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Mixing colors can be quite confusing for beginners in painting. Besides the actual color theory, the different painting media also play a role. We bring darkness into the light and give you the most important tips and tricks to mix your colors.
Table of Contents
- 1 Mixing the Primary Colors
- 2 From Primary Color to Secondary Color
- 3 The Last Step – The Tertiary Colors
- 4 Color Mixing Guide – The Best Tips and Tricks
- 4.1 Primary Colors Cannot be Mixed by the User
- 4.2 Mixing Primary Colors Produces Secondary Colors
- 4.3 Which Specific Primary Colors Should I Mix?
- 4.4 How to Mix Colors – The Right Ratio
- 4.5 Are There Different Shades of Red, Blue, and Yellow to Buy?
- 4.6 Bright Colors With Individual Color Pigments
- 4.7 How Do I Get Tertiary Colors?
- 4.8 The Mixing Ratios of Light and Dark Colors
- 4.9 Opaque Colors Perfectly Combined
- 4.10 How Do I Mix White or Black Paint?
- 4.11 What are Complementary Colors?
- 4.12 Do Not Mix Paints too Thoroughly
- 4.13 Mixing of Warm and Cool Colors
- 4.14 Mixing a Clean Green
- 4.15 Which Color Shades are Suitable For Mixing Clean Colors?
- 4.16 Mixing Grey and Brown
- 4.17 Which Colors to Mix For Brown?
- 4.18 How Do I Mix a Nice Earthy Brown?
- 4.19 Which Colors to Mix For Grey
- 4.20 How Do I Mix a Pale Grey?
- 4.21 How Do I Get a Warm Grey?
- 4.22 How to Soften Colors?
- 4.23 Clean Tertiary Colors
- 4.24 Test Your Color on Paper or Canvas
- 4.25 Optical Color Mixing (Divisionism)
- 4.26 The Juxtaposition of Certain Colors Increases Intensity
- 4.27 Use of Warm and Cool Colors for Depth and Space
- 4.28 Mixing Paint Colors on the Palette
- 5 History of Color Theory
Mixing the Primary Colors
Primary colors are the three color shades that are not mixable and have to be purchased as they are. From these three colors plus white, you can mix any color you want yourself. The three primary colors are:
- Red, Magenta
- Blue, Cyan
Important for mixing are the mixing ratios of the three primary colors, as well as the addition of white to control the brightness.
Try to make your first color mixtures yourself with cheap colors. This allows you to get a good feeling for the most important color shades.
From Primary Color to Secondary Color
You can mix secondary colors yourself by mixing two of the three primary colors:
- Purple: Red and Blue
- Orange: Red and Yellow
- Green: Blue and Yellow
If you mix all three primary colors together, you will get black. Important for mixing paint colors is of course the selection of primary colors. There is a wide range of red, yellow, and blue tones, which in combination also produce other secondary colors. So if you intend to mix your own colors in the future, you should buy different shades of the primary colors to have maximum flexibility. Following a color mixing chart can provide great help here.
The Last Step – The Tertiary Colors
The tertiary colors are mixed from two adjacent colors of the color wheel of the primary and secondary colors. These colors are no longer as bright and clearly assignable as the primary and secondary colors, and are therefore also called broken colors. For natural-looking pictures, however, these tertiary colors are very important. In nature, it is mainly these shades that occur. Examples of tertiary colors are:
There is a great color mixing chart from Winsor and Newton, which shows you the different possible color combinations very clearly. This allows you to easily check which colors you can mix to get the desired target color.
Color Mixing Guide – The Best Tips and Tricks
Primary Colors Cannot be Mixed by the User
When combining colors to obtain new shades, there are three basic colors that cannot be produced by mixing other colors. These are the primary colors – red, blue, and yellow.
Mixing Primary Colors Produces Secondary Colors
When two primary colors are combined, secondary colors are created. For example, if you mix red and blue, you get violet; yellow and red make orange; blue and yellow make green; red and blue make violet. When all three primary colors are mixed, black is obtained.
Which Specific Primary Colors Should I Mix?
It depends on what secondary color you want and what shade or tint of that color you want to create. Mixing a deep cadmium yellow with red ochre gives a slightly different orange than a titanium yellow. Basically, each combination of primary color pairs produces a different pair of secondary colors.
How to Mix Colors – The Right Ratio
The exact ratio of red to yellow, which gives orange, determines the exact type of orange color. For example, if you mix more red than yellow, you will get a reddish-orange. If you add more yellow than red, you will get a yellowish-orange. So our tip: play with the colors you have. Try out the different combinations and mixing ratios. Do not forget to write down your findings so that the results can be repeated.
Are There Different Shades of Red, Blue, and Yellow to Buy?
You have a very large selection of different shades of primary colors. Here are a few examples:
- Blue: Cobalt blue, Caribbean blue, Celesan blue, Prussian blue
- Red: Cadmium red, scarlet, carmine, and Venetian red
- Yellow: Naples yellow, cadmium yellow, lemon yellow, and yellow ochre
Bright Colors With Individual Color Pigments
For the brightest possible colors, make sure that the paints you use are made up of only one color pigment and not several. You can find this information mostly on the paint itself or from the manufacturer on the website.
How Do I Get Tertiary Colors?
Mixing a primary and a secondary color (like red + green) or two secondary colors (like orange + green) results in a so-called tertiary color. Especially the latter tends to result in muddy colors like grey, brown, and black. Tertiary colors like blue-lilac, yellow-green, green-blue, orange-yellow, red-orange, and violet-red are all created by combining a primary and a secondary color.
The Mixing Ratios of Light and Dark Colors
When mixing colors, only a small amount of dark color is needed if you want to darken a light color. Conversely, if you want to lighten a dark color, you need a small amount of dark color. So if you want to lighten a dark brown, you need a lot of white paint.
Be careful with dark colors like black and brown, because the result can only be corrected with lots of lighter paint
Opaque Colors Perfectly Combined
Much like mixing dark and light shades, it’s the same with the opacity of your colors: You only need a small amount of opaque paint to make a color opaque. Conversely, you need a lot of transparent or opaque paint to make an opaque color translucent.
How Do I Mix White or Black Paint?
We advise you to buy white and black directly, as you will always need some of these two colors. You mix black by combining the primary colors yellow, blue, and red.
What are Complementary Colors?
Complementary colors describe the opposite color in the color mixing chart, as the direct color opposite. The use of complementary colors in an image can be irritating to the eye. However, when used consciously, exciting effects can also be created.
Do Not Mix Paints too Thoroughly
If you mix two colors together, try not to mix them completely for a more natural result. This way, you will have small differences in the color used, which will make a much more harmonious impression – especially for natural images.
Mixing of Warm and Cool Colors
Color tones are perceived as either tending to be warm or cool. Warm colors include yellow and red, and cool colors include blue. These properties can also be mixed, for example, to create a warm sky blue. Mixing two warm shades will give a warm shade, whereas mixing a warm and a cold shade will give a more neutral shade.
Mixing a Clean Green
Our tip for a really nice, clean green: use Phtalo Blue with lemon yellow. This creates a very crisp color shade and works well in a wide range of paintings.
Which Color Shades are Suitable For Mixing Clean Colors?
The following color shades provide a good basis for creating clean tones:
- Cadmium red
- Ultramarine blue
- Lemon yellow
- Cadmium yellow
Mixing Grey and Brown
Grey and brown are tertiary colors and are mixed with all three basic colors in different mixing ratios.
Which Colors to Mix For Brown?
There are countless possibilities to mix beautiful brown tones. In our experience, the fastest way is to mix a little blue with orange.
How Do I Mix a Nice Earthy Brown?
To create a really nice earthy brown tone, try the combination of red and green.
Which Colors to Mix For Grey
You can mix a nice grey by mixing a larger proportion of blue with less orange and then adding white color until the desired brightness is achieved.
How Do I Mix a Pale Grey?
For a delicate shade of grey, mix lots of white paint with some red and green.
How Do I Get a Warm Grey?
For a warm grey tone, try a good mixture of violet with yellow.
How to Soften Colors?
If a mix of colors seems too intense, you can tone it down with a complementary color or a little brown. As an example, you can make green tones that are too harsh appear softer with a little umber. You should not use black, because the color appears more cloudy than softened.
Clean Tertiary Colors
Here you should follow the basic rule: The more different colors you mix, the muddier the shade will be. If you have a muddy mix of colors, there is often only one solution – start again from the beginning.
Test Your Color on Paper or Canvas
Test your paint mixes every now and then on a piece of paper or canvas. This way the colors will look different again.
Optical Color Mixing (Divisionism)
Instead of mixing the colors directly, there is also the technique of optical color mixing. This involves painting two colors next to each other, which causes the human eye to visually mix the colors. In technical jargon this is called divisionism.
The Juxtaposition of Certain Colors Increases Intensity
To make lighter colors stand out more, they should be painted next to neutral colors. A red appears more intense if it is painted next to a grey tone. Conversely, a dark tone such as dark green is intensified when it is surrounded by a light color such as lemon yellow.
Use of Warm and Cool Colors for Depth and Space
Another optical color mixing technique is the juxtaposition of warm and cool colors. The idea is that the eye perceives cool colors as being further away than warm ones. For example, placing warm earth tones in the foreground of a landscape painting and increasingly cooler colors towards the horizon causes the eye of the viewer to perceive a greater depth in the canvas.
Mixing Paint Colors on the Palette
Put little blobs of the paints you want to mix on your palette. Put the amount of color you expect to need (or a little less) on your palette. The color portions should be about the same size if you want to mix the colors in equal parts. There should be enough space in between. If you want to mix a larger amount of one color with a smaller amount of the other color, you can adjust the amounts on your palette.
- For example, if you want to mix brown, the mix of colors you need are red, yellow, and blue in equal parts. For black, you need exactly the same mix of colors, but you have to use more blue than red and yellow.
- It is better to have very little paint on the palette at first than to use too much. After all, you can always add a little bit more.
Take a small bit of paint with the spatula and place it in a free space on the palette. Use the spatula like a spoon and put a small portion of paint in the middle of the palette or on another free space. Lightly tap the palette with the spatula when the paint sticks to it.
- An artist’s spatula is the ideal tool for mixing colors on a palette. Not only can you mix paints more thoroughly, but you also extend the life of your brush, because you don’t have to use it for mixing.
Pick up a second color and add it to the first color in the middle of the palette. Use the clean spatula to place a blob of a second color next to or on top of the first color on the palette. The size of the blob depends on the ratio in which you want to mix the colors.
- So if you want to mix in equal parts, you have to use equally large blobs of the two colors.
Mix the colors together with the spatula. When you have your starting colors together, it is time to mix them. Make small circular movements with the spatula to mix the paints together. You may need to apply a little pressure to the spatula to do this.
- When the two colors have become one, you have successfully mixed them!
- If one color has not turned out the way you would like it to, you can simply clean your spatula and mix in more paint until you are satisfied with the tone of the mixture.
History of Color Theory
The theory of color developed in the course of art history. Prisms were used to explore the components of light in order to understand its essence. By means of color circles and theories, one tries to clarify the understanding of color. The physical laws of optics simplify applications with color for the artist.
Isaac Newton proved for the first time that white light is composed of lights of different colors. With a prism, he had succeeded in splitting sunlight into rainbow colors.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: With his Theory of Colors, published in 1810, he created the basis of color psychology. In contrast to Isaac Newton’s theory of color, in which white light is made up of the colors of the rainbow, Goethe attributed greater importance to light and darkness. Accordingly, Goethe’s color theory was important for mixing paint colors, as it appears easier to mix colors in practice than Newton’s physical color observations.
The Three-color theory or trichromatic theory attempts to explain the perception of color in the human eye. It was developed around 1850, mainly by Thomas Young and Hermann von Helmholtz. Around 1900, discoveries confirmed the theory.
Johannes Itten developed the color circle and the Seven Color Contrasts, from the light-dark contrast to the simultaneous contrast, in his Theory of Color Art. Due to the incorrect assumption of red and blue as primary colors instead of magenta and cyan, the theory of color types causes difficulties in practical application.
Knowing how to mix colors is essemntial for any painters and artists. The theory of colors is actually pretty easy to grasp, and the only way to really get good at is is practice, practice, practice! We hope this color mixing guide helps you to achieve the perfect shades and tones while painting.