Properties of colors include hue, value, saturation, and temperature.
Hue refers to the name of the color. A hue is a given color created by a specific wavelength of light.
Value is the degree of light and dark of a color. You can use it to create contrast and to add visual drama to your work. In watercolor, we add water (not white paint) to a mix to make it lighter. To make it darker, we add more of the hue we are painting with (not black paint).
The water-to-paint ratio is what creates value in watercolors. Learning to control that ratio is key to mastering watercolors.
To practice this technique, paint swatches of all your colors from dark to light so as to create a value shift. A common way to identify the water to paint ratio is to think in terms of the consistency of your mix: butter is thick and the darkest mix, add a small amount of water and the consistency is that of cream, making the mix less thick and less dark. By adding a bit more water, the consistence is that of whole milk. More water still, skim milk. And for the lightest value, the mix should have the consistency of weak tea. This swatch will be very light indeed.
If you paint swatches at each of these consistencies, you will get a handle on each color at full strength and at a diluted value. Make value studies of each of your colors with these five values. You’ll notice that some colors don’t have that much of a range. They can’t get any darker then what you achieve in 3 or 4 values no matter how much paint you add to the mixture. Good to know!
The swatches of our colors that are at full strength show us that color’s mass tone.
The value of the pigment diluted to the thinnest wash shows us the undertone.
Painting your values this way will help you see what color is actually inside each tube because looking at the color in your palette does not reveal its real color, mass tone or undertone. Some colors look completely different on paper than in your palette and can look quite different at full strength (mass tone) as compared to a lighter undertone.
To explore values further, consider painting a simple scene with only one color, diluting the paint as necessary to achieve various values.
These exercises will help you learn a lot about your paints before you dive into your next painting. Enjoy!