Some weeks ago we brought together 6 painters in oil and acrylic who generously shared their favoured colours for landscape painting. Here we have brought together 5 landscape painters in watercolour to share their palettes, and to describe how they go about choosing their colours.
My landscape subjects don’t change much; I paint the fields, ponds and woodlands of the 633-acres that surround my home. This means that I have refined my palette over the years. It changes only with the seasons, and even then only slightly. I believe in a limited palette for ease of intuitive mixing and greater colour harmony, plus it lends my entire body of work a sense of harmony, too.
My basic summer palette is made up of paints from M Graham and Winsor and Newton Professional watercolours: Transparent Yellow Oxide, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, Olive Green and Azo Green; and Cerulean blue, French Ultramarine, Raw Sienna, and Burnt Umber. Eight pigments, but so many possibilities. In winter, I add a Cadmium Orange by Winsor and Newton to make some stunning grey skies when combined with Cerulean Blue. In spring, I add Aureolin from Winsor and Newton to capture some of the more delicate greens. Autumnal hues are easily made with the addition of Winsor and Newton Burnt Sienna. My location and the seasons speak in these hues to me. Simple is best for my working style.
Christopher Forsey RI, SGFA
My over-riding ambition when about to start preparing to do a landscape painting is what mood am I trying to create, atmosphere and light being a priority, and I chose my colours in response to this. I very often use imagination to enhance my expressive response to the particular landscape; not necessarily completely representational in colour choices. After a lot of consideration I squeeze out only my chosen colours that I feel will produce a painting that echoes my emotional connection to the scene; always a limited palette, usually no more than 5 hues. This gives me harmony of colour within a narrow range and the few colours usually work well together. I work in a mixture of media, sometimes adding acrylic ink or oil pastel, or both to the painting.
I have favourite colour combinations for different seasons and situations. The winter encourages me to use a very different palette than during other seasons. A favourite palette for winter is a very limited one using Dioxazine Purple if I am using acrylic, or Winsor Violet if watercolour, plus Lemon Yellow or Quinacridone Gold and Paynes Grey. These 3 colours are perfect I find for dull winter scenes. The purple and yellow mix to produce a fine dark brown. The Paynes Grey mixed with Lemon Yellow make a natural green and if too bright can be adjusted with a small touch of purple. Another cool winter palette, useful for frost or snowy situations uses Yellow Ochre, Prussian Blue, Indigo and Violet.
A favourite spring palette, Magenta, Lemon Yellow, Prussian Blue, Raw Umber seems to summon up the freshness of spring. Summer and warm sunny situations can call for Cobalt Blue, Magenta, Lemon Yellow, Purple, a fresh bright palette for clear sunny days.
The autumn needs a warmer colour scheme I feel, so I replace the Lemon Yellow with Quinacridone Gold, adding Raw Umber, Cadmium Orange, Dioxazine Violet. My chosen acrylic inks are also limited to Burnt Umber, Antelope Brown, Purple Lake and Paynes Grey.
My basic palette that I chose from would consist of Paynes Grey, Indigo, Prussian Blue, Cobalt Blue, Dioxazine Violet, Quinacridone Gold, Lemon Yellow, Alizarin Crimson (Quinacridone Magenta if using acrylics) Cadmium Orange.
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Book: ‘Mixed Media Landscapes and Seacapes’
click here to view DVDs by Chris Forsey, produced by Townhouse Films.
I have a consistent and quite limited palette of colours that I’ve used for a long time now.
The full range (9 colours) are: Phthalo Blue (Red Shade), French Ultramarine, Indian Red, Light Red, Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Cobalt Turquoise, Winsor Lemon, Cadmium Red (or any scarlet red colour).
I am mostly a plein air painter and I always have these with me wherever I go. I rarely use all of them, and frequently use just 3 – 5 core colours. The cool yellow, bright red and turquoise are used only occasionally or in small amounts. Virtually always I’ll use Raw Umber, Phthalo Blue Red Shade and Indian Red, these being my ‘earthy primaries’. Often these are complemented by French Ultramarine and Light Red, and sometimes Burnt Umber.
In a low-light situation, such as towards dusk or when overcast, I may use just my 3-colour palette of Raw Umber, Phthalo Blue Red Shade and Indian Red.
Colour itself is of course muted in low light, so this is often adequate and indeed positively helpful in creating the desired atmosphere.
Similarly this can work well for ‘towards the light’ painting.
I sometimes use just these in full, high sun situations also, if they’re adequate for the subject and where using just three colours is helpful on a purely practical level. An example might be a coastal scene containing ocean, sky, clifftop and rock in hot, dry or windy conditions. The three colours can be enough to convey the scene and dipping into just three blobs of paint in such dry and challenging (for watercolour) conditions helps keep them moist and the situation manageable.
I like a limited palette for all the usual reasons. I can see why a flower painter may need or want more, but I’m pleased I don’t have to worry about more!
I think of colours in terms of warm, cool, muted, saturated, and above all relative.
I don’t aim to ‘colour-match’ what I’m seeing in a precise way, and frequently change from it if I think it will help the painting – normally to a small degree in a particular section. I don’t go out of my way to change from what I’m observing either in the majority of situations, but often a bit of ‘enhancement’ to help suggest distance, grab attention or create interest is helpful. Change things a lot and you can lose something vital that you’re trying to capture, without realising it until afterwards. The magic of nature as a whole is subtle, and it is hard to know the importance of just one element in isolation – i.e. colour. Nature is my inspiration precisely because of what it is, so to change it much from what I perceive would be senseless.
Housemartin in Lacock, 2018
Watercolour, 31 x 51 cm
I do keep my eye open for a colour that may work better for me than any in my current range. I’ve tried alternatives over the years but usually found a problem once they are mixed with all the others. It’s that overall combination that counts, and to find a range that you enjoy and which all get along well together is no mean feat.
I do look at the scene before me in terms of colour before I squeeze out the paints. Whether or not I squeeze out my five key colours all at the beginning or just a few of them is partly dependent on the weather and the likely order of washes. I also consider how much of each I’m likely to need. But invariably I can look at any landscape scene and my regular colours are well up to the task. It’s just a matter of whether I am!
In my sketchbook, I usually make random colour washes for each page and then choose a page for the landscape I am looking at . I draw over it sometimes with felt pens & markers . This method frees me from a “white page” and gives me a mood and accidental results .
When I’m making a painting, I start by looking carefully at the landscape and then choose a set of colours that I see in it. It might be 7 or 8 … after that I start rejecting them one by one until I am left with the minimum that I can work with . This restriction acts as a means of making me invent with the chosen colours . I am not tempted to introduce more colours after I have started as this gives a cohesion to the work.
I paint directly from the landscape and if I find an area particularly inspiring, I revisit it many times and form a collection of paintings on the area. Often, colour schemes appear within these collections. For example, my work on Cornish seascapes features the characteristic turquoise blue of the Atlantic Ocean. Whereas, during my latest visit to the Isle of Skye during a cold and stormy February, I found the cooler colours of my palette prevailing, such as Ultramarine Blue and Dioxazine Violet. I also captured the snowy bleak environment by leaving sections of the paper unpainted and therefore harnessing the natural light of the paper.
When I start painting from the landscape in situ, I like to spread out my colours on a palette in an ordered way so that I have everything at hand. I use a fairly limited palette, which does not include greens as I prefer to mix these myself. My palette consists of 12 colours, of which five are blue. I think it’s worthwhile to take the time to understand your palette and how the colours combine. This is particularly important for me, as I often start a painting by squeezing several of the colours straight from the tube onto the paper. I usually work on damp paper; this technique is referred to as ‘wet on wet ‘technique in watercolour. Typically, I will identify and select three of the most prominent colours of the scene and having squeezed them straight onto the paper, block in general shapes. This may be a large section of the sea or sky, this allows me to get involved with the composition and the movement in the scene quickly, responding through colour and drawing with brush, decisions are made rapidly.
When I select colours for my palette for a landscape, I rarely leave out any of my colours. This is because I often find that there are hidden shades and tones of colours which are less obvious at first glance but once I try to really record all that I am observing , a cloud may surprise me with an orange glow, or the sea appears more slate grey than blue, I want to be ready to try something out, and not to be dictated to by my materials or by my own preconceptions.
The thing I have always loved about watercolour painting is that the medium itself has a life of its own, two colours can bleed and flow into each other creating other colours as they meet, and subtle soft shades which can become softer still the more water you use to dilute the pigment. It has almost infinite possibilities and the speed at which things happens in watercolour painting has an energy and life. I would liken the experience to a funfair ride, the best I can do is hang onto my hat!
My painting colours
[And occasionally I use Turquoise]
My forthcoming solo show 14 September to 16 October, The Jane Newbery Gallery, 84 Dulwich Village, London SE21 7AJ
Kateri Ewing’s palette