The Keys to Color for Watercolor Painting

As part of my never-ending, insatiable desire to learn all about art and creating, I was thrilled to view Danielle Donaldson’s new video, The Art of Creative Watercolor: Color Schemes. I enjoyed seeing her perspective and watercolor techniques, such as color selection, blending, shading, definition, and adding small details. No matter your experience level, Danielle has a relaxed approach to playing and learning about colors in a custom color wheel, how to use them in art, and better yet, how to feel successful when watercolor painting.

Danielle’s belief that finding your colors in the color wheel allows you to paint with confidence is so true. Working with color schemes that you love creates a comfort zone. I began this project with one of my favorite colors, aqua blue. I learned that creating a warm variation and a cool variation of that color was necessary to add depth and dimension to artwork. Notice the warm green on the right, aqua in the center (the main color), and a cool blue on the left.

Art and photos by Debi Adams

It is important in the beginning of a watercolor painting to make a transparent wash with those colors so there is room to add shading and definition to the subject you’re painting. This can be achieved by adding additional water to the paint, until the white palette base can be seen.

For my piece, I decided to sketch eggs and a nest with a mechanical pencil and then, as Danielle suggests, lightly erase all the lines so they wouldn’t be seen after adding watercolor. Not good at sketching? I suggest using a stencil as a template, or stamp an image on watercolor paper using permanent ink.

I used aqua first, barely touching my loaded watercolor brush to the paper to add color. To create lightness to the egg in the front, I used the warm color. To add depth and make the egg in the back recede, I used the cooler blue. You can add all three shades (the main color, plus warm and cool variations) on each egg separately to distinguish placement:

Here, I placed all the colors on one egg to define its shape. I painted the main color, then added the warmer color to the top of the egg as a highlight, and the cooler color on the bottom for shading.

Danielle offered lots of great tips for watercolor painting, but my favorite was how to create the perfect shadow color. Blending all the watercolors together created a muddy wash that was added to the eggs and nest for final definition. I will remember this technique to use in the future. A pencil, black pen, and white pen all provided finishing details.

With the additional tips on shading and highlighting featured in the video, I was able to paint this nest and eggs.

Find the success you seek with watercolor painting by becoming familiar with some easy techniques for creating color schemes.

As Danielle explains in the video, discovering personal color preferences is one of the key components in feeling successful and confident in creating art. Learning new ways to work with watercolors based on those choices helps nurture and develop an artistic style that is all your own.

Danielle Donaldson is our featured Artist of the Month for April! In this blog post, she shows how to use a stencil to create a beautiful watercolor painting.


Debi Adams considers herself an eclectic artist, dabbling in mixed media, party décor, and everything in between. She has been featured in Where Women Create and in a variety of other art and craft magazines. See more of her work at debi-adams.com.


Get tons of fantastic ideas, techniques and projects for watercolor painting in the exclusive Danielle Donaldson Watercolor Collection, which includes her new book, three new videos, and a set of stamps designed by Danielle.

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Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques

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