Cheat Sheet

Watercolor Painting For Dummies Cheat Sheet

By Colette Pitcher

Watercolor painting lets you explore the world of color from a uniquely wet perspective, but, in the end, it’s mostly about the color. You have to become familiar with the color wheel and its primary and complementary colors. You need to be able to judge color values (light to dark, not cheap to expensive), and to need to choose water color paints and pigments according to their biases.

Circling the Color Wheel for Watercolor Painting

Watercolor painting is a little about water and a little about color. You can get the water many places, but becoming familiar with the color wheel may take a bit more time. The color wheel shows the primary colors — red, yellow, and blue — and the many colors they can combine to make. The primary colors are the basis for every other color, and you can’t create the primaries by mixing other colors.

Use the color wheel to choose color painting schemes, mix color formulas, and make color combinations. Neutralize a color (make it less bright and more natural — towards gray) by mixing it with its complement, found opposite it on the color wheel.


Evaluating Color Value for Watercolor Painting

A color’s value measures where it falls on a range between dark and light. Value is an important aspect of watercolor painting. You may want to determine the value of a color to create strong value patterns. However, the color itself can take your attention, making it difficult to determine the value.

To help, print the following value chart (white card stock would be a good choice), then use a hole punch to make a hole at each circle in the chart. Squint through the holes to reduce the color you’re looking at to gray and determine its value. Match the color with the same value square by seeing the color in the hole. Move the value squares up and down until the correct value matches the color through the hole.


By knowing the proper value you can mix more accurate colors, design value patterns in your work, and establish exciting focal areas by juxtaposing lightest lights against darkest darks.

Picking Paint Pigments for Watercolor Painting

Choosing the paints you’ll use in creating watercolors is a major necessity and a major treat. When you buy watercolor paints for the first time, print out the following pigment chart and take it with you. The chart shows just a few of the primary colors available, but it can help you choose at least one primary color from each bias color category so you can make a good six-color palette. From those six colors, you can create hundreds, maybe thousands, of others.


Choosing Watercolor Pigments According to Color Bias

Each one of the primary colors — red, yellow, and blue — is biased, meaning that it leans toward one of the other two primary colors. When mixing watercolor paints to get a secondary color — orange, green, or purple — use two primaries biased toward each other. Otherwise, you get a gray, muddy color.

For example, to get purple, be sure to mix a blue biased toward red such as ultramarine blue and a red biased toward blue such as alizarin crimson. When mixing colors, refer to the following list:

  • Reds with a blue bias: alizarin crimson, carmine, crimson lake, magenta, opera, rhodamine, rose madder, scarlet lake

  • Reds with a yellow bias: cadmium red, chlorinated para red, chrome orange, English red oxide, fluorescent red, Indian red, light red, permanent red, perylene red, phioxine red, red lake, red lead, sandorin scarlet, Venetian red, vermillion, Winsor red

  • Yellows with a blue bias: aureolin, azo, cadmium yellow lemon, cadmium yellow pale, Flanders yellow, lemon yellow, permanent yellow light, primary yellow, Winsor yellow, yellow light

  • Yellows with a red bias: aurora yellow, brilliant yellow, cadmium yellow medium and deep, chrome, gallstone, golden yellow, Indian yellow, Mars yellow, Naples yellow, permanent yellow medium and deep, raw sienna, Sahara, yellow lake, yellow ochre

  • Blues with a red bias: brilliant, cobalt, cyanine, indigo, mountain blue, ultramarine blue, verditer blue, Victoria blue

  • Blues with a yellow bias: Antwerp, cerulean, compose, intense blue, manganese, monestial blue, Paris blue, peacock blue, phthalocyanine blue, Prussian, Rembrandt, speedball, touareg, turquoise, Winsor blue