On this page I will publish the answers to some questions I have been asked via my website and also those featured in magazine articles etc...
WHY DO MY WATERCOLOURS ALWAYS TURN OUT 'MUDDY'?
(Published in SAA 'Paint' magazine - March 2015)
I have been asked this many times and there are some simple things you can do to avoid ‘mud’. Often tutors will advise against using cadmiums or semi-opaque colours and tell people to only use transparent, staining colours, but to me this isn’t really the answer, or indeed the problem. Avoiding muted colours ignores the fact that there are many of them in nature, and they can be very beautiful.
Most ‘muddy’ paintings I see have the same things in common; lack of tonal contrast and lack of colour range. The first thing you can do is avoid using black or white unless you are very experienced. White is opaque and black doesn’t reflect light. Look at the colours you are using; are you regularly dumping Paynes Grey or Burnt Umber into everything to darken it? Spend some time learning to mix a wide range of colours and don’t rely on earth colours to darken everything.
Another common reason for muddy colours is quite simply using a dirty palette or dirty water. Mix each colour on a clean area; don’t squeeze fresh paint onto a mucky paint well. Beginners often underestimate how the tiniest amount of an opposite colour can mute your colour mix. A great habit to get into is to clean your palette after you finish each painting; all you need is an old toothbrush! If you are painting at home and have the luxury of space, use two water jars and change your water frequently, especially when moving between colours. Finally, ensure you are using a quality brand of paint; cheap paints from stationery shops will be bulked out with (opaque) fillers, so there is little chance of them glowing.
HI, I NEED A WEAK WASH OF SHADOW COLOUR TO BE TRANSPARENT BUT THINNING THE PAINT WITH WATER RE-WETS THE UNDER COLOUR AND TURNS IT TO MUD. CAN YOU ADVISE?
(Dave, by email -Feb 2015)
I suspect that you are painting on top of a fairly heavy layer of paint, containing perhaps some slightly opaque colours or granulating ones. Using a transparent (staining) colour and applying it quickly and lightly will help but if the underneath layer is lifting there is not much you can do to stop it.
In future it would help you to think carefully about where your shadows are going right from the start and plan ahead. As watercolour is see-through you don't always have to add shadows at the end, you can sometimes put them in first. This may seem like doing things backwards but it can work really well. For example if you were painting a white cloth with blue stripes and you tried to put the shadows on after the stripes the stripes would run. So you put the shadows on, let it dry and then put the stripes on top.
For times when you do need to put the shadows in at the end ensure you have plenty of wet paint and are not 'scrubbing' at the paper, put them in fast and leave them alone. A third option is to drop the shadows in with darker paint at the same time as the first layer (wet into wet). Each painting needs a different approach.