"Art is the only way to run away without leaving home" (Twyla Tharp)

Making colour charts work for you ....

© Vicki Lee Johnston
I love colour ... lots of it!  However I realise perhaps I love it too much because I have acquired too many tubes of paint and confusion was starting to reign -  who needs twelve different yellows?   There is so much more to it - and this I realise the more I work with watercolours and see the outcome of decisions like choosing an opaque when I needed a transparent colour.  My page of flowers for the SBA assignment was a disaster for me because I realised too late that some of the pigments were affecting the outcome greatly .... if I want to avoid the muddy look and in particular having to wash off and start again ... I need to put the time into understanding colour more.

Colour Chart

Here is my overall colour chart ... all the paints acquired and some not even on there!  A big difference to where I started with only six pigments.  If you want to see the amount of colours you can create from only six here is my blog post

I am very happy I started that way because I do have a greater understanding of colour mixing. If I needed to could go back to using only six it would be good enough.  But there are colours like Quin Magenta, Quin Coral and Quin Violet which I love so much .... and many of my artist friends have put me on to so many good colour fixes ...

Transparent Colours
So I made a deal with myself - before I started the next painting I had to sort my watercolours and understand more about each one to avoid the confusion of before.  I started by sorting all the transparent colours and making their own colour chart which is helpful if you want to create beautiful clear, colourful washes and layer your work.

I also decided to do mini charts in their own colour families...

and while I was at it included colour strips with the pigment details.  These will prove useful for working outdoors and trying to match up colour with a plant or flower and noting it in the sketchbook for painting in the studio later.

If you think this sounds like a lot of work you're right - I spent a few days just working on colour ... but I have a little more confidence that when I make a choice I know whether the pigment is transparent or opaque, staining, granulating, etc.  Perhaps one day I will learn enough about colour to produce works with the luminosity and brilliance of one of my favourite artists, Carolyn Jenkins.   I am always attracted by strong, bold artworks - watercolours can be a little pale at times and to create such colour you have to choose carefully....  for inspiration see Carolyn's website.


  1. Interesting colourful post Vicki,and time well spent.Hope the assignment is going well xx

    1. Thanks Claire - have finally started on the botanical illustration after a lot of work with dissections and research. Hoping it will make a nice painting too!

  2. Really interesting Vicki. I love looking at your colour charts too- you have put a lot of work into them. I want Cobalt violet now :)
    Do you only use mixed greens? I noticed that there weren't a lot of greens on your charts. Good luck with the assignment,

    1. Thanks Shevaun - yes I always mix greens as there are so many colour mix options with all my blues and yellows! Same really with orange also, prefer to do washes of yellow and red/pink...

  3. Hi Vicki, really good to see how much prep you put into getting your colours right. I am a bit of a colour collector too and always try to make colour charts of any new colours to see how they will behave. Good luck with your illustration. x

  4. Dear friend,
    You are so right! We should take time to understand colors.Yes it takes time to do those charts but how informative and useful it will be for the futur. Brillant!
    Manon xx

  5. Hi Vicki, Carolyn's work is outstanding, did you try to ask her what kind of paints she used, transparent or opaque and so on? I hope she'll be able to tell you. I also noticed we don't need all those many colours the market offers us, it often gets very confusing and it has taken a long time to me to narrow down and I feel it is still a work in progress.. Have you read Handprint's page regarding palettes? They list the pigments used in an all transparent palette, opaque palette and so on.. I found it very interesting and useful http://www.handprint.com/HP/WCL/palette2.html#brand

    1. Thanks Matteo - I would love to know but did not want to ask ...
      I love the Handprint site and I am slowly working my way through it. That's what started me doing this, finding so many qualities about each paint. I am sure there is so much more to learn!

    2. Oh and I meant to say - reading about Carolyn it was mentioned she used only transparent watercolours with many glazes to achieve the intense colour ...

  6. Dear Vicki, 12 years of watercolor "wild" have made ​​my home a store of fine arts! Colors .... brushes paper ...to understand the color must really study it without the worry of paint, and stripes and checks testing work well!
    Beyond handprint and over other sites for me was fundamental Jean Louis Morelle with its tricolor system in the book "l'eau creatrice"and ultimately the color placed one at a time how does Guy Magallanes.
    The first is not botanical but is able to use water and watercolor in a special way, the second is not far from the botanical and using its system of layers one at a time will come to a beautiful chromatic vibration.Dear Vicki,your work on color is very
    beautiful also to watch!!!
    I'm always a bit "wild" in my studies!