The Watercolor Workshop: Color Theory and Mixing

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4 Hours of Instruction
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Lesson Description

An overview of color theory including the color wheel, color types, relationships and schemes, neutrals, and color value. Color mixing is also explored as well as the effects of using warm and cool primaries.

Lesson Materials

140 lb. Cold press watercolor paper, watercolor paints (Phthalo Blue, Prussian Blue, Ultramarine, Gamboge Hue, Cadmium Yellow Hue, Alizarin Crimson, and Cadmium Red Pale Hue), nylon brush, mixing palette.

Lesson Resources

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Lesson Discussion

  1. I’ve already taught my students colour theory but I love how you explained this. Makes me want to go back and have them redo their colour wheels. I teach high school art and they struggle to understand some basics. I don’t have all the materials such as tube watercolours to have them be able to mix as easily. I’ve spent so much of my own money supplying materials in my classes that I find it difficult to continue buying needed supplies. I am loving this course so far- I am somewhat new to watercolours so I feel good that I have taught my students what you have shown so far. I can’t wait for your next module!

    • Hi, Lydia!!!
      Have you checked out They offer support for teachers, school supplies, etc., if I’m not mistaken! That might help out a bit. I can remember, growing up in a military enviornment, we always seemed to have so much in the way of supplies! My children have dealt with a much different experience of art. I’m not even certain if they still have an art program. to be honest. Anyways…. I hope this might help!

      • My apologies to Sandra to whom my comments were intended and to Lydia, to whom I actually addressed them to. Sorry for any confusion! I was unable to edit my comments after I hit the “post comment.” Anyways….I’ve definitely learned quite a bit from the watercolor lessons, but even more about typing replies late at night!

  2. In part of this course i noticed it said ultramarine is cool and also prussian blue is warm which should be the other way round

    • Hi Lydia,

      Thanks for your comment. You’re absolutely right. I had noticed the mistake and updated the video a while back, but it looks like the incorrect version was still up. It’s fixed now. (Thanks for being so observant!)

      There’s actually a big debate on this topic. Ultramarine is considered, by most, to be warm since it is closer to Violet on the color wheel. However, some artists still stick with the notion that Ultramarine is cool… Here’s a page arguing that it is cool…

      Just kind of interesting. Thanks again!

  3. Hello Matt ! I would like to know your oppinion about of the use of magenta cian blue and yellow or the use of the red,blue and yellow as the primary colors of the color wheel. Thank you.

  4. Hi Matt,
    I am really enjoying your course on watercolour. I love the way you teach the course. It is never dry or boring. I am always looking forward to the next lesson.

  5. Matt,
    how did you mix the warm-cool colors: ie prussian blue + aliz.crimson
    did you mix it while on the paper or on the palette than brushed it on the paper?

  6. I LOVE this class. I am having trouble with the videos stopping, I seem to have no control. I don;t know if it is my computer or the video. Help, please. Thank you, Bunny

    • Hi Bonnie,

      This is called “buffering” and occurs when your internet connection is not quite strong enough to stream the video. You may try scrolling over the video and clicking the “HD” icon to turn off high definition.

  7. Hi Matt,
    This is a wonderful course, I’m thoroughly enjoying it. One question regarding ultramarine blue. When discussing color temperatures and listing them as cool/warm all on one slide, ultramarine blue is put under the warm colors column but then later when you created different color wheels using cool and warm colors, ultramarine blue was noted as a cool blue. Please clarify. Thanks…

    • Hi Sonali,

      Scroll over the video with your mouse and click on the small bars in the lower right corner. Click on the bars so that they are all colored in. This is the volume control.

  8. Hi Matt,
    in talking about the different colors, you mentioned that each brand has different amount of pigment in their product which make sense to me. However, does it extend to the format of the paint in a particular brand? Would a color in a tube for Brand A be exactly the same as in a cake of the same brand?
    Thanks – Isabelle

  9. Good Morning Matt

    Just wanted to say this is the best class I have had on beginning watercolours. You actually explain the basics – much needed by someone such as who never had art classes when attending school. You make me feel as if I can really do this.

  10. I’m confused about one of the blues. I took an intro course from another instructor and she categorized Phthalo Blue as a cool blue, but you have designated it as a warm blue. To me it looks a bit on the greenish side, which I guess would make it a cool blue. Maybe it doesn’t matter and I just have to experiment until I get the colors I want?

    • Hi Cynthia,

      Yes, the blues are confusing – for all of us. There’s actually quite a healthy debate on what blues should be cool or warm. It’s best not to overthink things too much though since color temperature is relative anyway. Most Phthalo Blues do lean a little towards the cool side, but there is more than one version of Phthalo Blue out there. Some paint manufacturers produce a Phthalo Blue (green shade) and a Phthalo Blue (red shade). The green shade is definitely cooler while the red shade is similar to Ultramarine which many argue is a warm blue. What matters most is the colors that you can produce through mixing. You really just need a cool and warm version of each primary and everyone has their favorites. The colors that you choose to use should be what you like the best and can give you mixtures that you enjoy.

  11. Really enjoying your course. This one fits nicely after completing 25 Days to Better Drawing”. Also this morning I joined in with “Gettin’ Sketchy” and drew the bird. This I will put up in the Community forum. Thanks Matt!

  12. Hi Matt,
    I am trying to put my color palette together. Should
    I go with the colors in Module 4? Or do you discuss this elsewhere?
    I am a successful colored pencil artist and am getting into watercolors I have a lot of room on my palette but understand that beginners should start out with a limited number of colors.
    Thanks Dave J

  13. Hi Sandra: I am also a high school art teacher and teach a couple of sections of watercolor each semester so I buy a lot of materials. I have found a decent and extremely well priced watercolor set from Bazics. It is not as transparent as I would like and the only blue is really warm, that said, my work around has has some unintended but valuable consequences. Student have to learn to mix what they have to mimic the expensive watercolors as viewed on the internet that have names like windsor blue and sap green, etc.
    Using these “cheap” watercolors, we do a challenging assignment called warm and cool color wheel where two color wheeltemplates are placed side by side. for each color they need a warm version and a cool version, but they have to be the same value and same hue. So each color is worth 3 points as I compare the red for example in the two color wheels, one leans toward orange and one leans more toward purple but would still be called “red” for the hue points and be the same value for the value points, By the time we finish this assignment (after a few revisions) they have the vocabulary down pat and their mixing skills are pretty strong.

  14. The Cotman line of colors is considered the student grade and I use only professional level colors so I cannot relate to your choices of red, blue and yellow for the color wheel. I appreciate your instruction but my colors will not look at all like what you have.

    • Hi Anne,

      This module is teaching color theory and demonstrates how the actual pigment can affect the color that is mixed. You can use any brand (or level) that you wish. I’m not sure how your mixtures will produce completely different results based on using a higher quality watercolor paint.

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