One of my favorite watercolor tools: color wheel and simple mixing chart

When I started with watercolors a little over a year ago, I spent so much time researching what colors to buy. I knew I wanted to buy artist quality paints, and because of that investment picking colors at random was not my thing. 
Most painters seem to agree that with a red, yellow, and blue you can mix pretty much anything. And by getting a warm- and cool-biased set of each primary it expands the options even further. This is how I chose my palette. More specifically, I pretty much followed the direction Jane Blundell provides with her Ultimate Mixing Set. If you’re stuck on where to begin with choosing your colors I highly recommend checking it out!

Understanding color bias when using a split primary watercolor palette

The one drawback to this split primary watercolor palette is that it can be overwhelming to know where to begin when actually choosing what colors to use for a sketch, illustration, or painting. After all, the whole point of using the split primary palette is that depending on whether you mix the warm or cool version of the color you’re going to get different results. Diving in with some swatches is a good way to go, but if you’re looking for a more systematic approach there’s a fantastic video by parkablogs about this.

I followed along with the video, making my own simple color wheel from my warm and cool watercolor paints, and then making little secondary color swatch charts that show the color bias affects the mix.

Split primary watercolor palette mixing chart
My simple warm and cool color wheel and secondary mixing charts — plus blacks

The way my brain works, it’s taking time and practice for this color temperature stuff to sink in, so this has been an incredibly useful tool that I keep with me whenever I paint.

Here’s his video:

If you’re interested in more info on split primary color palettes, I also find this handout by Susie Short really helpful. Often times I prefer to mix colors that are more neutral and less intense and I go ahead and cross the lines she talks about, but I like learning how to have more control over my mixes so I’m deciding when to neutralize and can get the results I want.

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