How to Beat Dull Colours

30 December, 2013 0 comments Leave a comment

In my experience, the most successful paintings contain a variety of colour intensities, from brilliant to subdued. It is easy to make dull colours, but I have found the following habits really help me keep colour mixtures fresh and lively when I need brilliance.

Use artist quality paint.

Student grade paints tend to produce dull, chalky mixtures, while artist quality paints produce vibrant, clear mixtures using smaller amounts of the paint itself.

Limit your colour palette.

If you use the same three primary pigments for an entire painting, you have a much greater chance of producing vibrant colours, and your painting will look more unified and natural. This is because all objects in the scene will appear to be illuminated with the same type of light source. Also, you will learn the behaviour of individual pigments more quickly if fewer pigments are involved.

Keep your colour wells clean.

I always rinse my mixing brush in clean water before dipping it into a colour well. Also, you can use a squeeze bottle to add clean water to your paint wells or mixtures.

If you get your pure pigments ‘dirty’, remove the soiled paint with a clean brush and rinse your brush well. Dirty paint will result in muddy mixtures—guaranteed.

Use a large rinse bucket.

Most students come to my class with tiny rinse buckets, because they are easy to pack, but the water quickly becomes dirty. I recommend the use of a sturdy bucket, such as a two quart (or larger) ice cream pail, with water about four inches deep. This allows the brush hairs to be rubbed along the bucket’s bottom to dislodge paint from the brush more efficiently. The volume of water is great enough that you only need to change it for clean water a few times during a painting session.

This photo shows my palette, flat half-inch mixing brush, #12 round painting brush, rinse water bucket, and squirt bottle of clean water.

Avoid overworking the paint on your paper.

The more layers of paint you apply to your paper, the greater the risk of creating dullness. Let washes dry fully (ideally
overnight) before adding another layer of paint. Use as few brushstrokes as possible when adding a new layer, to avoid lifting the previous layer and dulling the overall effect.


This excerpt from Watercolour Toolbox: Essentials for Painting Success is reprinted with permission of the publisher. For more details visit
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