How To Create Neutral Swatches And Why You Need Them

So, What Are Neutrals?

Neutrals can be defined as grays, tans, and earthy style hues. They’re necessary for quality watercolor painting but many amateurs fail to use them because they can appear muddy. So, they opt for the bright blues, reds, pinks, etc. and typically end up with garish art.

To avoid ‘rainbow’ looking work intense colors need to be balanced with neutrals. You will soon discover that gray, or mud as beginners call it, is useful so long as you understand how to push them towards a warm or cool tone.

What You Will Learn

In this tutorial you will learn the basics of creating a base neutral, or gray, using two methods.

You can create a base neutral using:

  1. An equal amount of the three primaries
  2. Or you can purchase ready-to-go neutrals like neutral tint

Try This Exercise

  • To complete this exercise use a small piece of watercolor paper. If you have reject works around you can use the back of them for this quick as well. Or, a watercolor sketchbook.
  • Basically don’t break out the premium watercolor paper since we are only doing swatches.
  • Create a base neutral on your palette using three equal parts of primary hues (red, yellow & blue) as demonstrated in the video.
  • Add a square swatch of the base neutral you just mixed to your paper and leave it alone.
  • It’s good to label it with a pencil, or pen, so that you know what you did.
  • Using the same premixed neutral add a second swatch below it, or beside it depending how you like to work. While it’s still wet charge a warm hue into it (yellow ochre, burnt Sienna, cadmium red deep, etc.) Be sure not to overwork the mixture as this will only flatten the color. Just put it in the wet gray and leave it alone!
  • Now create a third swatch and charge a cool hue into it, (cerulean blue, alizarin crimson etc.)
  • Now let them dry. This will give you some idea of creating warm and cool neutrals using a base gray.

Note: If you have neutral tint add a second column and create the same series of swatches. It’s useful to see how each base neutral reacts and gives you a good visual in terms of how they’re different.

Materials Used In Demo

  • Holbein Hues: Yellow ochre, Ultramarine blue, Cobalt blue, Cadmium red deep, Neutral tint
  • Brushes: Escoda Pointed Round Set
  • Other: Mijello leak-proof palette
  • Blick Spiral-bound Pad 9×12
how to create neutral swatches and why you need them
Demo Image

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