Friday, February 2, 2024


Kuratake watercolor reds and blues

 Among all the colors on a watercolor palette, I find red to be one of the hardest to use. Red often becomes too bright, too bold, attention-getting, or too muddied and dark and not easy to pick up with a Magic Eraser or wet Viva towel. I have to be careful where I paint it. A small spot of red will draw the eye and stop there. In this quick sketch below, I used sprays and dabs of watered-down red to lead the eye across the page. The red anchors the black marks and helps to give the sketch depth.

When I make abstract calligraphic pieces, red is a useful tool. One small square somewhere in the mark-making anchors the abstract strokes.

Like all colors on the color wheel, red has warm and cool variations. I gravitate towards the cooler versions since I tend to paint with colors that are mixed together, greyer, and quieter than something right out of the tube. I have to be careful mixing red into other colors on my palette. Just a small spot of red can overwhelm other colors. Adding a touch of red to blue makes a good tone for clouds or shadows.

I found a small dried-up blob of red watercolor in an old palette tray and put it in some water to see what would happen. Once the red blob dissolved, the result was red water, of course. Could I do anything with that red water? I put it into a spare bottle and sprayed it across part of an unfinished watercolor. Too much light red  (pink!) splatter. I wiped it off before it had time to dry. I brushed six small red squares on a page in my art journal and dropped some ultramarine blue onto the wet surfaces. The blue mixed and fanned out on the wet red surface.

I thought about those squares and couldn't come up with a way to use them in a painting so I decided to try to use the red tinted paper as background for sketches. I had watched from my window seagulls, crows, and pigeons stand as sentinels on the corners of the buildings like the gargoyles of Medieval cathedrals. Sparrows and finches lined up along the edges too. I wanted to remember those images. I used the squares to draw small versions of what I'd seen and painted them with regular watercolor. I used gouache, and white and yellow colored pencils to cover some of the pink areas and to make the birds' beaks stand out. Making art is a process of trial and mistakes to help me decide if the attempt is successful or not. In this case, it was a good experiment, but one that I probably will not use again. The red water will be good for our two indoor plants.

Painting with red as part of an exercise in Birgit O'Connor's watercolor class


  1. I love your sentinel bird study! Also always so interesting to read about your processes. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you, Teresa. Those sketches are a little different from my norm. Fun to do.


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