The Cardinal Rule of Color Mixing

Written by

The Exploring Color Workshop kit is one of our newest collections, and includes Nita Leland’s Exploring Color Workshop 30th Anniversary Edition, Confident Color and her Color Scheme Selector (color wheel). Get it today while supplies last!

Also, The Artist’s Magazine’s All Media Art Competition is open for entries through mid-October. Take advantage of the resources above, and apply them to make your best work yet. Winners will receive cash prizes and be published in The Artist’s Magazine.

How to Master Color Mixing

The cardinal rule of color mixing in painting and drawing media is, “Don’t mix too much.” Even if you’re using the right colors, overmixing can dull a mixture. A good mixture shows the original colors used and the mixture itself–for example, yellow and blue, as well as green. This broken color gives livelier color vibration. Also, you may be courting disaster if you put too many colors into a mixture. For greater control over mixtures, mix colors of the same approximate value and tinting strength.

Fiber artists can make small woven, knitted or quilted samples to mix their colors in warp and weft, and collage artists can make mosaics of small paper clippings. In these applications, colors are mixed by the eye instead of a brush.

Color Mixing Exercise: Combine and Compare
Acrylic Primaries

Which colors should you use for your primaries? Here’s where color theory gets confusing. You can see how different these acrylic mixtures are when I use different paint colors for my primaries. For each sample, I applied a different primary to each end of the strip and gradually mixed them across the space, since acrylics don’t mingle like watercolors when you use high-viscosity paints. The more you explore your paints, the sooner you’ll be able to get the color mixture you want, every time.

Learn to appreciate the unique beauty of different mixtures. Record a swatch of each mixture in your color journal, along with a note about the colors you used. These references will come in handy when you’re painting. Maybe that dusky purple will be just right for a blue grape, or the dull orange might make a good shadow for a pumpkin.

Play with color and have fun while you learn.

Easy, eye-opening exercises placed throughout my book are designed to help you expand your color skills. Artists in many mediums can do most of these exercises. Reserve some time every day to do one. Collect as many color samples or paints as you can and use them for the exercises. Share with your artist friends and make exploring color a group project. As you do the exercises, you’ll see that mastery of color is an achievable goal. Exploring color will make you aware of your color preferences and strengthen your color knowledge.

Once you learn how to mix and arrange colors, exploring harmonious color triads and expanded palettes along the way, you’ll have the tools to build a solid foundation for creative color. In no time, you’ll start solving the mysteries of color and be well on your way to becoming a master colorist. That means that, if you love color, you can unlock its secrets–if you work at it.

Article Categories: