Make Your Colors Glow With Light

 Alice Webb 

( From an article I wrote that appeared in the Artist's Magazine)

Because most of my art instruction through the years has come from books, I've often found myself with tons of information, but no clear idea of how to use color to create the paintings that I visualized. Every book, it seems suggests a different color palette or a unique way of mixing colors. As I tried each method, my palette changed: my landscapes reflected one set of colors, while my still-lifes echoed quite another. With so many color choices and too much unrelated information, mud became my ever present enemy.

Out of frustration, I turned away from this confusion of colors and looked to whites. I then found a subject matter that was visually interesting and capable of being created with just three or four colors. With these limited choices, I learned to understand the properties of the paint and began to master color mixing and glazing to create the rich, luminous colors I wanted to achieve all along.

The benches on the boardwalk in Bethany Beach, Delaware became the springboard for using my new limited palette. Before starting on my paintings of the benches, I took pictures of them from every imaginable perspective, at all times of the day and during different seasons. To paint them, I chose glazes of color to emphasize the sunny glow emanating from the benches shiny, white surfaces.

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 What is Glazing?

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In the glazing process, the artist builds value and hue by layering one diluted wash of pigment over another. The process can be repeated again and again until you achieve just the right effect. Think of glazing as layering colored tissue paper on a white board with a thin glue mixture. You can see through the top tissue to the tissue underneath, and the color shows as a combination of both.

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The primary advantage of glazing-rather than mixing color on your palette-is the control you gain over your washes. You can see where your color is going every step of the way, and you can stop precisely where you want to. As long as you let each wash dry thoroughly before adding the next one, you never have to contend with blooming surprises. 

Color Basics

Before trying your hand at glazing, you also need to know the color wheel. In my watercolor classes, I ask my students to start with three primary colors and paint a color wheel which includes a glazed center wheel, which creates the neutral colors by glazing with the color's complement. To emphasize the difference, I ask them to mix their compliments on the palette and paint a swatch of the mixture next to the wheel. They use Winsor and Newton Rose Madder, genuine, Aureolin, and Cobalt Blue for start and then add other pigments as they learn their properties.

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In my "Bethany Benches" series, for example, direct painting can't express the look of sunshine glowing off the benches the way that my colors glazed over a base of yellow do. Another advantage of glazing is that it leaves room for refining and correcting your colors. You may put down the color you thought you wanted, then find out that it doesn't work with your composition. With another layer of glaze, you can push it in a different direction or neutralize it with it's complement. This is especially helpful for beginners who are apprehensive about the alleged unforgiving nature of watercolor.

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   Finally, glazing has allowed me to use just a few tubes of  transparent color for all my work. I can create a multitude of glowing hues.

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Pigment Properties

To get the most from glazing, you should understand the basic properties of your watercolors. A particular pigment's transparency or relative opacity can dramatically effect you results. You should also know which paints are staining or granular.

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Laying It On

You can't make a great speech without first deciding what you want to say, and you can't create a great painting without first deciding how you want to paint it. Having a clear composition in mind before starting to paint is a necessity for a successful painting.

It doesn't matter if you are a beginner or an experienced painter who is confused by too much information, my advice is the same:  Slow down, take a break and try a fresh, white start. It's like meditation...your mind will be cleansed of color clutter and you will be charged and ready to face new challenges.

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