Usually when we think of primary colors, we visualize certain bright hues of red, yellow, and blue. These hues, we’ve been told, will let us make any color of our choice. As artists, we know that this idea is at best an approximation – mainly because there are somany wonderful colors out there!
What a primary triad does do for us is to keep our lives simple, and to maintain a harmony within our work. Although I enjoy using many different colors when I paint or draw, I also come back periodically to a group of three colors, perhaps adding a dark neutral if needed. This particular primary group is Quinacridone Pink, Quinacridone gold, and Prussian Blue. The samples shown are Daniel Smith tube watercolors, in my mini-palette.
I’ve heard of this combination of primaries before, but never tried it until recently. I'm pleased with the results, and the colors seem to reflect many of the colors I see right now in Southwest Florida.
Our sky is warming in color from a clear cool blue to a warmer Prussian Blue. The new bursts of foliage appear to have a brassy gold undertone, perhaps because this is our dry season. I don’t see those lovely delicate spring greens here that I remember from living in the northern Midwest. The Quinacridone Pink echoes the hues I see in the new leaves and samaras of red maples and the brightly colored bougainvillea bracts.
I made this triad into a small mini-palette for those times when I need to lighten my art supply load in the field. So far it’s worked out well, and I’m especially happy with the range of colors I get from this pink-gold-blue combination. I was surprised at the darks I was able to get, as well as the range of greens.
Some time ago, I created a series in which I painted a single subject (a dried sycamore leaf) using different primary triads. You can view these on my Flickr photostream, starting with this one. If you find yourself needing to simplify and get back to basics, try a primary triad of some sort. If you’d like to read more about primary triads, Bruce MacEvoy discusses them in detail on his website handprint.com.
You can click on the above images to view larger on my Flickr photostream.