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August 24, 2013


I found this post technically fascinating, but at the same time I despair. A number of your colours are dismissed by many 'experts', yet you use them to good effect. Why do I despair? Because one of the reasons I am put off watercolour painting is my inability to choose which colours and pigments to use, and how they will mix. Because I have very little time to choose to devote to painting, I do not wish to 'waste' time in trial and error. Thank you.

oh i wish i had some painting skills!

Beth, I absolutely love those pages of colour tests - artworks in themselves, enhanced by the texture of the paper. Personally I don't like to have too many colours on my palette, whatever the medium, because so many tones can be mixed from just a few good basics but I do see the attraction of all those gorgeous hues available. Considering how expensive watercolour, gouache and acrylics are (not to mention oils) it drive me nuts when old tubes go hard as rock, even when the caps were screwed on tight!

It will be great to see your experiments with the new paints.

Tom, please, no despairing! One can find all sorts of conflicting advice about watercolor palettes, but the fact remains (as Natalie says below) that excellent results can be obtained from a very limited palette, so long as the painter is willing to understand how those pigments mix together. With just three primaries you can do a great deal, and build on that. If you ever want to discuss this further, send me an email and I'd be glad to talk it over with you. There's no doubt that watercolor, however, is one of the most challenging and frustrating mediums that exist, particularly because there's no way to rescue a painting gone awry. However, with good paper, practice, and knowledge of one's pigments, it is possible both to plan ahead, and to "fix" a number of problems that do arise, short of a muddy disaster!

Flask: painting skills are less talent, I think, than practice. I hope you'll try, or take a course, if you'd really like to have a go at it.

Natalie - thanks for this - yes, I agree, as I wrote to Tom above. In the studio I have a big watercolor palette that holds a lot of colors but I rarely use more than 10, of which several may be only accents. I try to base each painting on a set of primaries, which may be cooler or warmer in tone, depending on the subject; for my basic palette I've tried to hone in on pairs of cool and warm reds, blues, and yellows, with the addition of two or three earth colors and the occasional extra, such as cobalt violet or green, which is hard to mix. For landscape, it's been helpful to me to paint sample sheets using different pairs of blues and yellows, and then "graying" those mixtures with different reds - I've learned a lot from this, and from repeating the exercise with pairs of reds and yellows. So a limited selection is all I seem to need, ditto for oil. I hear you about old paint: I cut open my hard tubes of watercolor and soften them in water - paints are so expensive - I even used up all of my mother's and great-aunt's old paints. It's really painful to have to throw away old oils, but I just did that with a bunch of useless paint. Ouch!

How curious those names are. As if they'd been created by a chemist who was doing his best to bestride the Twin Cultures but who couldn't quite make it.

My graphic skills most closely approximate those of Desperate Dan. Thus I am forced into a parallel world of comment. Faced with a sentence that needs completing I fossick among my collection of word-tubes noting some have become hard because of age and lack of use, others are seductively squelchy. (Fossick itself initially seemed hard but proved to have soft spots).

Automatically I distrust the squelchy tubes - their appeal is too obvious. They are like first ideas which so often turn out to be clichés in evening dress. But triage presents many problems. I once used sesquipedalian (the tube was rock hard) in a comment and it drew delighted responses. Words at least are finite, colours - as the colour wheel shows - are infinite. Hence the secret awe I try so hard to disguise when I approach The Cassandra Pages.

Yes,fossicking for fossilized colors... (I would have had to look up "fossick" if its meaning wasn't obvious from context, though I did anyway and found it means primarily not merely searching, but to search for gold!) And "sesquipedalian"-- my God in heaven! I'm not sure words actually are finite in your hands, Roderick!

I love your color tests. And the new watercolor paintings with brilliant colors.

You are so lucky with your talents. I see similar talents developing in my granddaughters and am thrilled for them. They are going to an art camp this week. The ten year old did a good portrait of me which I'm going to frame. She has what it takes: good skills, imagination and persistence.

Thank you, Sharyn!

Hattie - that's great! I'd love to see that portrait...

Colour-geek talk for sure, but the results are so cheerful. So much character. Always preferred watercolours over oil.

​Hi Anil, it's great to hear from you!​ ​I like both mediums but​
​have always had a soft spot for the transparency and brilliance of watercolor​. It feels really good to be experimenting and growing with it again.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.