Thursday, January 9, 2020

More Triads; Finding Balance

1/2/20 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle (red 65, yellow 10, blue 185)

Day after day of rain is good for some things: I’m still studying primary triads.

At the same time, I’m trying to find the right balance for myself between a painterly approach and a more “drawingly” one (no, “drawingly” is not a word, but it should be if “painterly” is). After reading about Charles Evans’ approach, which has a strong painterly emphasis, I looked critically at how I might use more painterly techniques. Then I stepped back again to think about how I prefer to use watercolor pencils to get the results I want. It’s still somewhere in the middle between drawing with dry pencils and using water to enhance the drawing – without taking away the form that I only seem able to achieve with drawing, not painting. It’s a wobbly balance beam I tread.

The sketch above of the Cosmic Crisp apple is the same one you saw the other day, except this time I included the triad swatches. Preserving the yellow “star” would have been difficult to do with stronger, wetter brush strokes, so I was more reserved with water. This Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelle triad is on the cooler side. (Ive stopped trying to identify the cools and warms because I think its more informative to simply see the results.)

1/4/20 (no color numbers or names available)
Next I sketched a different Cosmic Crisp (at right) with some low-pigment, student-grade pencils (yes, sometimes I like to torture myself with inferior products just for kicks). Although the pigments were pale, I like this muted triad. The hard-working yellow did a lot to brighten the cool red and probably saved this triad from being glum. But the low pigment kept me from getting the shaded side of the apple to be as dark as I wanted.

Alas, my sketch of a pear (below) could not be saved, even by the yellow. The red and blue in this Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer triad apparently ran into each other head-on (as is apparent in the swatches, which show the purple as brown), and the dark side of the pear turned to mud. (Why do I go through with a sketch even when mud is apparent from the test swatches? I’m obviously a glutton for punishment. Although some part of me is always curious to see if I can prove the swatches wrong.)
1/5/20 Faber-Castell Albrecht Durer
(Middle Cadmium Red 217, Light Chrome Yellow 106, Cobalt Blue Greenish 144)
1/6/20 Winsor-Newton (Carmine, Sunflower, Midnight Blue)
The fourth triad in this post (right) is my favorite, and the sketch is also my best example here of the right balance between painterly and “drawingly” (especially the pear). This Winsor-Newton triad is really lovely, especially the clean and bright secondaries that came from it. This time, I paid attention to the swatches (what?? I’m actually learning?!): Despite those fresh secondaries, I saw that the center (all three primaries) could get muddy if the balance wasn’t right. So I minimized the yellow on the shadow side of the fruit and stuck mainly with red and blue there. I love the dark purple that resulted even more than the one that the test swatches had indicated.

In fact, I just went back and reviewed all my triads so far, and I’d say that the red/blue mix is critical in making successful triads. Yellow, a quiet, hard worker, usually brings out the best in either red or blue. But if red and blue together aren’t right, no amount of yellow will help. I’ll try that as a strategy next time: Start with a red and blue that mix into a strong purple, then add different yellows to see how the mix changes.

As for my application process, I most often get results I like when I use plenty of pigment in the first layer, activate it with a sparing amount of water (not too painterly), and then finish with dry pigment. The water step brings out the color intensity, but I can then take my time to model the form with pencil marks. If I go in again with more water, I tend to wash away all the careful modeling I just put in.  


  1. These are great! I love that purple too!!! Are you waiting for it to totally dry before adding the dry pigment in the last layer?

    1. Yes, in these cases I did wait for the previous layers to dry completely before adding more pigment.


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