A few weeks ago I shared a few color theory videos – part 1 was more of the technical details of warm vs cool greens, and part 2 showed one way to think about using them together in context with your art. Today – I wanted to back up a step, and answer the question, why bother learning color theory?

HEADS UP: Livestream on Thursday! At 9am Pacific (noon Eastern) I’ll be joined by Etchr on MY Youtube channel for a discussion of color mixing…and I’ll be swatching! Bring with you YOUR watercolors (you don’t need to have my colors!), a brush and some water, and a sheet of paper. Divide it ahead if you want into 2″ columns; I find it’s easier to do the swatching on a flat paper than chopping down all the pieces and having to tape everything down.

Check out the video then come back to read some extra thoughts below.


Watch the video below or click here to see it on YouTube.


Thursday I’ll be going live with Etchr on MY channel (don’t get confused!) – be sure to RSVP so you can get a notification reminder! You may need to turn on notifications on your device. (You’ll be able to see the replay later as well.)

The tiny tutorial

On my fine art instagram account a few weeks ago, I shared the following Tiny Tutorial – and have also uploaded it to the Color Theory section of the TIny Tutorials class on the Artventure App! (Download for iOs or android) – if you’ve got the app handy it might be handier to navigate to than asking yourself “Which of Sandy’s thousand+ blog posts was that on?” ha!

Utilizing color theory in practice

The drawing on this 18″ x 24″ block of watercolor paper was quite epic – I took a lot of elements from the 30 Days to More Confident Watercolor Sketching class and combined them! Containers, flowers and greens, rocks, fences (railing!), doors, windows, big cast shadows – so students will recognize many of them! I enjoyed the process more than in class where we create small postcards on postcard paper – as I watched colors merge here on this painting I was struck by how different the look is on real cotton paper! (Though this Fabriano isn’t as nice as my Arches or Saunders, but way better than the postcard paper!)

Once you’ve observed the object you want to recreate, and decided whether you want that color or a different one – only then do you consult all those swatch charts you might have made! Why would you want something other than what you see? Well sometimes you want a different mood to the piece you’re creating. For the painting in today’s video I wanted 1) all mixed colors (I often get lazy and just use colors straight out of the palette, and almost always regret that I didn’t intentionally make smarter decisions!) and 2) a muted overall palette with pops of brights. That meant a lot of mixing complements.

The mixing sometimes came in the palette itself; other times I assessed which color would change the temperature of the green wall by mixing colors for the detail work. That big pale green section in the sun needed to be lighter overall than the section under the roof, but also maintain the texture. It was way too warm so the mixture would need to be cooler to compensate, but not so cool that it changed the sunny feel. And that rock wall – it needed to fall back due to the shadow, as well as needing to make the foreground elements pop.

The finished painting is one I was surprised to be so happy with! This was, as I said, a test of style and size; I have a series I want to work on maybe this summer, and it will lend itself to a more tight, illustrated style than my usual loose watercolor paintings. This test helped me know that might work, without getting bogged down in all the months of pre-sketching I’ll need to engage in before starting those pieces. It was a lot easier to just draw random pots, flowers, windows and doors, so I could test techniques without the pressure of ending with works of the caliber I want to make later.

For sale

I decided to call this painting “Opening the Cabin,” since we’re in spring when lots of my friends are taking weekends to go clean out their cabins to prep for summer! The plants out on the porch are in need of some TLC after a winter of hanging out – but the tools needed are outside and ready to get to work!

Coming on social

On my instagram (main page and fine art page) and facebook this week, I’ll be sharing more on color theory – what the different principles are and why they matter. On Friday, once the livestream is done, I’ll do a roundup blog post and collect all the week’s resources into one place for you!


Some product may be provided by manufacturers for review and use. Compensated affiliate links are here at no cost to you. If you choose to shop using my EH (Ellen Hutson) links, please accept cookies on that site in order to retain the link to my blog, or that compensation does not happen for me. I appreciate your support of my work with your purchases! Full affiliate and product disclosure | My trusted partners in art