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primarycolor        Primary colors

 secondarycolor     Secondary Colors

I believe it was my first watercolor class when the instructor told us to paint a painting that read mostly secondary triad. I asked him what the secondary triad was. If I’d learned it earlier, I had forgotten. This opened a new door for me. He told me to go home and look through some art books and research it a little. I found a world! of information on color combinations. I had so much fun playing around with color combos and used them to create all sorts of subject material. Here are two that I painted. The first one was painted using colors red, yellow, and blue, which is known as the primary triad. The second one is painted using orange, purple and green, which is known as the secondary triad. I sometimes set challenges for myself, like an analagous painting (group of colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel), a monochromatic painting(shades of the same color) and complementary painting (opposing colors on the color wheel). I often look for these combinations when I view other artists’ work. Knowing a little about how to combine my colors has helped to make my paintings be more harmonious.


  1. To me it is amazing to see a painting of a woman look so natural with the use of red, blue and yellow! If someone had asked me to do that I would have thought it was impossible. Haha :-p I like it a lot, though. The man is beautiful, I love his back…

    • Thanks Deva! It just amazes me what our left brain wants to tell us about the color of things! What if grass turned purple tomorrow? Would we miss the green or would we embrace the change?

  2. Wow Leslie! When I first clicked on your site and saw the woman in primary colors my eyes popped. She is fantastic. I know Charles Reid always suggests doing many skin tones using primary colors. And the man is fabulous as well although much more subtle, I guess because of the color palette!

    And the figures themselves are done really well. Great post.

    • Thank-you for the comment, Carol. I love Charles Reid’s work, but I think he would tell me I spend too much time playing around. I get so excited and into what I’m doing that I just keep going. I have pretty much decided that my hand does one thing and his does another…….but I devour everything he writes along with Don Andrews, John Lovett and many others.

    • Another thing I want to say about what you commented about, Carol, is that the secondary triad has a lot of the colors we see in landscapes and is considered to be a more restful color combination. This may be why it looks more subtle. I read that in several books on color. The primary colors are generally used for more energetic scenes like the colors in a festival! might be a good way to say it. They pack more of a punch.

      • I see what you mean about the primary colors vs. the secondary colors.

        Of course, since I live in New York I only wear black, but I like bright vivid colors. Don’t know why I don’t paint with them. I think you’ve given me my next assignment. Something with primary colors!

  3. Hey Leslie – these postings are thought provoking. There is a time to put the paintings aside and do the exercises – like playing scales on a musical instrument. Thanks for the challenge and the illustration of the difference between the colour approaches. I like your figures so much. S

    • Thank-you, Stephen. I hadn’t even given it a thought, before, that something could be painted in non-representational color and work. But it’s kind of a no-brainer because we draw in black and white and it looks OK.

  4. Hey Leslie, I enjoy the play of color in these pieces. I’m often amazed at the effects achieved when sticking to a certain color combination. It can be both limiting and yet liberating too. mm.

    • Thanks 47. It is somewhat liberating because the painting tends to read better if the color combinations and values are correct.

  5. These are both wonderful, Leslie! I love the colors you use in your paintings! There is so much to learn!

    • Thank-you, Beth. That is high praise indeed coming from the master of color pieces that you are!

  6. I love the curving lines you have ! And great teaching about the triads. I must give it a try! These seem so effortless and natural, and the result is stunning!

    • Hi Isabelle. Thank-you. Look the simple combinations up in a watercolor book.It is so fun to play around with those. I don’t go beyond the few I mentioned when I create my paintings because it can get pretty technical and I get lost and start muddying. But the ones I listed above really help me to create.

  7. Hi Leslie,

    I love the abstract quality you’ve attained in your figures. I’ve often thought the best representational paintings have strong abstract qualities, and vice versa!

    • Thank-you, Anne. I think it is more because I could never manage to get that realism that some masters achieve.I have to say things the way my brain and hand work……

  8. Wow again Leslie! I’m learning so much from you – and it’s obvious in these great paintings that you enjoy yourself. I’m glad you experiment – that’s how we learn, isn’t it?

    • Thank-you June. I know I have a lot to learn, yet, and I would become so bored and discouraged if I stuck to one thing. Sometimes I feel I improve because doing something differently provides me with a new idea. Like you….remember when you were discouraged with watercolor, then started pairing it with other media, and you were off and creating again?

  9. Leslie,thanks for sharing this. It means a lot to me.
    I seem to recall that you had done a painting of this model (maybe standing with her back to you) in blues and greens. Do you have any more of her?

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