Color Matching

Yesterday I was able to articulate the next hurdle for me to conquer in watercolor painting: matching colors of real objects with colors on my palette.

Today’s watercolor experiment:

Before I started painting with watercolors, I procrastinated by painting many color strips. I made one for each of the colors in my paint box.

Color Strip Book - Open from Reds to Yellows

Color Strip Book

Yes, it was an obsessive exercise, but today I used my color strip book to try matching the color of the apple:

Photograph: Apple and Color Strip

Matching Color Strip with Apple

Several problems presented themselves. First, I had to choose a position of the strip so that it would not cast a shadow or reflect its own color onto the apple. I compared the color of the strip to a range of reds present on the apple (in shadow and light), but could not hold the color strip next to the color I wanted to match. If I did this it would have changed the lighting and the color I was trying to match.

I decided to make a grid of apples and try painting each with a different red color from my paint box.

Watercolor: Stage 1 Color Testing Apple Chart

First Stage: Green Apple with Red Apples of Different Colors

Before starting with the reds, I used lemon yellow for all the bright spots, including those in the green apple to the left of the red.  For each red, I painted the darkest tones first.

Watercolor: Apple Color Testing Chart 2

Stage 2: Apple Color Testing Chart

I worked on the shadows, which I sketched at the same time as the apples. The shadows of the red apple had a reddish tint and the green apple’s shadow had a greenish tint. I used viridian green and yellow ochre for the darkest parts of the green apples and cobalt blue, yellow ochre and some of the red for the shadows of the red apples.

In the final stage of this study, I painted a chart of color values for each red I used beginning with an undiluted swatch, watering it down in each subsequent  patch of color. This helped me to enhance the darkest red values.

Watercolor: Stage 3 Color Testing Apple Chart

Color Matching – Final, with Value Scales
11″x14″ 90# Watercolor Paper

I suppose it really doesn’t matter if a watercolor pigment matches the real life subject. All is relative. For example, if I see that part of an apple looks purplish in contrast with another portion of the apple, I will look for a purple color on my palette. For a darker valued color, I should use more pigment; lighter values should be the result of more water than pigment on the brush.

For all practical purposes, the color of the subject is what I say it is. After all, how do I know that the red I see is the same red you see? What matters is consistency within the composition.

2 thoughts on “Color Matching

  1. Just love your colour strip book! I’m very much of the opinion that colours don’t have to be natural. Currently captivated by Joan Eardley’s use of colour which no-one could call natural.


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