Thursday, December 26, 2019

Offbeat Primary Triads

12/22/19 Caran d'Ache Museum Aquarelle in Stillman & Birn Beta sketchbook
Vermilion 60 (w), Gold Cadmium Yellow 530 (c), Night Blue 149 (c)

Though I may have mixed cools and warms in unexpected ways, the primary triads I showed you a couple days ago were mostly predictable. With a hard pear that still has a way to go before it fully ripens, I thought I’d experiment with a few more triads – this time looking for slightly offbeat shades and tints.

The first sketch was made with my favorite Caran d’Ache Museum Aquarelles (at left) using a warm red (Vermilion 60), a cool yellow (Gold Cadmium Yellow 530) and a cool blue (Night Blue 149). I could see from the mixing swatch that the warm red and cool blue made a brown that didn’t look anything like the expected violet – a clear case of mixing a warm and a cool to make mud. But I decided to give it a go anyway. And as long as I was experimenting, I thought I’d try a more painterly approach (with more water than usual) than I ever usually try on location (or anywhere else, for that matter). What I miss most about working with a brush is that I can’t render the form slowly, which is something I really enjoy doing when I have a pencil in hand. The upside of this painterly approach should be freshness, but I gave in to the temptation to overwork it – so hard to resist! At least I managed to mostly evade mud, despite that murky red/blue swatch. (By the way, if you’re planning to overwork watercolors, Stillman & Birn Beta will take all of it – lots of water, lifting and scrubbing – like a champ.)
12/23/19 Caran d'Ache Pablo in S&B Epsilon sketchbook
Dark Carmine 89 (c), Light Ochre 32 (c), Cobalt Blue 160 (w)

The second triad, tested with Caran d’Ache Pablo pencils (right), included the most subdued trio so far, with a cool red (Dark Carmine 89), a cool yellow (Light Ochre 32) and a warm, light blue (Cobalt Blue 160). After the previous, nearly shouting Museum Aquarelle triad, this sketch seems to whisper by comparison. Since Pablos are relatively soft, I was surprised that I had difficulty building up stronger hues, but maybe that was just the low-key colors I chose. I didn’t like this triad while I was working with it, but now that the sketch is done, it’s growing on me in a classical kind of way. The cast shadow’s cool gray is especially nice.

After that one, I went in the opposite direction – three warm, high-key primaries from my vintage Sanford Prismacolor watercolor pencils (below). Carmine Red 2926, Sunburst Yellow 2917 and True Blue 2903 are so high key that the mixed swatches look downright Easter egg-ish. But I must have hit the three primaries just right in terms of temperature, because the resulting secondaries are all pure and bright, especially the lovely green and purple. With this butt end of the pear, I tried to stop before overworking it. I love the contrast between the washed color blends on the pear and the “TV screen” pixilation of the dry cast shadow.
12/23/19 vintage Prismacolor watercolor pencils in S&B Beta sketchbook
Carmine Red 2926 (w), Sunburst Yellow 2917 (w), True Blue 2903 (w)
You’ll probably be seeing more of these triads...I’m finding them addictive!


  1. The middle triad is a bit too subdued for me, but the other two are fabulous! I love the first one especially with its dark and glowing areas and the lighter spots on the pear too. These two have a more realistic color to them although I have seen pears in paler hues too. Nicely done!

    1. Thanks, Joan! I like all three triads for different reasons... so much fun to experiment!

  2. I esp. like the first one! Look forward to seeing more triads!

    1. Glad you aren't tired of them yet... I think I have more coming! ;-)


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