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Did you know?
       "Your three primary colors;
        yellow, red, and blue,
       can produce over 50 colors."

 

 
Home  Basics and Skills  Selecting Your Primary Colors

    an example showing yellow, red, and blue on the color wheel


Selecting Your Primary Colors

  • Which yellow, red, and blue to use?
  • Soft and delicate primaries
  • Medium strength primaries
  • Bold and strong primaries




To fully understand how to mix various colors in watercolor, you must first begin with your primary colors; yellow, red, and blue. Named primary, as there are no two colors you can mix together that will create these colors. But, from these three colors, you can mix all colors found in the spectrum.


Selecting Three Primaries
 
 
Painting of a bed of tulips
Probably the best way to choose primary colors is to browse through various art instruction books until you find an artist that sees, and interprets, color in the same way as you do.
Deciding on which three primary watercolors to begin with can seem quite daunting, especially if you are new to watercolor.
 
 
color wheel made from the three primaries used in painting the bed of tulips
Once you discover which three primary colors the artist uses consistently throughout their paintings, create a color wheel based on those three colors. Study the colors. Are the colors still appealing and similar to what you envision in a painting? If the majority of them are, then you are ready to begin.  
Which Primary Watercolors to Choose?
 
To help you with your selection, I set up three popular primary triads (or trios as I fondly call them), showing them as a primary color on the color wheel, along with the secondary and tertiary colors they make when mixed.

 
 
Soft and Delicate
   Rose Madder Genuine    Auerolin    Cobalt Blue

 

Illustration of a color wheel made from those three primaries
For a soft and delicate look, these three primaries are a good choice. They offer luminous transparent color, are all non-staining, and mix extremely well other non-staining colors.
Yellow to Orange
Orange to Red
Red to Violet
Violet to Blue
Blue to Green
Green to Yellow
Mixing all three
Warm to Cool Gray
colored stripes made from charging those three primaries

This soft trio contains a primary blue with strong sediment

This soft trio contains a primary blue that is opaque
 

Raw Sienna
small primary color wheel
Rose Madder   Manganese
Genuine           Blue

colored stripes made from charging those three primaries

Raw Sienna
small primary color wheel
Rose Madder    Cerulean
Genuine           Blue

colored stripes made from charging those three primaries
 
 
 
Medium
   Permanent Rose    New Gamboge    French Ultramarine Blue

 

Illustration of a color wheel made from those three primaries
For a look that is neither soft and delicate, or bold and strong, these three primaries would make a good choice. They offer a luminous deeper color, all non-staining, and mix extremely well other non-staining colors.
Yellow to Orange
Orange to Red
Red to Violet
Violet to Blue
Blue to Green
Green to Yellow
Mixing all three
Warm to Cool Gray
colored stripes made from charging those three primaries

 
 
Bold and Strong
   Permanent Alizarin Crimson    Winsor Yellow    Winsor Blue *

 


Illustration of a color wheel made from those three primaries
For a look that is bold and strong, these three primaries would make a good choice. They offer deep, luminous, transparent color, and are all highly staining. They mix extremely well other staining colors, but dominate non-staining colors.
Yellow to Orange
Orange to Red
Red to Violet
Violet to Blue
Blue to Green
Green to Yellow
Mixing all three
Warm to Cool Gray
colored stripes made from charging those three primaries

*Also known as Phthalo blue.
personal note   If you are new to watercolor, I would recommend beginning with either the soft or medium primary colors as they are non-staining. Once you become more familiar and confident painting with non-staining watercolors, then slowly introduce yourself to the staining colors.




 
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