Color mixing is one of the most important aspects of being a successful painter. But does it have to be as complicated as everyone makes it out to be?
These are five questions I ask myself when mixing my colors:
- Is there enough blue?
- Is there enough red?
- Is there enough yellow?
- Is there enough white?
- Is there enough black?
That is it. With those five questions I can address everything I need to know for mixing accurate colors. The rest of the color theory complexities do not really matter when I am painting.
So what do these questions actually mean?
You can mix any color in the spectrum with the three primary colors. They should be present on every painter’s palette.
If you want your red to have a slightly cooler feel, then add a touch of blue. If you want your green to have a bit more ‘pop’, add some yellow. Want a nice orange? Mix some red with your yellow. I could go on for days, mixing colors from all over the spectrum.
In theory, you could make do with just the primary colors and white. But it makes sense to try and save time by having some pre-mixed colors handy. For example, I like having a turquoise blue for painting translucent water. Sure, I could just make that turquoise blue by mixing green, blue and white, but if I use that color a lot then I do not want to be mixing it all the time.
Now in relation to adding white and black, these are ways to create different shades / tints of your colors. If you want to darken the value (perhaps for some shaded area in your painting) you can add some black. If you want to lighten the value, then add some white. Now if you want to mute the color (desaturate), you can add both white and black (or in other words, a gray).
Mixing your colors does not need to get much more complicated than that.
So when you are preparing your color palette, make sure you have at a very minimum all three primary colors and some white. As for black, I rarely use black straight from a tube. Instead I mix equal parts of the three primary colors (red, blue and yellow) to make a very natural black. The tone of the black will depend on the types and makeups of the primary colors you use (think about the difference between a yellow ochre and a lemon yellow). The resulting color is usually more of a very dark gray. If you want a pitch black color, then you will need to use ivory black from the tube.
If you ask yourself these five questions when mixing, you will end up with much more accurate paintings.