Colour Mixing Basics - Top 10 Tips

Colour mixing is an integral part of the creative process and is essentially where the magic starts, allowing us to create colours that are used to bring the canvas to life. There are so many possibilities to explore that evoke, create a feeling and tell a story through art! Colour mixing can feel complex or overwhelming for beginners, but by breaking down the basics, you will gain an understanding of how colours work together and how you can work with them to help you on your painting journey and artistic process. 

1) Relationships matter when it comes to colour. Mixing is all about relationships!

The colour wheel shows the relationships between the colours. One of the first key considerations is understanding these relationships - when colour combinations are pleasing they pass unnoticed, but when they clash they grab attention. Colour combinations can produce emotions and feelings - so if you are starting out, using a colour wheel can help you learn how to create beautiful artwork that provokes feelings. 

2) Add dark to light in small quantities

If you are starting out, it may seem natural to want to add light to dark and work from there, but it is in fact dark to light which makes for the most effective colour mixing experience. It takes far less of a dark colour to change a light colour than it does of a light colour to change a dark. It takes a fair amount more of a light colour to change a dark one. For example add blue to white to darken it, instead of lightening the blue by adding more and white. This allows you to use less product to achieve your desired shade and you won't end up mixing more colour than you need. 

3) Understand the range of colours the 3 primaries can create

One of the fundamental basics of colour mixing is that you can mix ALL the colours you need from the 3 primaries - red, blue and yellow. These colours cannot be created by mixing other colours and are the basis of all the other shades we make! When these three colours are combined in varying combinations and ratios - using white to lighten - a huge array of hues can be created. Mixing two primary colours will create a secondary colour (purple, green and orange). Every colour has a certain bias towards either warm tones or cool tones. Browns and greys essentially contact all three primary colours and can be created by either combining all three primary colours or combining a primary and secondary colour. When primary and secondary colours are mixed, this then creates a tertiary colour. Blue-green, blue-violet, red-orange, yellow-orange and yellow-green are all combinations made by mixing primary and secondary.

4) Avoid overmixing

The cardinal rule of colour mixing - as strange as it may seem - is don't overmix. Overmixing can create a dull mixture. There is beauty in not overmixing, as this allows the painting to have a livelier colour vibration. This will result in giving the painting more depth, as the colour can vary slightly across your canvas creating beautiful hues.

5) Step away from black when mixing

Black can have a tendency to dull colours instead of darkening them, which is why it can be better to reach for a brown or grey to darken instead. 

6) Add opaque to transparent 

When it comes to opaque and transparent colours, it is important to bear in mind that opaque colour has a far greater strength of influence than a transparent colour. 

7) Get yourself a colour wheel

A colour wheel shows you how to use colours that relate to each other visually and demonstrates the relationship between, primary, secondary and tertiary colours. Using a colour wheel can help you to gain a deeper understanding of the relationships between colours, and the difference between the warm range of colours and the cool range of colours. As you progress on your journey, you will find you no longer need to use this to aid with your mixing, but more as a visual prompt that inspires and reminds you of the almost limitless shades you can create. 

8) Allow for a darker dry down by mixing lighter

Something that can often be overlooked is that oil and acrylic paints typically dry down slightly darker, so when you are mixing try to bear this in mind if you want a lighter painting! Aim for mixing your shades a shade or two lighter than your desired colour. However, it's important to note that if you are mixing watercolour, this typically appears lighter on the page when dry. 

9) Reach for single pigments for brighter colours

For the most intense and luminous results, we recommend using the minimum number of pigments. For a brighter look, when mixing two paints try to reach for paints made from one pigment only. 

10) Harmonise your browns and greys

To mix attractive browns and greys that harmonise with your painting, we recommend creating these by using the complementary colours (red/green; yellow/purple; blue/orange) in the palette that 

11) Less is more - start with just a few colours

When you start out - apply the rule less is more. If you can, try and paint with just one or two colours so you can see how they differ across opacity, temperature and tinting strength. Many art instructors start their students off with a limited palette of colours so they can familiarise themselves and learn their craft basics before going onto tube colours later. 


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