The watercolor hack that will change your life
Sometimes I get people asking me how they can get their color palettes to look more sophisticated and more elevated and professional looking. This is something I often hear from beginner painters but it can also be true for experienced artists who feel like their colors are falling a little flat and lacking that elusive depth and sophistication that’s hard to put into words.
A common mistake I see people make is using colors in a way that’s isolated and blocked off one from the other. Most of the time I see this happening when people use pre-set watercolor sets and palettes and What often happens is that because you have a lot of colors pre-mixed, the logical next step is to use them as-is for the things you assume they should be used for.
If I’m painting a person and I use just the colors that should be used for the skin on the skin and just the colors that should be used for the dress on the dress or if I’m painting a leaf and use only green for the leaf and only brown for the branch, it can result in a very blocky and kind of simplistic color scheme. I describe it as the way a child would color in a picture in a coloring book, putting all the colors “where they belong”.
This might look okay but there’s a way to take your colors to the next level. I casually refer to this as “cross pollination”. This is definitely not an actual term, so I doubt you’re going to find any art class or textbook that refers to it this way. it’s just something I made up to describe it. In nature, when bees pollinate a flower, when they land on a flower, pollen gets stuck on their furry bodies and they unknowingly carry this pollen to other flowers which helps in the cycle of growing new flowers.
And so the idea is that you want to take colors that you’re using in one spot in your painting and apply them to other areas throughout your painting regardless of whether they belong there logically or not. This could be mixed into the paint of another area or it could be a colored accent.
So one of the reasons why this works so well is physics. In nature, light travels from it’s source and bounces off objects, reflecting light and colors off of lots different surfaces. So if I have a red ball next to this white ceramic, you’ll see that there are tones of that red that get cast onto the white and even onto the table too. No color ever lives in total isolation from its environment. Colors are bouncing around throughout the entirety of a space so you have to keep that in mind when you’re painting.
To see demos and an example of how one of the greatest painters of all time employed this technique, check out this video that I created.