© 2018-20 by The Paintbox Letters / Julia Werts


Getting to Know Your Paints, Part 3 - Saturation, Tint, Tone, & Shade

In the past couple of blog posts, I've gone over a few of the basics of getting to know your paints: the importance of swatching your colors and the basics of color theory and how it relates to actual painting. This post expands a bit on the color wheel to explore just how versatile watercolor paints are and how to achieve variations in color saturation, tint, tone, and shade.

Aloha Watercolors

The color wheel is the heart of color theory. By experimenting with the color wheel, not only can we can mix and create new colors, but we can use the color wheel to help us choose colors that compliment or contrast each other, that help create harmony or dissonance in our artworks, and that convey particular emotions through our color choices. {My previous blog post on Color Theory discusses this more in depth.}

When I purchase new paints--in my excitement to see the color--I tend to swatch my paints in one very basic way:

I want to see the intensity of the color and the range of the single paint as its diluted with water. We tend to refer to the intensity of the paint color as being "highly pigmented" or "vibrant," and we love our paints to have a wide range of color intensity. This quality in watercolor paints makes a single paint color incredibly versatile since we can achieve a great deal of variation from one paint. In color theory terms, this brilliance or intensity of a color is referred to as saturation.

Saturation is very closely related to tint, or a pure color/hue + white (since our paper provides the white).

Tint Chart (Hue + White)

But saturation has much more to do with just the tint of a color (hue + white) because on a true saturation scale, the intensity of a color has as much to do with the presence of white (or light) as it does with the absense of light. The chart above demonstrates the value scale of tint (hue + white, or the presence of light), and the chart below shows the value scale of shade (hue + black, or the absence of light).

Shade Chart (Hue + Black)

A similar chart mixing paints with varying amounts of gray paint (or a combination of white and black) would provide the value scale of a color's tone. And since I didn't create a separate Tone Chart, I bring you back to the first color wheel in this post:

In most 2 dimensional color charts, it's difficult to demonstrate the full range of colors we can achieve with our paints, so this particular color wheel shows both the color mixing aspect of a color wheel as well as the hue, value, and saturation of colors going from fully saturated in the outer ring to less saturated in the inner ring. As we go from the outside to the inside of the color wheel and the colors become less saturated, the value of the color also decreases.

If at this point, you're completely confused by all the terms (it took me quite some time to wrap my head around it!), here's a quick breakdown:

Hue - pure color

Value - lightness or darkness of a color (tint, tone, and shade refer to a color's value)

Saturation - brilliance or intensity of a color (as the value of a color changes, so does its saturation)

The hue, value, and saturation of colors make up the HSV scale, which can be better demonstrated using a 3 dimensional model...but since I'm a painter, I'll stick to my 2 dimensional color charts! ;-) But if you're itching to understand how the HSV color scale works, fiddle around with a digital color picker:

The outer edge of this digital color wheel shows the hue (or pure color). As you move to the center of the wheel, the colors become less saturated. Then the sliding bar below the wheel allows you to change the value (light/dark) of the color. And voila--the color world is your oyster! With watercolor paints, ALL of these things can be achieved by experimenting and adjusting the amount of pure color (paint), water, and white, gray, or black paint that you mix together as the Tint Chart and the Tone Chart above demonstrate.

I hope this breakdown of the HVS scale was helpful and that it opens up a whole new world of color mixing exploration for you! Happy color adventuring!

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