Tip #133

Testing Your Paints

Whether you’re a newcomer to watercolor an old hand trying new things (or overwhelmed by all the NEW offerings), testing our paints is a great exercise. Put them through their paces! See what they’re capable of, how they work on different papers, whether they stain or granulate, how transparent they are, how many colors you can mix with them...

I guarantee you’ll be much more prepared to grab just the color or pigment you want for the effect you’re after!


Take a peek at the video on mixing greens I did for Danny Gregory’s “Sketchbook Skool”! And of course you can do that kind of testing with ANY color!

Find color swatches boring? Make a graphic for yourself using a tree with different colored leaves, make a row of colored fruits or balloons or butterflies, make a basketweave of

color as one of my students did – it was gorgeous! Just be sure to label the colors you’re using so you remember!


I’ve shared this image before in a variety of places, but it’s great exercise for finding out just how transparent the colors you have really are. You can check with the manufacturer’s webpage of course, but I’ve found that once in a while they aren’t that accurate – and I like my own hands-on tests, anyway.

Make a bar of black ink – India or one of the Acrylic inks so you know it won’t lift, and let it dry thoroughly. Then paint a line of each of your colors over it and let those dry as well. You may be surprised! (Some artists want all transparent colors but personally I prefer variety – you may, too.)

This particular color test was on Schmincke paints, but you can do the same kind of test not only with whatever brand you have, but with watercolor pencils or sticks as well.

Compare brands using the same basic color, too – it’s amazing how different they may be. Quinacridone Red from Daniel Smith is cool, but feels warm from Winsor & Newton.


Test how your colors disperse in water. Make a rectangle of clear water and drop paint into it to see what it does. You can get some delightful effects that way.


See how different your pan colors are if you pre-wet them. First, touch the dry pan with your wet brush and make a stroke. Often, it’s pretty wimpy! Now, spray with water and let it set for 10-30 seconds, then make that stroke again. LOTS more intense, yes?

And DO explore the granulating colors, like Manganese Blue Hue, Ultramarine Blue, Lunar or Mars Black, Magnesium Brown, Lunar Blue and others. Lovely textures...and remember they often show up better on rougher papers as the granules settle into the tiny valleys.

Take a peek at Mary Coryell-Martin’s blog post on the subject of granulating colors. (She’s the manufacturer of the fun little Pocket Palette I’ve enjoyed playing with, so DO check her web page!)

And yes, of course testing can get expensive! Daniel Smith offers pages of dots of their colors to play with ... tiny mounds of tried paint you can re-wet and explore.

But you can also simply test the colors you already have on hand – ones you’ve bought in tubes, ones that came in whatever little set you may have.

Get to know your tools and they’ll serve you well. (And of course watercolor will STILL sneak up on you and surprise you sometimes – that’s part of the fun!)

I’d love to have you visit my newly re-born artist's blog, my Etsy store where I’ll be offering some of the demos from my classes, my catalog where you can find instructional CDs and downloads for artists, or drop by for a visit on Facebook! Check out my YouTube videos for lots more art tutorials.

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Tip #133.pdf

Using Your Imagination

Punching Sky Holes
Look Sharp!
• Watercolor Pencil Tip
• Studio Space
• Spatter!
• Fan Brushes
• Masking Tricks
• There are no mistakes!
• Texturing Your Painting Surface
• Drawing for Fun and Practice
• Utilizing Negative Spaces
• Working with Your Wildlife Sketches
Painting Fur with Watercolor Pencils
Capturing the Effect of Distance and Depth
Feature Focus - Painting Eyes
Painting Wood Textures in Watercolor
Capturing Excitement and Drama
Techniques for Painting Foliage in Watercolor
Simple Buildings in Landscape
Finding Beauty Wherever You Are
Painting Rocks in Watercolor
Tricks and Techniques
The Why of Self Portraits
Bravura, Brushwork, Round Brushes
Putting People in your Paintings!
Focus on Animals
Paying Attention to Details
Painting Horses in Acrylic
Utilizing Negative Shapes
Catching the Sense of the Surf
Step by step painting of the ocean
Animals in Landscape
Making Time for Art
Feature Focus - Lips
Sky Effects
Some helpful books -- an artist's bibliography
Using Personal Symbols in Art
Keeping a Sketch Journal
Working on Toned Paper
The Healing Value of Art
Painting for a Cause
Found Art Supplies
The Value of Thumbnails
Working in Weather
Keeping a Journal of a Special Trip
Watercolor Painting -- with a palatte knife!
Shadows -- where and how to use them
MORE Making Time For Art
Fantasy and Myth
Field Sketching and keeping a nature journal
Color and Value
Sketching with Colored Pencil
Zeroing in on Details to Appreciate Nature
Creating a Sense of Scale in Your Art
Wildflowers & Weeds
Drawing and Painting our Canine Friends
A Few Tips on Linear Perspective
Differences in Perspective -- Aerial and Linear
More on Painting Man's Best Friend -- and Woman's!
Watercolor Pencil Revisited -- What's New!
Feature Focus -- The Nose Knows...
On The Nose - Again!
Exploring your watercolor pigments
More exploring your pigments
Painting with Gouache
Accentuate the Negative??
Found Art Supplies
Finding Beauty Wherever You Are
The Humble Sponge
Capturing Light in Landscape
Using Liquid Mask
Graphite Techniques
Feature Focus - Hands
Painting Cats
Cats II
Working with Colored Pencils on Toned Paper
Painting with Acrylics
More Found Art Supplies
Travel Sketching
More On Travel Sketching
Ink & Wash Techniques
Pigment, Paint and Color
Online artist groups
Sketching on the spot in cold weather
MORE found art supplies
Keeping an Art Blog
Keeping an Art Blog - An Interview with Katherine Tyrrell
Keeping an Art Blog - Gabi Campanario on Starting a Successful Group Blog
Keeping an Art Blog - Alyson Stanfield on Blogging for Artists
Make your own tiny travel watercolor kit
Painting on the Spot!
Learning from Nature
Who says you can't fix a watercolor?
Three of my favorite watercolor books!
Artist Trade Cards and ACEOs
Exploring the basics -- round brushes
More Brush Basics - Flats
Putting People in your Paintings -- again!
Still MORE Found Art Supplies!
Focus on Food
Restoring a favorite old paintbox
Use String with Watercolors
Quick Sketching Techniques
MORE on quick sketching
Painting Flowers
Organizing a Sketchcrawl
Unusual Tools
A Review of Waterbrushes
Playing With Yupo
Painting Moving Water, Part 1
Painting Moving Water, Part 2
Painting Still Water, Part 1
Painting Still Water, Part 2
A Place of Your Own
A Studio Alternative
Studio in a Backpack
Studying Nature through Art
Pen and Ink
Ink and Wash
Working on Toned Paper
Quick Sketching Techniques
Watercolor Pencils and Crayons
Ink Pen Comparisons
Exploring Your Artistic Roots with Dip Pens
Unusual (Found) Drawing Tools
Watercolor Crayon Play
Back to Basics -- Graphite Pencils
Using a Limited Palette
STOP - Quit While You're Ahead!
Using Opaque White
Using Thumbnail Sketches - Part One
Using Thumbnail Sketches - Part Two

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