Thank you for sharing!

Several readers sent in their biggest challenges with watercolor. In answer, here are tips on Backgrounds and Shadows.

My Month - PAINTING WITH A PASSION - lots of painting (small for lessons and studies) and a couple bigger pieces for competitions. Here's my cowboy (work in progress,  photo by Diana Robinson). 

Skin color and skin shadow color:
    • lemon yellow
    • quinacridone red
    • cerulean blue
    • raw sienna 
    • shadows - add perylene green + quinacridone red.
Background:  I will darken the background on the right last - after the subject is finished. 

Hair and Beard Shadows: Orangy skin color + cerulean blue - mixed for a warm brownish gray or a cool bluish gray.

(I also have several online lessons that I'll be posting this month, but it's hard to tear myself away from painting..... )

What Do I Do With The Background?

  • Most Frequently Asked Question
  • Easiest Way To Vastly Improve Your Painting

1. Value - Light, Medium or Dark - Pick the value that makes your subject stand out.

White - Just leaving a white background works well for many watercolor subjects. 

Light - Hint of Color - Wet your background and drop in some of the colors you used for your subject. Let them mix on the paper for nice blends. Don't make the background such an intense pure color (like bright blue) that it competes with the subject - keep it toned down with a little mixing.

Medium - THE MOST INEFFECTIVE AND BORING Typically you want your background lighter or darker for more contrast.

Dark -  (See below for a list of dark colors). Effective for most light and medium value subjects.

What comes first, the subject or the background?

When I'm planning a dark background, I start with a light or medium wash of color and put my dark background in last. Why? Because I'm sloppy and drips of water land on my nice dark background and cause unsightly spots. Plus, having the first layer of color underneath the dark helps build good color saturation and dark value.

Here is a Bunny with a light background and the exact same Bunny with a dark background. Add drama with a dark background.

The Key to Successful Shadows.....

Darks That Glow


Transparent colors will let your detail show through, making a believable shadow. (some are semi transparent)


Opaque colors will cover the underlying wash, creating a large, dark shape that looks like another object. 




  • Dioxazine Violet PV23, 
  • Pthalo Blue PB15
  • Perylene Green PBk31
  • Ultramarine Blue PB29
  • Sepia PBr7[burnt umber] + PBk6[lamp black]
  • Paynes Gray PBk6 + PB15 + PB29
  • Indigo PB66 - true indigo is fugitive and fades fast, most are mixes with lamp black
  • Lamp Black PBk6 - very opaque, muddies colors

Did you notice Lamp Black in each bad color? PBk6 - AVOID IT!


(If you really want a tube black, Ivory black PBk9 is semi transparent and mixes better, though it's brownish.) 




FOR THE BEST BLACK mix your own 

Layering For Glowing Darks

Painting Brown Fur With Shadows


What's Next?

I recently ordered two coffee mugs with my paintings on them from my site on Fine Art America. You can download a couple of your your paintings and order all kinds of products.

I'm currently working on a series with birds
I'm looking into licensing - calendars and cards and such, or I may just sell my own.

Health Issues

Next month I have another check up (post cancer removal), and then I'm ready to get back to art full time. Watch out world!


Videos  (My Youtube Channel)

Happy Painting! Happy Spring!

Deb Watson