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Beginner’s Guide to Watercolor – Swatching Your Watercolor Palette

Understanding the Color Wheel


Before we begin swatching a watercolor palette, we must understand the color wheel! Learning how to use and navigate through the color wheel will not only help you with mixing colors, but also for selecting colors in your paintings.

The Primary Colors, consist of three colors; Yellow, Red, and Blue. Named primary because there are no two colors that can be mixed to create these colors.

The Secondary Colors, also consist of three colors; Orange, Violet, and Green. These colors are made by mixing equal amounts of two primary colors located closest to each other on the color wheel.

The Tertiary Colors, consist of six colors; Yellow Green, Yellow Orange, Red Orange, Red Violet, Blue Violet, and Blue Green. These colors are made by mixing a secondary color with the closest primary color on the wheel.

Swatching Your Watercolor Palette


One way to try your paints is to create a test swatch to see how the paint mixes and dries in different color shades.

A test swatch uses either grids or shapes to capture different colors as you experiment with mixing paints, this is all about playing with them. Create patterns, shapes, words, all to get comfortable with the process of mixing water, paint and different brush strokes. Ideally a test swatch can be a reference to remind you of what each color looks like when it dries as sometimes the color looks different on various types of paper.

With your watercolor set tray now open, you will want to wet your brush and start by mixing the water in one color oval to activate the pigment. Remember to rinse your brush in the jar of water between each color and wipe off on the paper towel for now. Using a piece of scrap paper, start by testing each color’s hue by adding different amounts of water to your brush. Paint should never be thick as watercolors are meant to have a more translucent, light look. When paint layering is too heavy it tends to look flat and without dimension.