how to mix colors: everything you need to know

Learning how to mix colors makes the joy and excitement of painting possible.

Artists don't have to get all our colors from the paint store. Instead of keeping a box full of different colors, we can mix most of the colors for our paintings.

The colors all look so beautiful at the paint store. How often have we bought a color and used it a few times? Then it just sits in our paint box. Later we throw it out because we don't use it. Speaking from experience, we've all done it.

Let's start mixing our own colors: The colors we use - Practice mixing - Color harmony - Colors we don't buy - Using color in our paintings

what colors do artists use for mixing?

Use the three primaries to practice mixing colors. The following colors are widely available:

  • Cadmium Yellow
  • Cadmium Red
  • Ultramarine Blue

Oil and acrylic painters will also use Titanium White.

The color wheel is the artist's best friend for learning how to mix colors.We learn color mixing with the primaries.

Artists know how to mix colors

The color wheel is indispensable when we are learning to mix colors.

The primary colors:

  • Yellow, red and blue are equally spaced on the color wheel.
  • They cannot be mixed from the other colors.
  • However, all other colors can be mixed from the three primary colors.


Color Mixing Tip
- Single pigment paints produce clean, clear colors. Look on the paint tubes and make sure they are made with only one color pigment.

Most manufactures list the ingredients on the tube. If they are not there, check their website.

We can mix skin colors with the primaries.

practice mixing the secondary colors

It's fun mixing colors and you will be surprised how easy it is. Get your paint colors out and start mixing colors.

  • Two primary colors mixed together create the secondaries: orange, green and violet.
  • Mix each secondary color.
  • Now we don't have to buy orange, green or violet paint because they are so easy to mix.
Mix two primary colors together to get a secondary color.How to mix the secondary colors

how do we mix more green colors?

Nature provides a wide variety of greens. It's easy to mix variations of green.

How to mix green colors by artist Carol MayMixing green colors

Thalo Blue is a very strong blue that is not on our practice list. However, it makes the most beautiful greens.

Use just a touch of Thalo Blue with yellow to mix a green.

Now we can mix more greens:

  • Starting with the mixed green, add more yellow to get a nice spring green.
  • Add more blue to your original green for a cool blue-green.
  • The addition of red to the original green will produce a darker, more subdued green.

We can mix additional greens with other blues and yellows. Ultramarine Blue and yellow make quieter greens.

Color Mixing Tip - When you are learning how to mix colors, always add the dark color to the lighter color. It only takes a tiny bit of a dark to change a light color.

what are tertiary colors?

Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary color with a secondary color.

Refer to the color wheel below and practice mixing tertiary colors. We have the secondary colors we just mixed on our palette.

Now, mix our palette orange with yellow to create the tertiary color yellow-orange, as noted in the example below.

We can mix the tertiary colors, so we don't have to buy them.How to mix the tertiary colors.

Mix the other tertiary colors clock-wise around the color wheel: yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red-orange and yellow-orange.

Now, we don't buy any tertiary colors because we know how to mix colors.


Color Mixing Tip
- Don't mix paint colors thoroughly before putting them on a painting. The color variation gives more interest to our paintings.


how artist create color harmony?

We create harmony in a painting by using only two - four selected colors in a painting. All the tertiary, complimentary, neutral, dark and grey colors are mixed from these colors.

We do not add any other colors to the painting, except what we mix.

The painting displays color harmony because all the colors were mixed from our original selected 2-4 colors.

How do we choose the original colors?

what are hues, shades, tones and tints?

Hue is the type or name of a color. For example, apple red or fire engine red are both red hues. Olive green is a green hue.

Shade is any color mixed with black. A shade is darker and duller than the original color.

Tones are made by mixing a color with grey.

Tints are made by mixing a color with white. However, adding white to a color will give it a chalky appearance.

Learn more art lingo.

Color Mixing Tip - Rather than using white to lighten a color, add the lighter color next to it from the color wheel. The color will remain bright and lively without a chalky appearance.

For example: Mixing white with orange, will cool the orange and give it a chalky appearance because white is a cool color.

Instead, we can lighten orange by adding yellow. The new orange color will be bright and vibrant.

colors we never need to purchase

We can mix the majority of our colors, so we only have to keep a few colors in stock.

how do we mix dark, neutral colors?

Mixing maintains perfect color harmony in our paintings. We mix the neutral colors from the colors we are already using in the painting.

We can mix black, brown or grey by combining the three primary colors. There are two different ways to do that.

  1. Mix equal parts of the three primary colors.
  2. Mix one part of a primary color with two parts of its complimentary color. Actually, this is the same as mixing three primaries together.

simple, quick dark mixtures

Mixing dark paint colors from your artist's palette.Mix your dark colors

Viridian Green and Alizarin Crimson mixed together create black.

Adding additional Viridian or Alizarin will slant the black toward green or red.

Burnt Sienna and Ultramarine Blue are a very useful mixture.

Add more Ultramarine to make a cool black. Use more Burnt Sienna for a nice warm brown.

Color Mixing Tip - Mix paint colors with a palette knife, instead of a brush. It uses less paint.

How to mix grey colors

We don’t buy tubes of grey paint because it's so easy when we know how to mix colors. Mixing white with any of our dark, neutral colors will create various tints of grey.

Color Mixing Tip - When we start a painting, mix a large pile of a dark, neutral color from the colors selected for the painting. While we are painting, add white to the dark color to make various tints of grey.

We may use the greys or the original dark color to subdue any of the other colors in the painting. This produces color harmony because all the colors in the painting are related.

Plus, we won't have to keep mixing our greys and darks again throughout the painting process.


how do we use color in our paintings?

Colors may be considered warm or cool. Refer to the color wheel again:

  • Warm colors contain yellow.
  • Cool colors contain blue.
How to use warm and cool colors in your paintings.Warm and Cool Colors

warm colors

Warm colors are known to "advance" toward us. They make areas look closer. We use warm colors in the foreground and middle area of a painting.

How do we mix warm paint colors:

  • We can make any color warmer by adding yellow.
  • Mix the color with yellow or orange which contains yellow.

For example, if we are painting an orange, the center of the orange is bulging toward us. The center would be painted warmer to make it advance toward the viewer.

The sides of the orange would be painted cooler to make them turn away from us.

cool colors

Cool colors recede into the painting and look farther away. We can create distance in landscapes by mixing some blue into the background areas.

We mix cool colors by:

  • Mixing a color with blue.
  • Also, mix them with green or purple because they contain blue.

For example, make the edge of an object turn away from us by adding cool colors to the edge. We may also, use cool colors to set one object behind another.

Learning to how mix colors is one of the joys being of an artist!

How to mix colors that look more natural

Sometimes we want calmer, natural looking colors in our paintings:

  • Mixing any color with its compliment will subdue it and make it look more natural.
  • Complimentary colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel.
How to mix dark, neutral paint colors from your artist palette.The compliment of red is green.

There are two different ways to subdue a color and make it more natural looking.

  1. Mix a color with its complimentary color.
  2. Mix any color with a black, brown or grey that we have mixed from the colors used in the painting.

Many top-notch artists use a double primary palette

Instead of the three primary colors, they use a warm and cool version of each primary color. This is called a double primary palette or a split primary palette.

This palette of colors makes the mixing process faster and easier.

All their additional colors are mixed from the six colors and white. It saves on keeping so many paint colors in stock.

We know how to mix colors and our paintings sing with color!

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