order:

  • Daniel Smith (Washington USA)
  • Da Vinci (California USA)
  • Grumbacher (Massachusetts USA)
  • Holbein (Japan)
  • Rowney (Great Britain)
  • Schmincke (Germany)
  • Sennelier (France)
  • Winsor & Newton (Great Britain)
  • Yarka (Russia)

Other Watercolor Mediums

  • Gouache – an opaque watercolor with a higher pigment density and white chalk added
  • Liquid Watercolors – resembles ink and is sold in small dropper bottles
  • Watercolor Sticks – resembles crayon or pastels that can be used dry or wet
  • Watercolor Pencils – resembles a lead pencil but contains dry watercolor pigment

Recommended

My favorite manufacturers of watercolor paints are Holbein in tube size 15ml and Winsor & Newton in tube sizes 5ml, 14 ml and 37ml. I recommend and use only professional-quality watercolor paints. NOTE: Student-grade watercolor paints are mostly made of imitation pigments of low-quality. To learn my process and see painting demos, I invite you to signup for my Watercolor Mini-Course. And, join my email list to help improve your painting skills. You can view my artwork on Instagram @vanissajames or by visiting my gallery website: Vanissa James Fine Art.

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Color Mixing Watercolor Paint

Prussian Blue

Use Prussian Blue for Dark Backgrounds

Prussian Blue is similar to Winsor Blue, but it is a neutralized semitransparent color. I mix Prussian Blue with Alizarin Crimson and Viridian to create strong darks for backgrounds and to darken other colors.

This dark mixture is almost black, but is still transparent. I use it instead of black tube paints such as Ivory Black, Neutral Tint, Payne’s Gray, etc. which have an undesirable flat appearance.

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

French Ultramarine

French Ultramarine is one of my favorite blues. It is a semiopaque, warm blue that mixes well with other transparent nonstaining colors. It is a good color to use as foreground shadows. It sits between Winsor Blue and Ultramarine Violet on the color wheel.

Burnt Sienna and Burnt Umber complement French Ultramarine when juxtaposed in a composition.

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

New Gamboge

New Gamboge is my favorite, warm, yellow. It sits between Aureolin and Cadmium Orange on the color wheel. Ultramarine Violet or Permanent Mauve complement New Gamboge.

I like to use it whenever a cheery yellow is called for and when creating 3-dimensional form for yellow-to-orange objects.

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Cadmium Scarlet

In the past, I used Cadmium Scarlet as the SECONDARY ORANGE on the color wheel because it is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below. But, now I prefer to use Cadmium-Free Scarlet because Cadmium paints are toxic.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Cadmium-Free Scarlet, the complementary color is:

Winsor Blue
Winsor Blue (Green Shade)

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Cadmium-Free Scarlet:

Manganese Blue Hue
Manganese Blue Hue

Ultramarine Violet
Ultramarine Violet

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from ORANGE to YELLOW the analogous colors for Cadmium-Free Scarlet are:

Cadmium Orange
Cadmium-Free Orange

Aureolin
Aureolin

Triadic

This Triadic consists of three SECONDARY colors. In addition to Cadmium-Free Scarlet, the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Viridian
Viridian

Permanent Mauve
Permanent Mauve

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Cadmium Red Deep

In the past, I used Cadmium Red Deep as the INTERMEDIATE RED-ORANGE on the color wheel because it is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below. But, now I prefer to use Cadmium-Free Red Deep because Cadmium paints are toxic.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Cadmium-Free Red Deep, the complementary color is:

Manganese Blue Hue
Manganese Blue Hue

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Cadmium-Free Red Deep:

Viridian
Viridian

Winsor Blue
Winsor Blue (Green Shade)

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from RED-ORANGE to YELLOW-ORANGE the analogous colors for Cadmium-Free Red Deep are:

Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium-Free Scarlet

Cadmium Orange
Cadmium-Free Orange

Triadic

This Triadic consists of three INTERMEDIATE colors. In addition to Cadmium-Free Red Deep, the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Permanent Green Light
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)

Ultramarine Violet
Ultramarine Violet

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Alizarin Crimson

I use Alizarin Crimson as the PRIMARY RED on the color wheel because it is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Alizarin Crimson, the complementary color is:

Viridian
Viridian

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Alizarin Crimson:

Permanent Green Light
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)

Manganese Blue Hue
Manganese Blue Hue

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from RED to ORANGE the analogous colors for Alizarin Crimson are:

Cadmium Red Deep
Cadmium-Free Red Deep

Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium-Free Scarlet

Triadic

The three PRIMARY colors on the color wheel are YELLOW, BLUE and RED. In addition to Alizarin Crimson, the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Aureolin
Aureolin

Winsor Blue
Winsor Blue (Green Shade)

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Winsor Violet

I use Winsor Violet as the INTERMEDIATE RED-VIOLET on the color wheel because it is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Winsor Violet, the complementary color is:

Permanent Green Light
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Winsor Violet:

Aureolin
Aureolin

Viridian
Viridian

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from RED-VIOLET to RED-ORANGE the analogous colors for Winsor Violet are:

Alizarin Crimson
Alizarin Crimson

Cadmium Red Deep
Cadmium-Free Red Deep

Triadic

This Triadic consists of three INTERMEDIATE colors. In addition to Winsor Violet, the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Manganese Blue Hue
Manganese Blue Hue

Cadmium Orange
Cadmium-Free Orange

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Permanent Mauve

I use Permanent Mauve as the SECONDARY VIOLET on the color wheel because it is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Permanent Mauve, the complementary color is:

Aureolin
Aureolin

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Permanent Mauve:

Cadmium Orange
Cadmium-Free Orange

Permanent Green Light
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from VIOLET to RED the analogous colors for Permanent Mauve are:

Winsor Violet
Winsor Violet

Alizarin Crimson
Alizarin Crimson

Triadic

This Triadic consists of three SECONDARY colors. In addition to Permanent Mauve, the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Viridian
Viridian

Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium-Free Scarlet

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Ultramarine Violet

I use Ultramarine Violet as the INTERMEDIATE BLUE-VIOLET on the color wheel because it is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Ultramarine Violet, the complementary color is:

Cadmium Orange
Cadmium-Free Orange

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Ultramarine Violet:

Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium-Free Scarlet

Aureolin
Aureolin

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from BLUE-VIOLET to RED-VIOLET the analogous colors for Ultramarine Violet are:

Permanent Mauve
Permanent Mauve

Winsor Violet
Winsor Violet

Triadic

This Triadic consists of three INTERMEDIATE colors. In addition to Ultramarine Violet, the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Cadmium Red Deep
Cadmium-Free Red Deep

Permanent Green Light
Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Winsor Blue (Green Shade)

I use Winsor Blue (Green Shade) as the PRIMARY BLUE on the color wheel because it is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Winsor Blue (Green Shade), the complementary color is:

Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium-Free Scarlet

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Winsor Blue (Green Shade):

Cadmium Red Deep
Cadmium-Free Red Deep

Cadmium Orange
Cadmium-Free Orange

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from BLUE to VIOLET the analogous colors for Winsor Blue (Green Shade) are:

Ultramarine Violet
Ultramarine Violet

Permanent Mauve
Permanent Mauve

Triadic

The three PRIMARY colors on the color wheel are YELLOW, BLUE and RED. In addition to Winsor Blue (Green Shade), the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Aureolin
Aureolin

Alizarin Crimson
Alizarin Crimson

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Manganese Blue Hue

I use Manganese Blue Hue as the INTERMEDIATE BLUE-GREEN on the color wheel because it is a pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Manganese Blue Hue, the complementary color is:

Cadmium Red Deep
Cadmium-Free Red Deep

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Manganese Blue Hue:

Alizarin Crimson
Alizarin Crimson

Cadmium Scarlet
Cadmium-Free Scarlet

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from BLUE-GREEN to BLUE-VIOLET the analogous colors for Manganese Blue Hue are:

Winsor Blue
Winsor Blue (Green Shade)

Ultramarine Violet
Ultramarine Violet

Triadic

This Triadic consists of three INTERMEDIATE colors. In addition to Manganese Blue Hue, the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Winsor Violet
Winsor Violet

Cadmium Orange
Cadmium-Free Orange

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Winsor Green (Yellow Shade)

In the past, I used Permanent Green Light (or Permanent Green #1) as the INTERMEDIATE YELLOW-GREEN on the color wheel. But, now I use Winsor Green (Yellow Shade) as the pure color that is perfect for its complementary color listed below.

Complementary

The complementary color sits on the opposite side of the color wheel. For Winsor Green (Yellow Shade), the complementary color is:

Winsor Violet
Winsor Violet

Split-Complementary

The split-complementary colors are the two colors located on either side of the complementary color on the color wheel. The following are the split-complementary colors for Winsor Green (Yellow Shade):

Permanent Mauve
Permanent Mauve

Alizarin Crimson
Alizarin Crimson

Analogous

Going clockwise on the color wheel from YELLOW-GREEN to BLUE-GREEN the analogous colors for Winsor Green (Yellow Shade) are:

Viridian
Viridian

Manganese Blue Hue
Manganese Blue Hue

Triadic

This Triadic consists of three INTERMEDIATE colors. In addition to Winsor Green (Yellow Shade), the other colors that make up this Triadic color scheme are:

Ultramarine Violet
Ultramarine Violet

Cadmium Red Deep
Cadmium-Free Red Deep

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Cadmium Lemon

See Aureolin. It is the pure transparent color I use instead of Cadmium Lemon, which is opaque.

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Permanent Rose

See Alizarin Crimson. The color Permanent Rose, a pure transparent color, can be used as a substitute for Alizarin Crimson as the PRIMARY RED on the color wheel. Permanent Rose is also the RED used for the layered wash – glazing watercolor technique.

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Color Schemes Watercolor Paint

Rose Madder Genuine

Rose Madder Genuine is a pure transparent color. It is the RED-VIOLET used for the layered wash – glazing watercolor technique. It is similar to Alizarin Crimson, but lighter in value and intensity.

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