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Great colors from a cheap watercolor set!

Yes, you can use a cheap watercolor set and still make beautiful paintings! In this post I will show you just a couple of neutral colors you can mix that would work great in a nature painting.

I am using a set my kids have used just to show how you can use what you’ve got – even if you have to borrow from a preschooler. I did have to clean out the colors a bit since the yellow was that special shade of “toddler has been here.”

Here is a little sample of the colors straight out of the pans. Green is pretty much gone. We can mix some greens from this same set in the next post.

For this post, I’m going to use only the orange, yellow, blue, and purple. Look at those nice, subtle colors. Just perfect for your nature journal!

Starting a New Painting

This is how the visible start looks (after my perfectly executed mental painting, of course). I’ve got my book pages down and I’ve drawn my dragonfly. I am trying out a new idea with the pages arranged haphazard – like a gust of wind blowing them away.

I usually have my whole composition decided before I start on the final piece. This time, I kept making decisions and changes as I drew! I didn’t want to damage the watercolor paper with multiple drawings and erasing, so I used tracing paper to sketch and then transferred the final lines onto the watercolor paper. For this painting, I placed the dragonfly first, then made the eucalyptus branches work around it.


Laying down some background color…

Painting, painting, painting…

Some definition and texture using Prismacolor and Derwent
colored pencils.
On the easel but ready for framing!

Watercolor Books

I don’t know about you, but I love old books. When the vintage typography, and beautiful language combine with engaging and informative writing my brain lights up. And if that subject is art? I just can’t resist. Just such a winning combo is found in these three books by Eliot O’Hara from early 1900’s: Watercolor Fares Forth, Making Watercolor Behave, Making the Brush Behave.

“Quote from Book”

Eliot O’Hara

More stuff to write here….

Mixing Your Own Gray in Watercolor

Here is what I use to make one of my favorite grays – and some other lovely neutral colors: Ultramarine (Green Shade), Jaune Brilliant No. 2, and Light Red. I am using Da Vinci and Holbein watercolor paints here, but you can use a different brand or a student grade paint or even a similar color combination from a Crayola watercolor set!

I like to have a little porcelain palette for mixing special color combinations like this. It keeps my main palette more organized and clean.

I’ve squeezed a tiny bit of each color into their own wells in my mini palette. Add water and transfer just a bit of the Ultramarine (blue) and Juane Brilliant (peachy-cream) into a new well. Playing with the pigment ratios I can create a whole new array of gray tones! (You can see just five variations to the left of the paper pictured below). If I want a darker, warmer option, I can do the same process with the Light Red (seen with the angular swatches to the right in the photo below).

This is a really fun exercise to try and see how many different colors you can make from just these two or three base paints. Once you become familiar with the types of neutral colors you can create, you can go back to that color for a painting. Just mix up a big batch in a fresh well!