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Dobie's Delicious Colour Recipes

For the month of April, I have decided to revisit the all important subject of colour. It is a perfect springtime exercise and in my opinion, you can't really master the art of watercolour until you are fluent in the language.

I have been studying colour for what seems like forever, but from time to time, I actually feel the need to dig deeper into the subject from a theoretical perspective. I need to remind myself of the rules I so often choose to break.


As a musician and a visual artist, I have always seen the connection between colour and music...think about the endless shades of colour and the notes you play on a guitar. Bend a string and you have reached a new tone, tint, shade of your original hue.

In the same way that I sing and write music, I am very intuitive about colour and that is mostly how I deal with the notes I play or the paint mixing choices I make. Colours and their layers add the melodies, harmonies and emotions to our work.

Unfortunately, our over-experimenting can quickly lead to misadventure and once it is too late, we may find ourselves staring at a brand new shade of swamp water. The disappointing musical equivalent of playing out of tune. Unless you know what you are doing, you will always run the risk of needing to be rescued.


I often see notes and colours as a fluid language that can be joined together. I remember practicing and memorizing my scales and arpeggios in high school. I see a strong relationship between practicing colour and practicing scales.

So my focus over the past few years has been to play within the boundaries of "safe colour mixing". Scales I'm so familiar with, I don't even think about it. The exercise you see in the photo above is an example of this from the aptly titled book by Jeanne Dobie,"Making Colour Sing". Her book is a great place to start for most beginner watercolourists. Dobie's approach is very clear and easy to understand and yields excellent results. The subject of Colour can be complex. When you are first starting out, just trying to learn and remember the names of your paints is a challenge.

My colour vocabulary continues to expand as I seek out new colour adventures with Stephen Quiller. Over the next few weeks, I will analyze and test complements for all 68 colours of the Quiller palette. I will practice, play while creating my own colour swatch library and hopefully master some new chord progressions along the way. The results will soon be on display in the special project section of my website. Stay tuned!


The challenge for all my students this month will be to create your own colour swatch tests and put them in the form of a reference book that you can use every time you paint! Reference some of Dobie's delicious colour recipes from the photo above and use the legend below to get started. Share your images, your favourite colour combos and let us know what you discover. Find us on Facebook and Instagram!

CY - Cadmium Yellow

CB - Cobalt Blue

RMG - Rose Madder Genuine

AY - Aureolin Yellow

VG - Veridian Green

WG - Winsor Green

WB (R) - Winsor Blue, Red Shade

CO - Cadmium Orange

UV - Ultramarine Violet

CR - Cadmium Red

IR - Indian Red

UB - Ultramarine Blue

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