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Challenge Prompt: 2 Colors

Colors of Summer Art Challenge

PROMPT 2: Two Colors

This post is intended to supplement the Colors of Summer Art Challenge that I am co-hosting on Instagram throughout the month of August (2019). Exercises in color are generally meant to help with color theory and color mixing. While I believe this challenge can accomplish both, I will be focusing on color mixing. I would encourage you to experiment and try new things. Color mixing is fun and really helps you get to know the colors that you have. I genuinely hope that in the process of this challenge, you discover something new! For more information and the challenge prompts, please see the challenge post on my Instagram feed.

This is a tough one!

This prompt is, in my opinion, the hardest out of the bunch. Working with just two colors is really challenging but it also means you will learn a lot. If you have no idea where to begin, I suggest you start with color swatching. Pick two colors at a time and just see what you can make by mixing them together. I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to approach this exercise but luckily I came across a reference photo and immediately realized I could manage it with two colors. So that may be another option. Keep your eyes peeled for images in a very limited color palette. Photo filters can be your friend here as well, and trends like orange and teal could also work in favor of this prompt.

Example of an orange and teal photo reference.

What colors to pick?

Ideally, you want to choose two different colors (pans, tubes, etc.) preferably not from the same color family. So, for example, not two different greens or two different purples. Choosing colors from the same color family avoids color mixing which is the intention behind the prompt. Also, there is little value in it in terms of learning about color. Choosing black will have a similar impact, diminishing the usefulness of the exercise. So again, I would say that black and white do not count as colors for this. However, if you mix two colors together to create your own black, this is completely different and absolutely okay.

The goal is to make as broad of a range of colors as you can from just two starting colors. Additionally, you want to be able to create a full range of values using color rather than relying on black. Keep these two things in mind when you pick your colors.

Some things to try:

  • A dark neutral plus a bright color. Example of dark neutrals: Sepia or Payne's Gray.
  • Complimentary colors, this will work some of the time but not all of the time. Example: Red and Green.
  • You can also try compliments that are shifted slightly, like blue with an orangey-red or pink and a bluish-green. Example: Magenta or Carmine and Perylene Green make an interesting shade of dark purple.
  • In general, colors that mix to create a neutral are a safe bet. Example: Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna.
  • Avoid picking two colors that are light in value as this will lead to problems with creating contrast. Example of light value colors: Potter's Pink and Naples Yellow.
  • Simple subjects like a pitcher or a piece of fruit may be an option if you are running short on ideas in regards to subject matter.
  • It does not have to be a full edge to edge painting. Feel free to leave the background white.

This photo reference could be painted using only dark blue and dark brown.

What colors did I choose?

For my painting, I have chosen Indigo and English Red (both from White Nights). A slightly unusual combo but it is effective and suited the photo I wanted to use. Using only these two colors I can create delicate pale washes as well as a near black mix and everything in between. They also combine to create a very nice neutral grey.

A Few Final Tips

  • Don't undervalue the importance of the color of the surface you are working on, aka the white of the paper.
  • Don't be afraid to push the limits of your comfort zone, this is a challenge after all!
  • Remember to have fun! Learning through play is one of the best ways to gain experience and develop your skills.

I hope this helped you and I can't wait to see what you create!

P.S. - If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on Instagram

Reference photos shown here are from Pixabay.

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Challenge Prompt: Monochromatic

Colors of Summer Art Challenge

PROMPT 1: Monochromatic

This post is intended to supplement the Colors of Summer Art Challenge that I am co-hosting on Instagram throughout the month of August (2019). Exercises in color are generally meant to help with color theory and color mixing. While I believe this challenge can accomplish both, I will be focusing on color mixing. I would encourage you to experiment and try new things. Color mixing is fun and really helps you get to know the colors that you have. I genuinely hope that in the process of this challenge, you discover something new! For more information and the challenge prompts, please see the challenge post on my Instagram feed.

Artistic License

From one artist to another, please feel free to interpret the prompt however you wish but if you are looking for a little guidance or a few suggestions, read on and I will do my best to explain without getting too technical or going off on a tangent about Physics lol.

What does Monochromatic mean?

According to Google, monochromatic means, "containing or using only one color." This means all of the colors in the color spectrum (aka - the rainbow) are fair game. To offer further clarification, you are not limited to primary colors. Orange, for example, would be considered one color, even though it is made up of red and yellow. For our purposes think of using just one pen, or one colored pencil, or one tube of paint, etc. This is how we will define "one" color.

What about Black & White?

While a black and white image is considered monochromatic, I would encourage you to not to choose either of these as your "color". In fact, I would go so far as to say that white and black do not count as colors for the purposes of this challenge.

Why am I making this distinction? One very simple reason, this challenge is open to all art mediums. When it comes to opaque mediums such as acrylic or gouache, white is used to lighten a color and black can be used to darken a color. In other words, in order to create a range of values the use of black and white is unavoidable and I don't want this to hamper your color choices. That being said, the black or white should not be used alone for this first prompt, but mixed with your main color. For the watercolor painter, this consideration is more than likely unnecessary. I almost never use black or white, and if I do it is not to create changes in value.

If you want to get super technical, Wikipedia says that, "Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue and extended using its shades, tones and tints. Tints are achieved by adding white and shades and tones are achieved by adding a darker color, grey or black."

Why just one color?

The monochromatic prompt is intended to encourage you to explore the range of values and dimension you can create using just one color. It is also good practice for keeping your values consistent. Think of this exercise as a more in-depth value study but instead of being limited to greyscale you are using a color instead. Using color can make it a bit trickier but also more fun. In general, darker colors are the easiest to use for this purpose as they only require you to change the value in one direction (make it ligher). For me, as a watercolor artist, this just means adding more water. However, I think that changes in value can be created in most mediums so please do not be discouraged if painting is not your thing. Here are a few ideas on how to explore this prompt using other mediums:

  • Pen - changes in value can be created using hatching, crosshatching, stippling, or even just scribbling.
  • Colored Pencil - the pressure applied to the pencil with effect the darkness of the color and can create beautiful gradients.
  • Marker - I would suggest starting with a color that is more towards the middle of the value range. Leave the white of the paper for highlights. Add more layers where you want darker values.

A Few Final Tips

  • Don't undervalue the importance of the color of the surface you are working on, aka the white of the paper.
  • Don't be afraid to push the limits of your comfort zone, this is a challenge after all!
  • Remember to have fun! Learning through play is one of the best ways to gain experience and develop your skills.

I hope this helped you and I can't wait to see what you create!

P.S. - If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment here or reach out to me on Instagram

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Question Sticker Series: Overworking

Question Sticker: "What are your biggest struggles or fears when it comes to making art?"

Reply: "Overworking"

Oooh, this one can be tricky. Let's first define what overworking means and then hopefully I can shed some insight on how to avoid it.

Before I begin, I would like to point out that this is something that happens to all artists from time to time but is more apparent with mediums that are less forgiving. I have overworked my share of paintings and I am sure I will do so again in the future. For the oil or acrylic painter, if they don't like something they can simply paint over it. This is not the case with watercolor since it is a transparent medium. Thus planning before you start the painting process goes a long way.

What is overworking?

So what does it mean to "overwork" a painting? To me, this could mean several things.

  • One, that my colors are getting muddled and muddy and are no longer distinct. In other words, too many unintentional neutrals (greys and browns, AKA 'mud').
  • Two, that I have created unwanted textures with excessive brush strokes or damaged the paper by scrubbing and lifting too much. This is distracting and can, in my opinion, detract from the aesthetic appeal of the work.
  • Three, that I have put too much paint down on the paper, or simply made everything the same value. By making everything too similar in value it has a flattening effect on the painting due to lack of contrast. This also diminishes the impact of the focal point and lessens the effectiveness of the composition.
  • Four, high level of detail in too many areas of the painting. Excessive details are often distracting and overwhelm the eye of the viewer. What constitutes excessive will vary a great deal from one painting style to another. Again this is just my opinion.

I am sure there are other things that could be called "overworking" but these are the ones that come to mind.

I feel like this piece was overworked because much of the green is the same value and feels flat.

How to Avoid Overworking

While I do not consider myself an expert in this area by any means, I am happy to share the things that have helped me deal with this problem. I hope you find them helpful as well and I encourage you to add to this list if you have other techniques or suggestions. That way we can all learn from each others knowledge. Much of what I have to share on this is similar to my previous post about Understanding Light & Shadow, as the two things go hand in hand.

Things to Keep in Mind

  1. Value studies.
  2. Thumbnails and/or rough sketches.
  3. Color planning/mixing and making swatches ahead of time. Mixing colors in advance saves time later and can help a lot with timing (which is often quite important when painting with watercolors).
  4. Use a limited color palette. Fewer colors in your palette means less mixing and fewer decisions of "what to use where". In other words, it can help simplify the color aspect of painting so you can focus on value and tone, etc.
  5. Remember that contrast and value are more important than color.
  6. Intentionally exaggerate or engineer the contrast between values to create greater depth and impact in your artwork.
  7. Leave some areas of the paper white. You can always go back and tone them down later. But once you've painted over them, there is no getting that pure white back.
  8. Try using a well-developed under-drawing with some values indicated.
  9. Don't rush! Take your time. Rushed decision making will lead to more mistakes.
  10. Try not to get caught up rendering details from your reference photo UNLESS they have a purpose. (I struggle with this one!)
  11. Less is more (most of the time), especially in watercolor. Both in general and in regards to the number of washes and brushstrokes.
  12. You do not have to create just one version of a painting. Masters will often repeat the same painting over and over until they get it just right. Masterpieces don't happen by accident.

Planning is Key

Preparation will give you a solid plan and help you to avoid overworking. It is like creating a road map for yourself to follow. Planning allows you to work out a lot of the questions ahead of time so you don't have to make rushed decisions during the painting process. When it comes to a successful painting, VALUE is far more important than COLOR. It is easy to get distracted with color matching and the vibrant hues in your palette, so stop from time to time and do a progress check. Take a step back and evaluate your contrast and value range. Sometimes a few well-placed dark tones are all a painting needs to feel complete.

For a while, I had a piece of paper taped to my wall with three words listed in order of priority when it comes to painting. It read: contrast, composition, color. This advice comes from Tom Newnam, a successful Pennsylvania watercolorist.

If You Are Unsure, Stop

Often, if things start to go wrong it is better to just stop and move on to another area of the painting. Many times I have overworked a painting by trying to "fix" it. While sometimes it does work itself out, there are plenty of other times I just made it worse. If you are unsure how to handle a particular area, take a break. Make a cup of tea, go for a walk, then come back to your painting with fresh eyes. Trying to rush or force things is usually not the best solution.

No Painting is a Waste

It is easy to feel disappointed when your painting doesn't turn out, but try to keep in mind that every time you put brush to paper is a valuable learning experience. As watercolor artist Angela Fehr says, you are "logging brush miles." All of our mistakes are teaching us, showing us what we need to work on to take our painting to the next level. Without mistakes, we cannot learn, without learning we cannot move forward.

Angela also encourages artists to use overworked paintings as a place to push your limits and experiment. If it is already "ruined" you have nothing to lose by taking things in a new direction. Try something dramatic or turn it into an abstract. Regardless of what you choose, try to get the most out of it rather than seeing it as a failure.

Quality Matters

I think it is also important to note that the quality of the materials you use matters and can impact the amount of "wiggle room" you have before a painting starts to get overworked. Paper quality, more than anything else, can have an effect on this. Higher quality paper can take more brushing and lifting before it will start to show damage or pilling. It also helps to make your washes smoother and layering easier. It dries flatter with less warping, which means less puddling etc. Long story short, good quality paper can completely change your painting experience. I am often frustrated by lower quality papers because I am fighting with it the entire time, trying to get it to behave. It is not something I am doing wrong, it is just how it goes with cheap papers. I worry that some people blame the flaws in the paper on themselves and think it is because of something they are doing. Keep in mind that painting should be a pleasant experience, and your supplies should work with you, not against you. I promise you that spending a few extra dollars on better quality paper will have a positive impact on your work.

Additional Resources

One of the artists I follow on YouTube, Steve Mitchell (his channel is called The Mind of Watercolor), has a video about overworking where he shares his insight on this topic. You can watch it HERE. It's a vlog style video so skip ahead to 1:15 to get to the painting stuff. Steve has an entire playlist on watercolor basics as well as many other types of videos such as product reviews and his painting process.

Thank you for reading!

Wow, that was a long one! If you made it this far, thank you so much for choosing to spend your time reading my blog! I really hope that you found this helpful because I know overworking can be super frustrating. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback. You are the inspiration behind my posts so if there is something you'd like me to talk about, please let me know.

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Tips for Painting with Yellow

Achieving Vibrant Yellows

I was approached by one of my lovely art friends on Instagram about painting with yellows and how to keep them looking vibrant. This sounded like a perfect topic for a blog post, so here I am. Again, I must profess that I am no expert in this area but will happily share what I know. Most of my knowledge of color as well as painting with yellows has come from trial and error as well as a LOT of mixing, swatching, and playing with color. Don't be afraid to test things ahead of time if you are unsure of the outcome. Disclaimer out of the way lets dive into yellow.

Clean Everything

When painting with yellows I try to keep them as pure as possible. By pure I mean not contaminated with other colors, etc. So using clean water, a clean brush, and a clean mixing area/palette is important (and no dirty pans). Yellow is quickly overpowered by other colors and contaminated very easily. Both of which will throw off your colors and mixing.


I use a lot of pale layers and glazing for yellows (Glazing requires that the previous layer is completely dry before adding more color). Remember with watercolor the light or the brightness must come from the white of the paper, so translucency is key. Nothing you put down on the page will be brighter than the white of the paper you are using. Yellow is not lighter in value than white.

It is also important to note that many yellows are at least somewhat opaque. This means that they are only partially transparent. The term opaque means not able to be seen through; in other words, the brightness of the white paper cannot show through it. According to my Daniel Smith color range chart Hansa Yellow, Azo Yellow, and all of the Cadmium yellows fall into this category. This will vary somewhat from brand to brand, so pigment information is very helpful to have on hand. When painting with these semi-transparent colors I suggest using a generous amount of water so as to counteract this opaque quality.


I find that shadow colors for yellow is tricky and color theory also plays a role here. Payne's grey is a very blue grey and when layered with yellow does not make the most attractive color (not to mention blue + yellow = green which is probably not what you're going for). Neutral tint is another color to consider mixing with but do not use black. Moreover, there is no universal shadow color that is appropriate in all situations. When it comes to yellow, reach instead for warm neutrals or subdued earth tones. For example, I often use yellow ochre as a shadow color when painting with yellow, but again this depends on the subject matter.

When mixing shadow colors for yellow you can also try adding the complementary color. In this case that would be purple. But you want to start with yellow and then incrementally add very small amounts of purple, not the other way around. Be aware that purple is a strong color and will easily dominate yellow. So go slowly until you get a slightly darker and less saturated yellow. You may also want to test out various yellows and purples to see which ones play nicely together and which do not.

A few yellow & purple mixes. Please note: the colors do not appear exactly the same to the naked eye.

Make It Your Own

As always, remember that with art there is some room for artistic license. Unless you are painting a scientific botanical drawing, your art does not have to match back exactly to real life. Choose colors that you find appealing and that work well together to create dimension. There is no wrong answer and much of this will come down to color preference.

A Recent Example

Now that we've covered all that, let's walk through an example. I recently painted these little yellow sunflowers and I will share with you my color palette and process. I am going to limit the discussion to just painting and just the petal part of the flower, otherwise, this will get quite lengthy.

I used 4 main colors for the sunflower petals: Lemon yellow, Mayan yellow, cadmium yellow deep, and yellow ochre (with a touch of 'palette dirt' grey). I started with the lightest color (lemon yellow) and worked to the darkest (yellow ochre) in multiple transparent layers. I do not at any point use these colors at their full strength, straight out of the pan/tube.

I am also using two brushes to paint this. One brush is loaded with pigment and the second is clean and damp, ready to soften off edges. I rinse this second brush constantly to keep it clean. Each time I put paint on the paper I am blending it out immediately with my clean brush. In addition, I have two jars of water. One to rinse dirty brushes and the other for clean water for blending. These jars were both cleaned out and refilled before I started painting the petals. That way no green from painting the leaves can sneak into the yellow.

Work Light to Dark

To begin I did a very pale wash of lemon yellow over the entire flower. This will be my lightest value. I then went back in and added more lemon yellow to each petal. I am already thinking about my highlights and my shadows, taking care to leave some areas of the previous light wash visible. I then move on to the Mayan yellow, looking at shadows and areas of medium value. For a light orange or golden tone, I mixed cad. yellow deep with lemon yellow. This was more for the center of the flower and the base of the petals.

Lastly, I mixed some yellow ochre with a little bit of palette grey to desaturate it slightly (this grey is an undetermined mix of various blues and browns that I always have on my palette and I keep adding to it or adjusting it each time I paint). This color was then used for the shadow areas or the darkest parts of the petals. It is not perfect and it does not match back exactly to my reference but it still gives dimension to the flower. I do not have to render everything with watercolor because I am relying on my ink lines to form edges and most of the details.

Final Thoughts

That sums up my technique for painting in yellow. I have used this for flowers as well as other yellow subjects, such as lemons, and been happy with the results. I hope you have found this helpful and if you have any additional tips or something to add please leave a comment or reach out to me on Instagram ( I am always happy to chat about art and watercolor! Thank you for reading!

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