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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

Challenging Colors

Updated: Nov 26, 2018

How colors drive my artistic direction and how challenging it is to find the right palette to go with the artwork but basic color theory and mixing might just solve this problem.

The Color of Blood

In any artwork, I always begin with or end up adding red, my favorite color. It felt incomplete without it. Red is ubiquitous in my wardrobe, make-up, home and obviously in my paintings. I even wore red on my wedding. But who doesn’t love this color? It is a strong color—the representation of love, beauty, courage and life, as in the blood in our veins. It's sinful, lustry, passionate—the rouge on your cheeks and lips; the scarlet letter. It commands attention—a warning to the observer. It is the color of emperors, the capes of kings, queens and Superman!

Michelle Carlos and a montage of her artworks with the dominant colors of red and blue
My artwork montage during the #artvsartist hype enabled me to investigate my color tendencies.


After creating a montage of my artworks, I have noticed the repetition of reds and the cooler analogous hues as well as the addition of gold for that extra pop. After a while, it gets overly saturated. Naturally I began investigating my chromatic inclinations.

Two things I realized: 1. I dislike mixing colors. 2. Neutral or pastel colors are the death of me.

Even though I am fond of seeing artworks that effectively used desaturated tones, I cannot quite imagine creating a similar piece. Having worked as a colorist didn't help much dealing with this conundrum. But I do like challenging myself.

A desk with a watercolor painting of a tiger, Schmincke gouache paints, brushes and a mixing plate

Time to Experiment

As soon as I acquired a set of gouache paints, a medium that is still foreign to me, I researched about the pigments and likewise learned the many ways on how I can expand my palette by just mixing magenta (PR122/PV19), cyan (PW6/PB15:3/PB15) and yellow (PY3/PY74). I began mixing and experimenting—adding more paint until I find the right hue.

I have rediscovered the wonderful world of tertiary colors!

A color palette of mixing cyan, magenta and yellow Schmincke gouache paints
Mixing three primaries (magenta, cyan and yellow) can produce a wide range of muted tones.

Purple blacks and sage leaves

The resulting image was a tiger in the jungle. I have always wanted to paint this imagery and so why not hit two stones in one go, right? While in the process of creating the piece, I kept reminding myself, “the blacks should be purple and the leaves are sage.” Et voilà! A wide-ranging palette of muted greens, purples and greys. Although it is nowhere near pretty pastels yet, still I am satisfied. It is a start.

A gouache painting of a tiger's head surrounded by tropical leaves
"Tigerhead" — a practice in using tertiary colors

Tigerhead” and the artworks featured here are available on my online store at Society6.


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