Are you making these 3 mistakes with your watercolor paintings?

watercolor techniques | how to paint with watercolor | red pigment advice

by Miriam Schulman

A common frustration I hear beginning watercolor students is confusion over the wide variety of pigments and paints.

In my online watercolor course on painting the figure, I got this question from one of my students:

QUESTION: I have read a suggestion of picking one red, one blue and one yellow for a painting and for harmony, mixing all the colors from those three primaries. However, I notice you use more than one of each. Is this the option of the artist…to either bend the rules or not have any rules at all? How many colors do you typically use in a painting? Also, how do you determine when to use the Cad Red, the Rose and the Scarlet Lake?

First of all, that is not a rule that really applies well to watercolor painting. Although you can create a successful painting using a single triad ( one red, blue, and yellow) you might struggle to create realistic looking flesh tones that evoke light and shade. I typically use around 8 colors when painting the figure and I do follow a set of rules which I teach in my classes.

Stick to one or two experts…ignore the rest (tweet this)

Here’s the funny thing about rules and experts. If you listen to too many different experts, whether the subject is painting, love or marketing you will get confused and overwhelmed. Find one or two trusted mentors and stick with their advice and ignore the rest.
Guilty or innocent?

Here are the most common misconceptions about painting with red paint, are you guilty or

1. Are you using only one shade of red?

2. Are you using an opaque red to glaze?

3. Do you understand the difference between warm and cool reds?

watercolor techniques | how to paint with watercolor | red pigment advice

Yasgur’s Barn, watercolor by Miriam Schulman has a warm tone- how odd
would it be to have a pinkish barn? Might be okay, if that were your intention.

I made this handy cheat sheet to help you understand the differences between the different watercolor pigments.

Warm versus Cool Reds

Oh my gosh, yes there is a difference. I put together a chart to help you “see” or reference the difference but the simplest explanation is that a warm red tends more towards orange since it has yellow undertones while a cool red will tend more towards pink as it has blue undertones.

This matters when you are mixing colors so you don’t end up with mud and this can also be helpful when depicting red objects in light and shadow. You may want to use a warm red in the sunlight and a cooler red in the shade.

Pretty Peonies by Miriam Schulman. No two ways about it. If
you want to paint pink flowers you better get a tube of rose.

You need “rose” for pink

Not shown in the chart are all the pigments that are “rose.” Rose is truly a pink paint and very useful to watercolorists since you can’t add white to mix pink. Therefore, you need to rely on pink paint to do that job. So if nothing else, you will need at least two shades of red if you plan on including red and pink in the same watercolor- and this would be critical for portrait and realistic figure paintings.

I Hear a Symphony, watercolor by Miriam Schulman
Don’t even think about painting portraits without understanding which reds are transparent and therefore appropriate for glazing and which ones will make a muddy mess.

Opaque versus transparent

Although watercolor is mostly considered a transparent medium, as compared to acrylics or oil paints, you will find that there are some pigments that are more transparent than others. This is very important if you choose to apply a transparent glaze to tone a color. For example, let’s say that you are painting a woman’s face and you want to put a “blush” on her cheeks. You would need a transparent glaze or red in order for her not to look like a cosmetics clerk from a department store.

If you have any other question, please leave them in the comments below. I will answer them here or in a future blog post.

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Which of these watercolor crimes were you guilty of?

About the Artist (Miriam Schulman)

In case you’re curious about me, let me tell you a little bit more about myself. I live my creative life with gratitude in New York’s backyard. After witnessing the devastation of 911, I abandoned my hedge fund job  to work on my art full time. Rejecting the starving artist myth, my watercolor and mixed media paintings have been seen on NBC, published in art magazines & home decor books and collected worldwide. In addition, the Hudson River Museum and Katonah Museum of Art have carried my artistic accessories in their gift shops. My art has been published in art magazines such as Art of Man, Art Journaling Magazine by Stampington and Professional Artist magazine.

Come see what kind of art I create at or join the fun at

watercolor techniques | how to paint with watercolor | red pigment advice

0 thoughts on “Are you making these 3 mistakes with your watercolor paintings?”

  1. This is a very informative and important post about color, especially translucent color. Thought I'm not a watercolorist, I do work with washes, so these tips are good to keep in mind!

  2. Miriam, what a wonderful blog post! Using primaries of different temperatures is so important especially with red. And your watercolors are gorgeous!

  3. you know i have to agree. its so hard limiting myself to just a few pigments! great advice, as always. i love your color charts


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I’m Miriam Schulman, your curator of inspiration.

I inspire art-lovers to reconnect with their creativity and profit from their art. Whether you paint simply for the joy of it or you’re serious about selling your work, and you’re ready to stop putting yourself on the back burner...You're in the right place. I've done it and I can inspire YOU how to do it too.

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