My paint is on sale at the art store this week (50% off!) so after getting that yellow I KNEW I needed, I high-tailed it back home to get to work on finding those other colors I mix and use every day.
Some of this has been rewarding. I did find that pistachio color!
Some of it has been grueling. I worked for almost three sheets of paper before I came even close to my lovely family of cream-green-purply brown.
And of course some of it has made great swaths of color that don't really sing to me.
I am recording all this on paper this time so that I STOP getting that weird grey-green color. It's a lovely color, it just really doesn't have a place in my pallet. (My inner, mental pallet that is. As you can see it takes up a great deal of my actual pallet.) Thus far it's been a lot of trial and error. Trusting instincts, and making clear and careful notes when a desired result goes against instinct. It often does.
There's so much here that can't easily be seen on a computer screen. I paint with gouache -- an opaque watercolor -- but not all gouache is created equal. You cannot take colors at their face value. A dark color may actually have a lot more transparency than you'd think, and transparency and opacity is the sliding scale on which colors assert themselves. A yellow with lots of opacity is going to look stronger than an orange with lots of transparency, even though the color as it sits in a big puddle on the pallet looks a LOT darker than yellow does.
Even if we're talking a dark army green and a lavender. It's all about how much paper shows through when it dries.
It's so baffling at first. How can a darker color look lighter than a paler color?! And when it dries is the key. Because man, that dark green looked a lot darker when it was wet.
Knowing about the transparency helps with mixing too. If I'm mixing a sort of wimpy dark color, it's going to mostly stand in the background. It will certainly affect the color, but it won't take over.
Whereas, if I have a really opaque dark color (like this mauve-y purple I use all the time) my mix will end up being mostly-mauve-with-a-touch-of-whatever.
Mixing white with anything seems to cancel out the transparency problem -- fine if we want a lighter color -- but it also (with a few surprising exceptions) tones down the vibrancy of a color a GREAT deal.
That's okay if we're going for the muted "tertiary" type colors. But no good at all if we want the power colors.
It's a lot like genealogy's dominant and recessive traits. It's not a simple 1+1=2. It's more like, I mixed this sand color with three things and twice I got something gross but that other time I got this crazy gorgeous lavender and how did THAT happen?! So you have to experiment. You have to just get the paint onto paper and look at it. And then by God you have to record your findings so you don't waste so much material next time.
And when you finally find something, and replicate it once to make sure you got it right, you cut out the little swatches to make a crisp, clear formula page.
And then you feel so much better.