Watercolour Painting for Acrylic Artists: Mixing It Up

Just a quick note before we start: I’ve decided that, though this series will be written in a logical order, I’m going to try to also make sure every post can stand alone. However, if you’d like to read it in order, check out the first post!

 Since I got my hands on them, there was something about watercolour cakes I couldn’t quite wrap my head around: mixing them. With acrylics or tubes, all you need is to squeeze out the colours you want to mix into a (hopefully cleaner than mine) palette, and have at it with a brush or palette knife. However, and I’m not ashamed to say this, (okay, maybe a little bit) I couldn’t figure out how on earth to mix from  cakes!
It took far too long to realise that I was being colossally silly, and that you can’t just pick up paint with a damp brush, push it on to the palette and hope for it to stay there when you lift your brush back up.You see, the bristles on brushes are always looking for new fluids to mop up, quite like how a white t-shirt is always looking for coffee to spill over.
After about five minutes of confused Googling – think keywords along the lines of ‘how to mix watercolour cakes please help me please‘ – the actual method of mixing turned out to be so simple, I wanted to kick myself. Instead, I’m writing this post, for all you fellow strugglers out there. I do hope you enjoy reading it!

 

First off, here’s what I’ll be working with today: my Sakura Koi watercolour kit, round brushes, and the waterbrush from the kit which I mainly used as a dropper.

 
You can find a mini-review and swatches of this watercolour kit on the first post in this series.
The Paint:Water Ratio:
As acrylic artists it is sometimes strange to imagine having to constantly reach for a medium, when we’re used to the paint doing a lot of the work on its own. Hence, it is important to wrap our heads around the concept of the paint:water ratio. As the name suggests, this is the proportion of paint in water, and can determine the translucence of the paint layer.

For instance, let’s look at a beautiful colour from the palette, Quinacridone Rose. The following method is used to prepare and mix colours for painting. I first started by squeezing out 5 drops of water on to my palette.

In order to add colour to this, I dampened my round brush, swirled it into the pan, and simply pushed it straight into the puddle of water we just created. I count one dab into the puddle as one “portion” of colour. Alternatively, you could use more water on your brush, so the pigment literally ‘drops’ into the palette.
First, I used half as much paint as water, to get a very light, near transparent wash.
Then I added more paint, so that the paint and water were in equal proportions. This made the water slightly more opaque, though still quite close to a wash.
Finally, I added even more paint, so that there was now twice as much paint as water. The resulting mixture was even more opaque, and while it could still pass for a very dark wash, I definitely see myself using it to fill in shapes.
I swatched all of these side-by-side so you can see how much of a difference the paint:water ratio makes.
Layering:
It is a known fact that acrylics layer like a dream. This attribute makes for some beautiful effects, and also makes it quite easy to cover up any errors. Watercolours, however, aren’t quite as forgiving. With these babies, it can often be quite a black and white situation. If your paper is still wet while you add a second layer of paint, it will almost certainly bleed completely into the first. On the other hand, if your paper is dry or very slightly damp, there will be no mixing, and both layers will stand separate with a properly defined line between them.
To demonstrate this, I painted two blocks with a wash of Yellow Ochre, then layered on Red Brown, and then Burnt Umber.
(Side note: Does anyone else look at the name ‘Burnt Umber’ and think of houses of the North being attacked by Daenerys? No? Just me? Okay….)
Anyway, on the ‘Wet Layering’ side, I didn’t let the paint dry before layering more on, while on the ‘Dry’ side I made sure the below layers were completely dry before adding more colour on top. The differences are incredibly plain to see!
Due to this lack of complete blendability (sort of like colouring with markers), there are very few watercolour pieces that truly capture realism.
Important Colour Recipes:
To conclude this post on a useful note, I thought I’d share with you my favourite colour combinations when it comes to painting skin. Now obviously these aren’t to be used in isolation as skin is never just one colour, but adding these undertones will give your painting the all-important dimension that truly brings any artwork to life. In fact, you may find yourself using a combination of some of these undertones, depending on the depth of your painting.
For reference, the colours I used are:
Warm tones: Permanent Orange, Chinese White, Ivory Black
Cool tones: Cadmium Red Hue, Cerulean Blue (lighter blue), Chinese White, Ultramarine (darker blue), Ivory Black
And there we have it! Mixing watercolours is slightly more complicated but oh-so-fun when you have so many vibrant colours to play with!
If you like this post, please feel free to share it, and if you have any critique, suggestions or tutorial requests, please drop them in the comments below. Alternatively, you can get in touch with me via deviantART, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter!
Thank you so much for taking your time out to read these posts, and I hope you have a lovely day!
-S.
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