Thursday, December 13, 2007


color wheel.

How to Mix Colors

Interested in learning how to mix luscious, vibrant colors? Have you ever mixed red and blue paint only to find you have "mud" instead of purple? Want to know how to create luminous shades of red and yellow? Now it's time to learn how!


  1. Learn by doing. Get out your paints and cut a number of 8" x 10" pieces of watercolor paper or primed canvas on which to try out all the following color mixing techniques. You will find these sheets a great reference tool.

  2. Understand the basic color wheel. If you don’t have one, get one. It’s loaded with good information and visually demonstrates the following:
    • Primary colors are yellow, red, blue. You have to start with these colors as they can’t be mixed from anything else. Hence the term primary.
    • Secondary colors are orange, purple, green. Yellow + red = orange. Red + blue = purple. Blue + yellow = green.
    • Tertiary (third round of mixes from primary and secondary colors) include colors like blue-green, red-violet, yellow-orange.
  3. Be aware that colors can be visually warm or cool.
    • Warm colors include yellow, orange, and red;
    • Cool colors include purple, blue, green.
  4. Create a color sheet of all your pigments, grouping like colors. Yellow can, be cool, just as a green can be warm, depending on the pigments used to make that particular color. Your color sheet will help you to become familiar with this concept. Paint a swatch of all your yellows, reds, blues, etc. It will become obvious whether a pigment is warm or cool by comparing it to the other swatches.
  5. Learn about complementary colors. This is key for two reasons:
    • Complementary colors, when painted next to each other, enhance one another and almost glow. Why do you think a red rose is so stunning? It's those wonderful green leaves making the red dance. Did you ever wonder why so many spring flowers are purple and yellow? Mother Nature knows what she's doing.
    • Most important - complementary colors, when mixed together, create a neutralized or grayed-down version of the original color. Alter the proportions to get blue gray, green gray, or purple gray; red brown, yellow brown, or greenish brown.
  6. Dull down colors that are too bright. When you have a blue that is too bright, you can dull it by adding a bit of orange. Give it a try. Take a dollop of blue and add a small amount of orange. Mix well and watch how the blue changes from bright to dull. Uh oh, are you getting a greenish brown? That's because you added too much orange, or the orange may have too much yellow in it. Yellow and blue make green, remember?
  7. Keep trying different color mixes. We know that it takes red and blue to make purple, and that yellow is the complement. Which red and blue do you choose to mix a bright purple? (HINT: NOT red with yellow in it.) Red and yellow make orange, the complement to blue, which will make a grayish purple and not a bright one. Got the idea? Give it a try.


  • Complementary colors are directly across from each other on the color wheel. That's all well and good but what if you don't HAVE a color wheel in front of you? Here is a quick way to figure it out:
    • If you are looking for the complement to red, the two primary colors left are yellow and blue; mixed together they make green, which is the complement to red. The complement to yellow? Blue and red are the primaries left that, when mixed, make purple - the complement to yellow. Cool, eh?
    • What if you want to know the complimentary color to purple? Well - red and blue mix to make purple, the primary color left is yellow, which is the compliment to purple. TA-DA!

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