Have you ever used iridescent color, whether pen or paint or marker, and ended up with something that is hard to see? Literally. Light hitting iridescent color is much like light hitting a mirror. You can end up with one big shine that baffles the eye.
It is easy to avoid this, and I’m going to show you three projects that will help you create iridescent artworks that range from those with a subtle shine to those with galactic drama.
Golden Artist Colors, Inc. was founded in 1980, starting up in a renovated barn. Today they produce a wide range of artist materials, including QoR watercolors. These watercolors have anAquazol® binder, rather than gum arabic or honey. They activate easily, stay bright and are resistant to cracking.
For this tutorial, QoR sent me their three iridescent colors, Iridescent Gold (Fine), Iridescent Silver (Fine) and Iridescent Pearl (Fine), along with six other colors of my choice. I chose colors so that I would have a variety of transparency, opacity, temperature (cool and warm color) and chroma (brightness or dullness).
The Iridescent colors are all ‘Fine’, which means they will produce a more even shine rather than a sparkle.
These are the six non-iridescent colors, each mixed with Iridescent Gold (Fine), Iridescent Silver (Fine), and Iridescent Pearl (Fine), in that order. Iridescent colors shift according to the light and the particles separate if not mixed often. This makes for some interesting effects.
Benzimidazolone Yellow Mixes
Quinacridone Gold Mixes
Quinacridone Violet Mixes
Cadmium Red Light Mixes
Ultramarine Blue Violet Mixes
Manganese Blue Mixes
Water to Paint Ratio
Watercolor is a wonderful medium that allows a wide variety of effects. The trick is using the paint to water ratio that gives the right effect. Sometimes, you want a paint mixture that is pure liquid and sometimes you want paint just thick enough to spread in an even layer. You should never use thick applications of watercolor because it is too easy to reactivate, and can crack.
Most water-based media, whether watercolor, dye, marker, or ink, has a color shift. That is, the color is brighter when you first put it on the paper, but it lightens as the color dries. The more water used and/or the more absorbent the paper the lighter the color will be. QoR watercolors don’t have a great deal of color shift, making it easier to get the color you want.
I mention this, because there are many variables in play – the pigment, the brand of paint, the brush, the paper, the humidity. I’ll tell you if I’m using a watery or a creamy mix. If you don’t seem to get the same results that I do, try adjusting your paint to water ratio.
The Motmot – Mixing Iridescent with Non-Iridescent Colors
With this painting, I was going for a subtle shine. In some lights, there is no shine and in others there is a big shine, but it never hides the detail. By mixing the iridescent colors with non-iridescent and using lots of water, I reduce the shine. Incidentally, I also get lighter colors. As you might guess, I’m using a high water to paint ratio.
I have three mixes in my palette:
- Pearly Blue Mix – Manganese Blue and Iridescent Pearl (Fine) in equal amounts
- Purple Mix – Ultramarine Blue Violet, Quinacridone Violet in equal amounts and just a touch of Iridescent Gold (Fine)
- Brown Mix – Cadmium Red Light, Manganese Blue and Quinacridone Gold
Unmixed colors used:
- Manganese Blue
- Quinacridone Gold
- Iridescent Pearl (Fine)
- Iridescent Gold (Fine)
Here’s a step-out to help you draw this bird.
With a paint/water ratio that is liquid, use:
- Quinacridone Gold for the head and chest.
- The Pearly Blue Mix for the lower wing and belly. Let it blend along the edge of the Quinacridone Gold.
- With the Pearly Blue mix still in your brush, pick up a little Quinacridone Gold for the upper wing to make it green. Clean your brush when this is done
- Manganese Blue to add some shading to the blue areas.
Continue with watery ratios of:
- The Purple Mix for the tail
- Drop Manganese Blue into the purple and let them blend
- Paint the beak with the The Pearly Blue Mix
Now thicken your paint ratios to runny but not liquid.
- Add more of each color (More Quinacridone Gold to Quinacridone Gold, Manganese Blue to Blue, etc) to shade and deepen the values.
With the same water/color ratio:
- Add some of the Brown Mix under the branch, along the inside edge of the wings. Add more water to your brush and paint the branch a lighter brown.
- With the Purple Mix paint around the eye and under the beak. Be sure to leave some of the Pearly Blue showing. Add more water to the mix and add some purple to the branch.
Let the painting dry and assess it. Look to make sure that the shine doesn’t hide detail. Look at your darkest areas. Does anything draw your eye and seem out of place? You may need to lighten it if so. Does an area that you want to be important seem too light? You may need to darken it if so.
I decided that I wanted the belly lighter, and the ends of the branch darker. I added some pearly blue to lighten the belly. Rather than add more color to the branch, I used a damp brush to pull color to the edges and evened it out along the branch. Then I finished with a swipe of Iridescent Gold.
Folk Art Bird – No Mixing of Colors
I’ve used all nine of the colors in this project. It was difficult to get a good scan because I used the iridescent colors without watering them down and the colors shift in the light. Detail is not obscured because I made sure there was lots of contrast between iridescent and non-iridescent.
All colors are used without mixing them on the palette. I do use glazing, such as letting the Yellow dry, then painting Blue over it, to create green.
I’m using an amount of water throughout this project that lets me spread the color easily, but doesn’t drip or run, even if I tilt the paper while the paint is wet. The paper is a smooth hot press that keeps the colors extra bright.
- Paint the eye, the beak and all the leaves with Benzimidazolone Yellow. Let the paint dry.
- Paint the head, the center of the eye, and lower part of the bird with Cadmium Red Light, carefully leaving the feathers white. Let the paint dry.
- Use Manganese Blue on the upper part of the bird, carefully leaving the feathers white. Let the paint dry.
- Use Quinacridone Gold for the tree. Note that I left white stripes (see below). I couldn’t get a still from the video where my hand wasn’t in the way, lol.
- Paint the lower sections of the background with Benzimidazolone Yellow and Cadmium Red Light
- Paint the upper sections of the background with Quinacridone Violet and Ultramarine Blue Violet
- Paint the feathers on the belly with Iridescent Gold (Fine). Add some dots of the gold on the bird’s head.
- Paint the upper feathers with Iridescent Silver(Fine). Add some dots of the silver on the upper wings.
- Paint the white stripes along the tree with Iridescent Gold (Fine). Let the paint dry.
- Paint the white areas of the background with Iridescent Pearl (Fine). I decided to make it a misty morning and glazed portions of the colored background with pearl as well.
This would be a pretty painting for a hanging mobile because the color changes so much in the light.
A Galactic Sky – Letting The Paint Run Together On The Paper
There is no doubt about it. For the highest shine and dramatic effect, use iridescents on black paper. The amount of contrast creates spectacular effects.
In this project, I didn’t use a brush at all. I totally dissolved the paint in water and used a syringe to suck it up, squirt it at random on the paper and then let it all run together on the paper. It’s abstract and easy and lots of fun to do.
I used Cadmium Red Light and Iridescent Gold (Fine) for the abstract background and a black paper with lots of texture.
I’m showing you my steps, but this type of project is highly individual. You’ll never repeat the results exactly and the fun is in trying different things to see what you get.
WARNING: There will be drips that run off the page unless you are very careful. Best to have something underneath to catch them. Put down some paper that you can use for another project!
- In separate wells on your palette, dissolve some Iridescent Gold (Fine), and Cadmium Red Light in water. The mixes need to be thin enough to suck up into the syringe.
- Off camera, I splattered some Cadmium Red Light onto the paper, by dipping my brush in very liquid color and then tapping it on the back of my hand to send drops across the page. I did this off-camera because I was afraid of getting splatters on my camera lens.
- Suck up some of the Iridescent Gold (Fine) in the syringe, as much as you can.
- Move the syringe across the page as you push the plunger down.
- Tilt the paper and let the color run all over the page.
- Keep sucking up color and spraying and tilting. This is an abstract so it is really all about continuing until you like what you see.
- Move the paint around with a fan and spray it with water. I have a spray/fan combination that’s really nifty.
- Let the paint dry. Reactivate the color that has dripped on the mat by spraying it with water. Take your abstract, color side down and tap it into the color.
- Continue to use one or all of these methods until you are happy with your galactic abstract.
I planned to use mine for a birthday card and intended to glue on some other elements so I kept going until my color was sold, but still had areas of black for contrast. Once done, I folded the page in half to make a card.
Taking a separate piece of black paper, I cut out the figure of a girl and painting her with highlights of the Pearly Blue Mix
Cutting up some sparkly ribbon, I glued the bits to the background to simulate fireworks. After folding the base from my girl cut out to make a pop up, I glued that onto the page too.
I forgot to take a photo, but I lettered the inside with Iridescent Silver (Fine), saying “Shoot off the Fireworks. Make it quick. Somebody’s turning 96!”
These are couple more abstracts I did using similar methods. I used the paper I had put down to collect drips.
There are many ways to use iridescent color to great effect. Too much iridescence without enough contrast can cause a shine that hides the details. Fortunately, this is easy to avoid.
- If you want subtle shine, mix your iridescent colors with non-iridescent colors and/or add lots of water.
- If you want powerful shine, but lots of detail surround areas of iridescence with bold non-iridescent color.
- If you want the maximum drama, use your iridescent color on black paper. Be sure to leave enough of the black or other non-iridescent colors to keep strong contrast.
QoR Watercolor 11ml tube:
- Iridescent Gold
- Iridescent Silver
- Iridescent Pearl
- Quinacridone Gold
- Benzimidazolone Yellow
- Ultramarine Blue Violet
- Quinacridone Violet
- Cadmium Red Light
- Manganese Blue
- Hahnemühle Harmony Cold Press Watercolor Paper, Spiral-Bound
- Hahnemühle Cold Press Watercolor Postcard
- Acquerello Portofino Round Watercolor Block by Magnani, Hot Press
- Stonehenge Aqua Cold Press Black Watercolor Paper
Brush, Syringe & Fan
- Princeton Aqua Elite, Series 4850 Synthetic Kolinsky, Oval Wash, Size 1/2
- Shintop 10pcs 5ml Syringe with 18Ga 1.5” Blunt Tip Needles for Experiments
- O2cool 8101 Deluxe Battery-operated Handheld Water-misting Fan
Golden Artist Colors, Inc. sent me nine tubes of QoR watercolor for the purposes of this tutorial. I received no other considerations, though this post may contain affiliate links which help support Doodlewash. As always, all opinions expressed are my own.
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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 three times a week. I also write reviews, hold giveaways and share my art work.