This is the continuation of a multi-week deep dive into all things color, color theory, and color mixing. Last week we talked about the three dimensions of color: hue, value, and chroma. Today we learn how to use these three dimensions of color to mix any color of paint (using three easy questions).
Hello, and welcome back to the Self Taught Artist Podcast. I’m Lauren Kristine, your host. Welcome to week two of our color mixing and color theory workshop. This week, we are putting everything that we learned last week to good use. And we’re talking about how to mix any color of the rainbow using my very simple three question process.
Have you ever wanted to mix a certain color but you didn’t quite know how? Or are you working on a painting that you have finished a while back and now you need to finish it? But you don’t exactly know how to mix up those same colors to match the painting so you can keep working on it. I’ve definitely had that happen to me before. If any of these things resonate with you, well, today’s episode is for you.
Today, I’m actually going to give you a color challenge that might require a little field trip to your local hardware store. There’s a workaround, however, if you don’t have a hardware store nearby, so stay tuned for that. We are doing color mixing exercises to get a better understanding of our paints, and of the three components of color. This was an exercise that I learned about from a course that I took on Skillshare, many, many moons ago, when I was really trying to master the basics of painting. When I was really diving back into acrylics, I was at a point where I understood the very, very basics of color. But I really needed practice to take it to the next level. At that point, you know, I knew red and blue makes purple. You know, Orange is the opposite of blue. Like I knew those kinds of things. But I would get frustrated with my paint sometimes, because I wouldn’t know why they weren’t doing what I wanted them to do. And that’s the worst feeling.
This color mixing exercise was the answer for me to really get to that next level in color mixing, and I highly recommend it. As it turns out, there’s always more to know. And you can always get better at color mixing and color matching and color theory. So I’m still trying to level up of course, I think it never really ends. This exercise is great for all self taught artists. No matter how much of an expert you are, or how much of a beginner you are, you can always learn more about color and challenge yourself. So that’s why I’m calling it a color challenge.
So the first thing you have to do is go to your local hardware store and get some paint color chips. Most US based hardware stores offer free paint chips. I can’t really speak for other companies, other countries because I haven’t actually been to a hardware store and you are also in the world. But here in the United States, they are these little pieces of paper that have a paint color printed on them. So you can take home these little pieces of paper, hold them up to the wall or to your trim and decide what color you want to paint your house. They are small, just a few inches usually, most of the times are like two inches by three inches. But they are all one solid color. my local hardware stores, Lowe’s and Home Depot have 1000s of paint chips available. And you can take as many as you want. I’d suggest you take quite a few. But select a variety of colors. Grab some light colors, dark colors, bright colors, vivid colors, muted colors, just get a bunch of different options. While you are at the hardware store, I’d say get at least 10. But you know if they’re free, I’d say get even more while you’re there because you might actually really like this exercise.
If you do not want to go to the hardware store, or it’s a bit of a trek for you, maybe you live in a more rural area. And if you live in the United States or Canada, excluding Quebec (sorry, I don’t know why they exclude Quebec) but most places in the US or Canada: guess what? Sherwin Williams, the paint company will actually mail 10, two by three paint color chips to you for free. No shipping charge, totally for free, and you get to pick the colors. This is amazing. So I’m putting the link in the show notes for where to go to get your free color chips from Sherwin Williams.
If you cannot get your hands on any paint chips, just get creative. Try to find something with a solid color on it, that’s a couple inches large, I would suggest looking at an old book cover maybe a piece from a cut up cereal box or a food package, maybe a magazine image that you cut out a flyer or cut out a piece of junk mail advertisement, you really just need a piece of paper that has a mostly solid color on it. And the shape doesn’t matter. It’s just having a few solid inches of this color so that you can see it better and you have more space on it to test it, you’ll see why you need a couple inches. All right, you probably know where I’m going with this. But I’m also going to give you my mixing process.
But what we’re going to do with these paint color chips is to try and color match them with our paints. This exercise works really well with acrylic paint or oil paint. But you can also slightly modify the exercise and do it with watercolors or gouache too! Watercolors is probably the trickiest. But you can get really, really close and it’s still great practice. So even if you’re a watercolor artist, I would encourage you to still try this exercise and get as directionally correct as you can. All right.
And if you really, really want to challenge I tell you to try and do this just using the primary colors. So mix all these colors of the rainbow using a somewhat limited palette or just primaries, you can do it however you’d like it’s still a challenge. But you will learn more about your paint. If you limit yourself to primaries, I typically will use magenta or a cadmium red, yellow, teal, and then a ultramarine or a phthalo blue, depending on what gets me closer. And then black and white. Of course, if you really want to limit it to, you know, a very traditional primary palette, then you’d probably do a cadmium red, primary yellow, and a Ultramarine, a black and a white. But I personally love the vivid colors as you know. So that’s why I lean towards including magenta and teal. Because I love I love those colors. So what I will say is, you know, if you need to expand to your full palette colors to get the hang of it, then go for it. But I do think you’re going to learn more about your paint, and the system will work better if you stick to primaries, or primary-ish colors.
All right, with paint matching, I suggest you get as close as you can from first glance. So our goal is to make our paints match the solid color of the paint chip. If you’re mixing a purple, for example, well, you know where to start. And that’s typically by mixing a red and a blue together to get a purple color since a secondary color.
What I recommend is then you actually put some of your paint on the paint chip, just a little line. So you can directly compare the colors. Now, we analyze!
As we talked about last week, there’s only three dimensions of color, value, hue, and Chroma. So really, there’s only three options, three questions to ask yourself as you do this exercise. And you repeat them over and over again. And eventually, you can get really, really close to matching that paint chip and sometimes even matching it exactly. So now that we’ve covered those three dimensions gins of color last week and defined them, let’s talk about what are these three essential questions that I use to determine how I mix colors.
Alright, the first question I ask myself, looking at the color that I’ve just ballparked, let’s say that purple, I mixed my red and my blue together, and I have a purple right there. I’ll ask myself, “Is my color too red, too blue or too yellow?” This question is asking about the hue.
You can go a little more advanced, and you can ask yourself a variation of this question: “Does my color need to be warmer or cooler?” Alright, so that is question number one and you get to pick one of those depending on what resonates with you the best. The most simple version of it is, “is my color too red too blue or too yellow?” So that’s the hue question.
Number two, “does my color need to be lighter or darker?” That’s the value question.
The third question is, “Does my color need to be dulled down? Or is it intense enough?” This question is asking about the chroma or the saturation, or the intensity.
It’s important to note that Chroma, intensity, and saturation technically mean slightly different things. So if you were to have a test in art school, they would want you to know these very subtle differences here, but I just refer to them interchangeably. This third question is really asking, “Are you looking to mix a vivid or bright color? Or are you looking for a more toned down/subtle kind of color?”
Alright, so if you caught that with those three questions, there’s one question for each dimension of color, Hue, Value, and Chroma. Now, if you remember, those are the terms we talked about last week in detail. And I told you, we’d be building on that knowledge. So if you haven’t listened to that episode, please go back and listen so you have the full picture here.
If you follow these three questions, and turn it into a color mixing workflow, where you ask yourself these questions over and over again, until you get it right, just troubleshooting as you go, you should be able to mix the majority of all the colors you see. So that’s pretty cool. That the entire mystery of color mixing can be solved with these three simple questions. And they’re really the only three questions you need when it comes to paint mixing.
Alright, so let’s break these down on another level. So I can give you some more examples.
Coming back to the hue, question number one “is your color too red, too blue, or too yellow?” Or alternatively, “does your hue need to be warmer or cooler?” If it needs to be warmer, add a warm tone to it. If it needs to be cooler, add a cool tone to it and see what happens when you mix it.
The warmth or coolness of a color is all relative, it really depends on what you’re comparing it to. So in the case of our example, we be comparing it to our paint color chip. If I’m mixing orange, for example, which is already a warm color, and I want it to be a really warm orange, I’d mix it using warm leaning red and yellow. If I wanted a cool orange, I’d probably want there to be a hint of blue in it. You can similarly Look at the color wheel and use that as your guide. So if it’s too red, and you’re mixing a purple, well, you should add some more blue to it, you look on the other side and use that as your guide. The color wheel can be a very helpful tool during this whole process.
Alright, so once you get your hue close enough, then I would tell you to turn your attention to the value question: “Does my color need to be lighter or darker?” The obvious first thing that you probably want to try to lighten up a color is white and see what happens. That’s usually most painters default to lighten the color, you know titanium white, but when you add white to a color, it not only lightens the color, but it also lowers the saturation which makes it weaker, and makes it cooler in terms of color temperature. So that can sometimes be moving you further away from your goal and intended color, especially when you’re painting a subject under a warm lighting source.
White is not always the right answer if you’re trying to make it lighter. If you remember, a couple of weeks ago, I had that situation when I was painting a beach umbrella series. I know a beach umbrella study. I know I mentioned it on the podcast. So if you listen to that one, I painted this beach umbrella that was illuminated by the sun. And I knew the light source was coming on the left side. So as the painting the umbrella on each pane of the umbrella and moved closer to the sun, I needed those colors to get warmer as they got lighter, not cooler, because they were illuminated by the Sun, which gives off sort of a yellowish glow in this case. So the key in this kind of situation when you want to lighten your color, but White isn’t the answer, you want a warm white, well, that would actually be using yellow as a way to lighten up the value.
If you remember from last week, I talked about pure hues, and how a pure hue is not necessarily equal in the value scale to another pure hue. Actually, yellow is the brightest and lightest hue that’s out there when you look at pure hues. So yellow can be a great alternative to make your color lighter, depending on what your goal is. So the reason that works is because it increases the lightness while still retaining the saturation. But of course, when you add yellow, the hue will change because you’re adding in another hue. So if you see all of these three characteristics are really tightly intertwined. And that’s why it’s so important to understand all these nuances of color.
So white, yellow, those are great options for lightening your color. And you can try both, you can try one, there are no mistakes, when you’re going through this process, you can always start over. But you also can usually use your paints to just keep mixing. So if you use white, and it doesn’t really work, well add a little bit more of the primaries and you know, bring up that purity back up. And then you can start right over again. And then you add yellow and see what that happens or try a little bit of both. It’s all a trial and error kind of exercise, but with some guidance with the process.
But let’s talk about the opposite. Let’s say you ask yourself color, question number two. And that’s does your color need to be lighter or darker, and you say, well, actually, I want to darken this color. Well, the obvious default for most people is adding black. However, black is a really intense paint. And when you add black, especially depending on what black it is, it can really overwhelm your mixture. So if you use black, use it in very small quantities.
But you can also use other neutrals to bring your value darker. You could use raw umber or vandyke brown. Those are great earth tones. And you can also mix brown with blue. And that will give you a more natural black ish color or a very, very dark gray. And you can also add naturally dark hues like blue, green or red. Those will also add a darker value to your mixture. But of course remember anytime you add something there’s going to be a reaction in how it mixes with the pigments that are already in your mixture.
All right, number three, how to dull down a color if it’s too pure? So if you ask the question, Does my color need to be dulled down? Or is it saturated enough. What do we think about the purity? Well, if you need to dole down a color, there are a few different ways that you can dole down a color. One, this is, most of the time, what I do is I mix that color with its complement. That’s the color on the opposite side of the color wheel. So for example, to lower the saturation of blue, you could mix it with its complement, Orange.
Other options to dull down a color include mixing your color with gray, or mixing it with muddy paint, or another low saturation color like raw umber. This could change its hue, though. So of course, remember, all these things are connected. One thing I will see some artists do is actually mix up their own kind of muddy paint neutral by mixing all three primaries together.
Now, to really mix vivid, brilliant colors, you actually want to use fewer pigments, most of the time, and make sure that the primaries you mix together both lean toward the secondary color you want to mix. This is probably a bit too in depth for this episode. So I’m going to save it for one of our next episodes on color. And talk about how to really get the vivid colors. Because there’s sort of a few different ways that people think about that. And I think the one that I use to get really vivid colors is using a split primary palette. That’s the technical term. But you may notice after you have gone through this mixing exercise, you get it really, really close. But it doesn’t quite have that vivid purity that you’re after. And sometimes that happens if you mix a ton of pigments together, it just can be hard to get that really, really brilliant color.
And then the other big exception is if you’re trying to mix something super bright that has fluorescent in it, you can’t get a fluorescent color without adding fluorescent colors to it. And that’s, that’s just a different. That’s a different level. So I just want to let you know, when you think about this visual rainbow of what you can paint, by mixing your paints together, you can paint almost everything. But maybe there are just a couple exceptions. So just want to highlight those for you.
All right, but back to our paint chips, to match the color. Just keep swatching your mixture on the paint chip, asking yourself those three questions, adding a little bit, then swatch again, and see what happens. This exercise can really teach you so much.
So let’s say for example, I’m going to go back to what I was talking about where I have a paint chip, and I really want to mix purple. So my process would be I’d first take a stab at it, mixing my magenta or my red with blue, I would probably choose magenta and ultramarine blue. I take a tiny bit of it and I’d swatch it directly on the paint chip. And then I’d ask myself those three questions. One, is it too red or two blue? I could try adding a warmer red into the mix or try adding a cool blue like teal and see what happens. Or I could say, you know this is like in the ballpark of the color. But really I need to adjust value.
So then I’d go to question number two, does my color need to be lighter or darker. If I needed a lighter value purple, I would probably try white. That’s the easiest thing to try first. And yellow doesn’t really work that well with purple. Yellow is going to make purple brown. So I’m going to avoid yellow but I’m going to put more white in and that will lighten up that value. And in the opposite let’s say I wanted to make that purple darker. Well I would probably adding add just a little bit of Burnt Umber. It’s all experimentation. And then I’d swatch it on the paint chip to see if that got me closer or further away from my goal color.
Once I got the value in the ballpark, I would then move on to question number three. Does my color need to be dulled down? Or is it you know, the saturation level that I want? Is it The purity level that I want? If I needed to dull it down, I would add, probably a tiny dab of orange or a tiny bit of yellow. Yellow is the complementary color to purple and orange is pretty close to it. So either one of those will dull down the color a little bit because they are opposites on the color wheel. So those would be things that I would try.
You just kind of have to try this exercise to understand it. Paints and all of their characteristics and all the dimensions of color really have to be learned through experimentation. There’s not that much of a shortcut, except for trying it. And at least when you do it in this structured way, I think it will increase the level of your learning about paint and about color. So that it’s not just trial and error without learning, you want to go ahead and capture some of the learning.
And that’s why I have this process. So while I’m color mixing, I can also be learning about things like hue, and saturation, or Chroma, and value. So this is a fun way to force a little bit of that learning, I would encourage all of you to go get lots of paint chips, and dive in.
Next week, I have an art supplies episode planned. But I think in two weeks, we will return to the color mixing and color theory workshop for part three, I am going to talk a bit about the color wheel, and encourage all of you to make one for yourself. So you can use it as a guide. As you ask yourself these three questions and try to mix all the colors of the rainbow. I’m actually working on a printable template for you. So get excited, I think that will be a great addition to our color vocabulary and our color knowledge.
All right, this is one of those episodes where I do wish that I had video capability. So you could all watch me in action and really show you this stuff. But the next best thing to that is just getting some paint chips or getting a solid color piece of paper and trying it for yourself.
Ask those three questions. Is my color too red, too blue, or too yellow? Does it need to be lighter or darker? And then the chroma question, Does my color need to be dulled down? Or is it pure enough? So I hope that these three questions help you.
Please let me know what you think. I know this is a little complicated, but I promise you’re going to learn something if you try it. Awesome. Until next time, my friends. Happy Creating!
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