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Painting The Seasons In Watercolor

Updated on February 26, 2014

Is The Choice Of Colors Important For Painting The Seasons?

What color shall I use for...........? A very common cry from new artists or even some who have been painting for a while. How do you achieve that particular look and feel that color gives to a painting, which tells you so much about the time and place of the subject matter, and particularly in landscape paintings the season ?

The secret of painting the seasons in watercolor is selecting and understanding the colors that you use. Choose a palette of colors which have a color temperature which is relevant to the season that you are trying to show in your painting. I will define palettes of three primary colors which you can use for painting the four seasons, and provide examples of how the use of these limited palettes will provide the right look and feel when you paint the various seasons.

All images are sketches by myself and are subject to copyright, please do not use them in any manner, without my written permission.

hillside cottage at sunrise
hillside cottage at sunrise

The Importance Of The Right Colour Choice

How To Mix Bright Secondary Colors

As we know you should theoretically be able to achieve any color you want from the three primaries ( How to use the colour wheel), however in practice all primaries come with a leaning to one of the other two. This means that using a french ultramarine blue to make a cool green is going to be a disaster. Using a cadmium red to make a bright purple is fraught with danger. And using a lemon yellow to mix a striking orange is a no-no. Why is this?

  • french ultramarine blue has a red cast, the complementary of green
  • cadmium red has a yellow cast, the complementary of purple
  • lemon yellow has a blue cast, the complementary of orange
The addition of the small amounts of complementary colors to a secondary colour does of course "grey" and darken the required secondary color. This gives us a principle for mixing bright and striking secondary colours. The principle is :- to only mix the primaries which have a color cast edging them to the required secondary.

In your studio palette, use at least six colours, two of each primaries. You may add one or two earth colours to this and possibly ready mixed greys or secondary colors, but of course these are not necessary, merely convenient.

>My basic watercolor palette consists of:-

  • Prussian Blue (cold cast)
  • ultramarine blue ( warm cast)
  • cadmium red ( warm cast)
  • alizarin crimson ( red with blue cast)
  • cadmium yellow ( warm cast)
  • paynes grey
  • burnt sienna
  • raw sienna
  • I often use a third blue, either cobalt or cerulean which are fairly close to a pure blue and can be used to mix with reds or yellows
  • I have no ready mixed secondary colors in my palette.

for bright oranges, I mix cadmium red and cadmium yellow

for bright greens, I mix prussian blue and lemon yellow

for bright purples, I mix ultramarine blue and alizarin crimson

Each pair already have a colour cast, edging them towards the secondary color being mixed. This minimises the complentary color additions to the hue required and therefore provides the best possible starting point and the brightest mixed colors.

Are You Familiar With The Colour Wheel? - Creating Your Own Secondary and Tertiary Colors.

I have created an introduction to the colour wheel ( How To Use The Colour Wheel) for artists, who need a little help with the basics of this concept.

Do You Understand the concept of the color wheel

See results

Now

Selecting Seasonal Colours;

How to choose a minimal palette to match the look and feel of your subject.

black and white watercolour sketch, tones
black and white watercolour sketch, tones

What Colors Should You Choose To Represent The Seasons

A Minimal Palette Will Help

What is it that makes monochrome paintings so interesting, or not? The use of tones must be well done, tonal contrasts mean that a painitng will stand or fall. Colors add something but cannot make up for poor tonal contrast. Make sure that you get your tones right before you start to paint. But that is another lens. Compare this with the intro image, a very different feel. But now, what do colors do for us?

The sketch below, shows a couple walking their dog along a path in a forest. Notice the "warm" reds in the foreground giving the composition a reversed "L" shape. This colour gives the sketch an overall warmth and suggests to me a warm autumn evening. Even the green foliage is quite a bright green sharply contrasting with these warm colors.

The next sketch is of a similar subject but uses much cooler blues in the background and an earthy color, which although a warm colour is not so marked as the reds in the first sketch above. What does this say to you? Definitely a cooler spring day to me.

Now I show three pages from my sketchbook with suggestions for a three color palette:-

The palettes and the season I think they best represent are in order:-

  • Spring: prussian blue / burnt sienna / lemon yellow
  • summer, cobalt blue / cadmium red / cadmium yellow
  • autumn, ultramarine / alizarin crimson / raw sienna

Just to complete this little listing, I often use ultramarine / burnt sienna and raw sienna for winter images. But go light on the raw sienna.

I hope you will find this expose useful and of help to you on your sketching expeditions. You do sketch outdoors, don't you?

a moonlit walk, watercolour
a moonlit walk, watercolour

A Palette For A Winters Night.

Limiting The Choice Of Colours

This painting is done in just two colours, ultramarine blue and burnt sienna. It could easily be a winters day or an evening after the sun has gone down, the moon is irrelevant to this "feel" and just offers a point of focus in an area otherwise very bland. The burnt sienna is only a little on the warm side of the blue but does bring the foreground forward enough to increase the depth in the painting.

The overall effect is cold and wintry, try the combination out for yourself.

Do I Have To Use These Color Combinations?

When Painting The Seasons?

Of course not!. As in all branches of the arts, use your skills and select what is right for you at that time. If you haven't a particular color in your palette then no need to fret. The above color schemes are merely for guidance. use your own initiative and think about the subject, do not blindly follow. Most rules in the arts are made to be broken, but................ you need to know why you are breaking them and ask yourself, "is it the best way forward?"

Take the painting here. It is another of my landscapes, you may be able to recognise the main sky colour is ultramarine blue, and this is confirmed by the fact that as usual the colour wash is granulated, but notice the small patch of cobalt blue ( I think, even I can't be sure here) right at the top. It makes a nice contrast in the sky and looks as though it is the blue sky above the clouds. Also note the roofs of the cottages are a cadmium red. It simply fitted the subject, can you imagine a crimson roof. OK I could have toned it down but they make a nice focal point in the painting. The raw sienna is used to link together the cottages and emphasise the diagonal in the composition.

More Examples Of Using A Seasonal Palette

We Are Sailing

I thought that a few more examples would help to show how the use of a seasonal palette can work.

The first image shows a sketch from a summer holiday, spent in Jersey in the Cannel Islands. Lots of light and bright colours. I hope you agree that it certainly looks summery. The second image uses cobalt blue and greens for a similar subject. Although In this case it could be any of the warmer seasons, I do still feel it is a summery sketch.

Now consider the following sketches:- The first is actually in pastel but I am using it here as an example of the use of colours so you will have to excuse this. It is drawn with mainly blue tints. A very cold feeling and could be a winter evening perhaps. Whilst the latter has touches of warm red in the sky indicating a possible summer sunset. I know that red skies are seen in other seasons but it is the feeling that the colours generate in the viewer which gives me that impression.

Make those colours work for you, it isn't difficult and the easiest way is to use a limited palette that you can get to know.

Whether you have something to share about using colours or simply want to comment on this lens or say hello, please feel free.

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    • John Dyhouse profile image
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      John Dyhouse 4 years ago from UK

      @Elsie Hagley: In fact I started painting in 1993 as a way of relaxing, but I do find I get a lot more out of art than this. It does give me a great satisfaction. I know I am no "Picasso" but I do sell a few now and then. A nice bonus.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 4 years ago from New Zealand

      I love your art work, wish I could do work like that, must be very relaxing and rewarding.

    • blestman lm profile image

      blestman lm 4 years ago

      What a great lens. I enjoy your artwork and your insights

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      ChristyZ 4 years ago

      Beautiful artwork, I'm red green colorblind so I might not be able to fully appreciate certain blends of color but I can still appreciate a work of art:) Your winter's night painting is very inspiring.

    • Brandi Bush profile image

      Brandi 5 years ago from Maryland

      Beautiful watercolors! I wish I had time to paint...I'm not very good, but I enjoy it. Maybe when the kids are grown. :)

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      marsha32 5 years ago

      My middle daughter took a water color class when she was a teen and did extremely well. Didn't keep up the painting once the class was over though. Her framed watermelon slice is right across the room and very neat.

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 5 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      Your artwork is beautiful and I love the colors. Great work!

    • Tradeshowhobo profile image

      Tradeshowhobo 5 years ago

      Good talent using this medium to create seasonal feeling

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Thumbs up for some awesome work.

    • BenJacklin LM profile image

      BenJacklin LM 5 years ago

      great lens and beautiful watercolour paintings :)

    • Ben Reed profile image

      Ben Reed 5 years ago from Redcar

      Love these water colours - thank you for sharing.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I saw your lens on Google+ and decided to stop by again to look at your watercolor paintings. Very nice on the eyes! :)

    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 5 years ago

      Beautiful paintings and interesting information.

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      ScrollSawChuck 5 years ago

      Wonderful paintings and a brilliant lens. Thanks for all of the information, too.

    • curious0927 profile image

      curious0927 5 years ago

      Absolutely Awesome! Inspired by an Angel. Blessed!

    • artaroundtheworld profile image

      artaroundtheworld 5 years ago

      Beautiful watercolors! They are the most simple and beautiful form of paintings.

    • waterlily78 profile image

      waterlily78 5 years ago

      This was really a wonderful lens, and your paintings are lovely!

    • PastorCher profile image

      Pastor Cher 5 years ago from United States

      Haven't painted in a long time...miss it. Lovely lens.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I don't know how I missed this excellence but am so pleased to find it on Squidoo's front page! Adding my blessing....so very nicely presented!

    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 5 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      Your paintings are beautiful! Gorgeous!!! I need to study the color wheel more.

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      faye durham 5 years ago

      Your paintings are beautiful! Great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      lovely paintings. Thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      seosmm 5 years ago

      Beautiful paintings. Nice Lens!

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 5 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      I love your watercolor paintings. Great lens.

    • TheLittleCardShop profile image

      Malu Couttolenc 5 years ago

      You are a very talented artist. Love the way you explain about the colors to use when painting the seasons. Great page :)

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      capricornlove 5 years ago

      The paintings are beautiful!

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      Lindrus 5 years ago

      Very nice lens! My husband is quite in to water-colour, he'll really like this lens

    • Nimsrules LM profile image

      Nirmal Shah 5 years ago from India

      You're a great artist. Keep up the good work!

    • vkumar05 profile image

      vkumar05 5 years ago

      Very nice lens.Excellent water color paintings - very inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

    • greenspirit profile image

      poppy mercer 5 years ago from London

      More lovely painting...thank you for sharing it

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 5 years ago from UK

      Your work is beautiful, and I admire your generosity in sharing your tips for painting the seasons using watercolour paints. Blessed!

    • Inkhand profile image

      Inkhand 5 years ago

      A fun and informative lens that shows us that there is no right or wrong colours, it is a matter of choice and an extension of yourself.

    • sarita garg profile image

      sarita 6 years ago from Hisar

      good water colour art work.. keep it up...

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Love watercolors...they are more subtle.

    • mbgphoto profile image

      Mary Beth Granger 6 years ago from O'Fallon, Missouri, USA

      Beautiful work...blessed.

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      Chazz 6 years ago from New York

      Good color tips and beautifully done paintings. Blessed on the Squid Angels Epic Back To School Bus Trip Quest. Your lens will be featured on âWing-ing it on Squidoo,â our lensography of some of the best Squidoo has to offer, as soon as the quest has been completed.

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      poutine 6 years ago

      Very interesting visit.

    • ForestBear LM profile image

      ForestBear LM 6 years ago

      Beautiful paintings. I enjoyed my visit and Thank you for the watercolour tips

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      irenemaria 6 years ago from Sweden

      Lovely lens. I really apreciate the personal comments and tips.

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      anonymous 6 years ago

      I do respect on you and love your watercolor painting lessons. Thank you so much for sharing. 5 stars for you. Have a wonderful artistic time.. always :)