Jacki Kellum Watercolor Palette – Let’s Talk Color in Jacki Kellum’s Paintings Part I

Janis Joplin – Jacki Kellum Watercolor Painting
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I painted Janis several years ago, and I told a friend of mine that it might be my best painting of all time. That is not because it looks like Janis and is, therefore, a perfect portrait. In fact, I didn’t even paint this from a picture of Janis Joplin. I saw a YouTube video of a Janis Joplin impersonator, and I used that as my inspiration. This particular watercolor painting is good because of the way that I was able to work with my full palette of colors and not create a muddy mix. I also like the way that I was able to preserve the translucency of the paint. Please know that I threw away about 20 attempts of this painting before I was pleased enough to keep one, but ultimately, I was especially pleased that I was able to capture a bit of Janis Joplin’s energy on paper, and I am also pleased with my use of color in this painting.

I feel certain that every artist is familiar with the standard color wheel, but my version of the color is slightly different:

Fortunately, I have studied color extensively, and in doing so, I have realized two important things about the color wheel:

  1. The color wheel is more complex than most color wheels allow us to understand.
  2. A deep understanding of the color wheel is essential for painters who want to mix clean colors.

I teach that yellow should be at the top of the color wheel. Yellow is the lightest of the pure spectrum colors. Violet should be at the bottom of the color wheel. Violet is the darest of the pure spectrum colors.

To darken pure spectrum colors [without using black or gray], I shade by moving away from yellow toward violet.

To darken warm yellows, like cadmium yellow medium, move toward colors that are more orange.

To darken cool yellows, like cadmium yellow lemon or hansa yellow, move toward colors that are greener.

Complementary Colors

Most painters know that the colors that lie directly across from each other are complements and that if they mix complements, they will create browns and/or grays.

To be safe, most watercolorists work with a limited palette, but I work with a full spectrum palette, and I do that without using black or white. As I said before, I shade [or make colors darker] by moving away from yellow or the lighter colors toward the colors adjacent to them and moving toward violet. But this process is not as simple as it seems.

For one thing, there is more than 1 type of yellow and more than 1 type of blue and more than 1 type of red,  It is crucial to understand the differences in those color types when mixing colors. I’ll begin to explain:

There are 2 basic types of yellows–cool yellows and warm yellows. Most people were taught that in order to mix green, they should mix yellow + blue, but if a painter wants a clear, clean green, he should only use the cooler yellows, like cadmium lemon or hansa yellow, and he should not allow even those cooler yellows to dip too far toward violet. Remember: Yellow & Violet creates Brown or Gray. If a painter wants a forest or sap-like green or an olive green, he should dismiss the following restrictions, but if a painter wants brighter, cleaner greens, follow these steps:

I suggest that painters only mix adjacent colors and that they shade gradually, but in order to mix clear greens, a painter should stop at the greener blues–like phthalo blue. In this scenario, yellow should not be mixed with ultramarine blue. Ultramarine blue is a warm blue, and it contains violet.  Violet and yellow create browns and grays.

To darken ultramarine blue, continue moving toward violet begin shading at ultramarine blue, but stop at red violet. In this case, you begin shading with the lightest tone of warm blue, and you do not begin shading with yellow, and do not mix ultramarine blue with the cadmium reds. Ultramarine can be mixed with alizarin crimson and the magenta colors, however.

Boy with Red Curls – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

Even in watercolor, rules are meant to be broken. In most cases, flesh color is a type of brown, and I mix cerulean blue with cadmium red light and cadmium yellow to create a pale flesh color. In Boy with Curls, I deliberately created darker browns by pulling cobalt blue and/or ultramarine blue into the mix. I broke my own rule, but I did that knowingly.

I did not create a natural flesh tone for Janis Joplin, and I tried to avoid any mixture of red, yellow, + blue. That is why Janis’s face is a pretty porcelain color of blue and not a  brown. I painted the yellows first and allowed them to dry, and I gradually added some other colors. Notice that in Janis’s hair, some of the cadmium red did mix with the ultramarine blue, and I created a tinge of brown there. That was not intentional.

But let’s go back to the color wheel:

If I am not creating flesh or creating any other brown deliberately, I darken yellow by moving from the warm yellows [cadmium yellow or cadmium yellow medium toward oranges. I do not mix the yellow with the rosier or more purple reds because they contain violet, and again, violet and yellow create browns or grays,

Again, rules are meant to be broken,

No photo description available.

Sunflower with the Blues – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

I created the dark center of the sunflower with yellows, oranges, reds, and burnt sienna [Burnt Sienna is a browned orange]. But I created that dark splotch by adding Ultramarine Blue [which has purple and with indigo, which has both purple and green in it].

Allow me to mention one more thing about the above painting. Notice how I allowed the red to drip down the stem. In general, mixing red and green is a no-no. That mixture will create some type of brown, but one of the reasons that I broke that rule is that I wanted to naturalize the green there, and adding red was the way that I created a more natural green.

Red and Green are Complements, and in most cases, they should not be allowed to mix. Over and again, however, I say that painters should have a deep grasp of color rules and restrictions and that they must earn how to abuse those rules when necessary;

The Last Rose of Summer – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

I allowed red and green to mix on the stem of the above painting, too, and I love the way that the purple mixed with the green immediately beneath the flower. Purple contains red and normally, I avoid mixing purple with green, but it worked well on the above rose.

Daffodil Looking Up – Jacki Kellum Watercolor

For Daffodil Looking Up, I avoided most mixtures of red + yellow + blue. Mixing the 3 primary colors will always produce brown. Any mixture of all 3 primary colors is a mixture of complementary colors.

Yellow + Red = Orange and Orange and Blue are Complements.
Yellow + Blue  = Green and Green and Red are Complements.
Red + Blue  = Violet and Violet and Yellow are Complements.

Blue Neck Scarf – Jacki Kellum Acrylic Painting

The above painting could have been a disaster. The complements blue and orange dance all around that painting, and it could have easily gotten muddy. But it is important to note that while complements mixed together create brown, they celebrate each other when juxtaposed side by side. Red and Green mixed together can be a tragedy, but side by side, they are Christmas. Violet and yellow mixed together are another recipe for disaster, but side by side, they are Easter. And in most cases, Halloween blacks are actually dark blue. Most of us love the Halloween colors for months.

The Lamb Needs a Trim – Jacki Kellum Illustration

As you see in the above illustration, I typically use dark blue in places that most people use black, the above illustration is almost all blues and oranges.

The Sun Needs to Rise, but the Rooster’s in Bed – Jacki Kellum Illustration.

In the above illustration the yellow-orange moon shrieks in the dark blue sky, and that is because orange ang blue are complemens.

If you remember some of these principles and if you also remember that not all yellows, reds, and blues behave in the same ways, you will be on your way toward painting with clearer and more vibrant colors. In my case, managing color is a constant challenge.