When Less Is More

Sarah Yeoman demonstrates how to paint four watercolor landscapes from her imagination using just three colors

Watercolor artist Sarah Yeoman says that the benefit of working with a limited palette is that you get to really understand the pigments in your palette and how they work together. “With a limited palette, you are able to think less about color and more about shape and value, warm and cool, and light and dark.”

In the video above, Sarah demonstrates how she works intuitively to create four imagined landscapes with just three colors. Now she wants you to try it for yourself. To help you get started, she’s outlined a few simple steps:

  1. Start with one color at the top of your watercolor paper, leaving behind a bead of paint at the end of the wash. Pull a second color through the bead of paint and allow the two colors to mix directly on the paper.
  2. Adjust the ratio of paint to water to create a range of values (light to dark), using a combination of the first two colors.
  3. Mix two or three colors from your limited palette together to create either warm or cool neutrals.
  4. Don’t draw the image ahead of time. Allow yourself to experiment and follow the paint wherever it takes you.


Artist’s Toolkit

For her video demonstration, Sarah used the same materials for all four landscapes.
Paint: Winsor & Newton: Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, and Ultramarine Blue
Surface: Saunders Waterford 140-lb. rough watercolor paper
Brush: Raphael mop #8


Four Ways to Change Things Up

If you want to experiment with other limited palette color schemes, try:

  1. Painting with primary colors:
    • Yellow Ochre, Alizarin Crimson, and Ultramarine Blue
    • Aureolin, Permanent Rose, and Cobalt Blue
  2. Painting with secondary colors:
    • Brilliant Orange, Sap Green, and Mineral Violet
  3. Painting with a warm and a cool:
    • Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue
    • Brown Madder and Cobalt Blue
  4. Painting with complements:
    Viridian and Alizarin Crimson

Sarah Yeoman is an award-winning American watercolor artist and a new signature member of the American Watercolor Society for 2017. She also has signature membership in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Delaware Watercolor Societies.

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  1. I’ve watched Sarah’s 4 wet paintings, completely mesmerized, and realized that if given a choice, I’ll always take wet/wet, and just dive in! Wow! All of her color, wet paper, a mop–brilliant and inspired! Thanks for the wonderful, inspiring post!

  2. This was amazing to watch…such confidence in the strokes and developing magic as the painting materializes; Sure wish I could paint like this

  3. This was amazing to watch…such confidence in the strokes/process and magic as the painting materializes; Inspiring…..

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