One of the challenges many beginners face with watercolor mixing is how to avoid muddy colors. It can be extremely frustrating when your paintings keep turning muddy and you have no idea why! In this article, you’ll learn 10 ways to help you avoid muddy colors.
Let’s get into it…
Essentially, muddy colors occur when you unintentionally mix a brown, gray, or neutral color. Understanding the basics of color theory allows you to learn about the relationships between different colors. It is one of the most important topics you can use to improve your color-mixing skills. I have already written an in depth guide to mastering watercolor mixing for beginners if you want to learn more!
Never let your brushes dry without being rinsed thoroughly with clean water. Otherwise, when you re-wet them to start a fresh painting the dried pigment will reactivate and mix to create muddy colors.
Working with fewer pigments allows you to produce clean color mixes. Some paints have more than 3 or 4 pigments. If you mix two or three colors that each have 3 pigments, you’ll be creating a new color with 9 pigments! This could be the reason why your colors appear muddy.
To avoid muddy colors use 2 jars of water between washes. Use the first jar to remove paint from your brush and the second to load it with clean water. Always be sure to be thorough and rinse your brush in both jars when switching colors. This way the leftover pigment won’t get mixed into the new colors.
Try to avoid using black and white paint to lighten or darken a color mixture. White watercolor tends to be opaque and chalky which you’ll want to avoid. Instead of adding white, dilute the color or use a lighter shade altogether. The same goes for darker colors, use a more concentrated mixture or use darker colors when mixing.
When you use opaque paints to mix new colors, they can produce muddy and chalky results. This is because opaque pigments are thicker and are easily muddied. This doesn’t mean you should never use them.
You just have to be careful and intentional when using them. It can help to test them out by mixing them with different colors to see what happens.
Always clean your palette before starting a new painting. Sometimes leftover pigment can muddy your color mixtures and ruin the results of your painting.
Complementary colors are positioned on opposite sides of the color wheel. When you mix complementary colors you produce neutral colors (gray, brown, and black). It can help if you practice gradually neutralizing colors using their complementary.
Simply choose any color and add small amounts of its complementary color until you neutralize it and create a new shade of gray, brown, and black. This exercise helps you become aware of how much paint to add to your mixes. You’ll be able to mute colors without letting them turn completely muddy.
The diagram below shows how mixing red and green creates a neutral color:
Color mixing charts allow you to familiarize yourself with the colors on your palette. Especially when you’re new to color theory and mixing watercolors. The more you familiarize yourself with different colors and how they perform when mixed together, the easier it will be for you to choose the right mixes thus avoiding muddy colors.
Color mixing charts also help you learn more about how different pigments behave when mixed together. This is important because if you are aware
Check out my article on different types of color mixing charts to learn more.
If you’re painting in layers, make sure each layer is completely dry before adding the next one. If you add a new layer while the previous one is wet, the colors could mix on the paper, neutralize, and turn muddy.
Most of the time the biggest cause of mixing muddy colors is not knowing the basics of color mixing and practicing with your set of paints. I would recommend the following articles to help you learn more!
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