Mis?Adventures in Watercolor: Circle Triad Tutorial Part 1


I’ve been getting lots of questions about the process I’m using with my circle triads, and how to get the circles, so I decided to write up a tutorial. Painting a circle triad is actually a simple process.  Explaining it however, isn’t.  I wish I could just show you, but a tutorial will have to do.

I’ve split this into two posts.   This first post concerns the decision making.  I’m basing it on the questions I’ve been getting—how to choose the colors for a triad; what supplies are needed, etc.

The second post will be a step-by-step with photos, and very simple explanations.

Circle triads

What’s a circle triad?  The word triad means a group of three.  If you limit your palette to three colors, it is easier to see how they work together and what colors can be mixed by blending them.  Students are often set to doing triad paintings, and some artists do little else.

I find color charts and color wheels to be frustrating.  They work well to explain theory, but my brain doesn’t translate what it sees in a color chart into what I’d get with a painting.  I wanted a method of learning color mixing that was simple, but engaged me in the same way painting a picture would.

I chose to use Linda Kemp’s method of negative painting, which calls for you to layer one color over another.  Pretty much the same as creating a chart, right?  Only more fun.  I do depart from her method at whim.

Painting circles seemed a good way to improve my brush control.

So, for lack of another term, I’ve been calling these experiments Circle Triads.

How do you decide what colors to use?  I’ve  done a couple of experiments with my own choices, such as my Lunar Flowers, but honestly, at the moment, I’m using triads that I find from people who know what they are doing.

My sources:

Nita Leland’s book Confident Color .
http://www.danielsmith.com/Item–i-E-Triads
Rene Eisenbart’s material list for her class on Botanical Watercolors

I think this would be a good method for trying out any group of colors that you were curious about.  It wouldn’t have to be a triad—but a triad keeps it simple.

Are you mixing colors on the paper or on the palette?  I’m mixing on the paper.  Mostly I’m glazing (layering wet color over dried color until you get the mix you want), but I’m also letting colors flow into one another.  The glazing gives you more control, and the flow gives you cooler effects.

How do you get the circles? In essence, I paint the diamond shapes around the circles.  It’s much harder to explain than to show, so I’ll leave the rest of the explanation for the step-by-step.

What size paper should I use?  You need room to get many combinations of the three colors, but small enough that you don’t get sick of drawing circles.  I’ve gone as small as 4×4 where I only have a small amount of paint, and the largest so far has been 8×10.  I’d suggest staying around that range to keep things simple.

What supplies do I need?

The best quality watercolor paint you can afford.
140 lb Watercolor paper or watercolor board.
A large brush for wetting the paper.  A Hake brush is a good choice.
A smaller brush for the circles.  Size depends on the painting. ½ inch would be good for the 8×10 and smaller.  Good choices would be rounds, daggers, cat’s tongue or waterbrushes.

I’m using:
Paper-Arches watercolor paper, 140lb and Arches watercolor board.
Brushes-Connoisseur Risslon Dagger brushes & a Hake brush.
Watercolors-from Daniel Smith, M. Graham and Winsor Newton.

Quality counts.  More so in watercolor than with any other medium I’ve used.  There are decent student quality paints, but you will be limited.  Watercolors designed for craftwork won’t necessarily give you the same effects as fine art watercolors.

Cheap brushes will drive you crazy.  I don’t find the paper quite as important (though others do) but you should have at least 140lb, and you’ll need to tape or staple it down to keep it from buckling.  Watercolor board is nice because it won’t buckle (though it will curve a bit). Usually though, you have to buy larger sheets and cut them down.

If you already have supplies, try them.  If you like what you get, then they are good enough.  If you can’t get a wash, or your colors are too opaque, then check your wallet book and buy the best you can afford.

Author: Life Imitates Doodles Art, Reviews & Tutorials

Artist Ambassador for Zebra Pens. I'm a self-taught artist who dances about with all sorts of artistic mediums. My main loves are Watercolor, Zentangle and Ballpoint pen. The subjects of my work are many and varied and change at whim. I'm a little bit crazy, but doesn't that come with being an artist? At my Life Imitates Doodles Blog, I post a list of resource links for Tangles, Tutorials and Giveaways two times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.

7 thoughts on “Mis?Adventures in Watercolor: Circle Triad Tutorial Part 1”

  1. You should record yourself doing one of these and post it – thanks so much for doing the tutorials – can’t wait to try them out.

    Have you tried using a piece of acrylic instead of taping or stapling your paper? I have and it works wonderfully.

    Hey, are you familiar with Jean Haines and her DVD: Amazing Ways With Watercolour?

    1. I’d record myself but I don’t have the equipment. And then I’d have to learn to use it!

      I’ve thought about trying the acrylic, but just haven’t got around to buying a piece. The problem is that most of my work is done in a journal so the acrylic wouldn’t work. I haven’t decided if I’m going to move away from the journals yet. They make it so easy to store the pieces.

      I follow Jean Haines blog. So far I haven’t bought any DVDs, because I’ve been spending too much on supplies. If I can keep myself from doing that, I’ll probably start buying more books and DVDs. I’ve used the library, but they don’t get too many of the latest books.

      Are you familiar with http://www.ccpvideos.com? You can rent a streaming video online for 6 months. I haven’t used them (they seem a bit pricey to me), but they do have a lot of videos available to rent or buy.

      1. Hmmm – that does seem high , especially for single vids – should be able to purchase them at that price – Artists Network is $50 for access to all the vids in a single media for 6 months

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