Understanding how to mix colors opens the eyes to a whole new way of seeing colors. I’ve been playing around with paints my whole life, yet it wasn’t until one watercolor class a few years back in Oregon that I finally learned how pigments interact. So many interesting colors can be made with just two tubes of paint. Add in a third, and you’ve got everything you need to build a harmonious palette. And I’m not even talking about red, yellow, and blue. Rarely do I feel the need to mix the whole spectrum. Take my most recent portrait, for example.

90 percent of this painting was created using just two pigments: ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. This is my ultra-favorite combination, with which I can get warm rusty browns, tans, gray browns, neutral grays (from pale smoke to almost black), dull blue-grays, and true blues. Right out of the tube, ultra blue is almost violet. Even better, it has a fine sediment that settles as the paint dries, creating beautiful crackly textures.


Another paint I used sparingly for Guthrie was yellow ochre. It was essential for showing the creamy colors in his fur, and I used it primarily on his left side, where the hazy sunlight shines down on him. Warm  and brighter tones always suggest the form is closer to our eye and nearer to the light. Cool and darker tones, such as on his right side and the floor, indicate shadow. Obviously Guthrie’s fur is not blue, so this treatment is subtle, but effective. Warm = burnt sienna or ochre. Cool = ultra blue. What more do you need?  (Well, just a dab of red-orange here and there on his collar, and a careful splash of phthalo blue in the highlights of his eyes and nose. But that’s it. I promise.)


This is pretty much all that went into this painting. Just add water.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s