How to mix colors: when painting

How to mix colors

In order to understand color in painting one first has to have a basic knowledge of color theory. The retina of the eye receives input from objects outside. Sensitive cones in the eye translate these sensations from the outside. These cones in the retina respond to the wavelengths of light and “decode” or translate these signals in terms of color to the brain.

A tree appears green because the cone in the retina responds to the light energy and this overrides the other cones. Because of this process, and due to the fact that the signals to the brain determine the color of an object, we could say that things in themselves do not have color. If this is the case then there can be no objective colors. The point is that seeing color is a personal and individualistic experience. The process of being an artist is making yourself aware of color and this awareness can only be achieved through training and practice.

A first experiment in color: complementary colors

One of the most important aspects of color in painting is to understand complementary colors. Complementary colors are opposite colors and are very important when mixing colors for painting. Green and red are complementary colors. They are opposites in the sense that they are diagonally opposed in the color wheel. This means, practically, that they tend to react against each other if put side by side.

Try this exercise as a first experiment in color. Paint a red rectangle on a piece of paper. Once this is dry, paint a smaller green block in the center of the red rectangle. Take another piece of paper and paint a blue rectangle and then a green block in the middle of the blue rectangle. Place the two pieces of paper side by side and step back to look at them You should notice that the green block placed against the red background is far sharper and more predominant than the same size green block against the blue backgrounds. This is due to the fact that the green block was painted directly over its complementary color. Complementary colors contrast and therefore tend to complement or “show up” each other. This knowledge will come in good stead when painting a landscape or a human face. The purpose of this experiment is also to emphasize that the mastery of color requires study and practice.

Complementary colors also have another painting advantage. Try the following experiment. Place equal amounts of red and green paint next to each other on a tray or palette. Take a palette knife and begin mixing the two colors in the center of the tray or palette. You will notice that the mixture turns darker and muddier the more the colors are mixed. This is an important principle in using color. Commentary colors contrast and tend to produce gray tones or variations of the original colors that are darker. There are many tonal variations of colors in nature and mixing complementary colors can produce these different tonal ranges. Here is another experiment to try out for yourself.

Paint a tree in nature or from a picture. As you begin to work on the green leaves, you will soon begin to notice that there are various differences in the tone of the green. Some greens are lighter and some darker and some purplish. Mixing the original green with complementary and similar colors creates these variations. Variations of green, for example, can be made with a mixture of red. Shadows and purple tones can be made in this way; and if green and red are mixed in equal parts, a nearly black color will be produced, which is perfect for dark shadows. A note on this aspect is important there. Instead of using ordinary black for your shadows, you should mix the colors that you are using with their complementary colors to create a deep black. For example, by mixing the green with the reds you will eventually create a deep black which will have the advantage of having elements of both the original colors, and so create a shadow area which is much more realistic.

All that you need to know about color.

  • The basics of color are disarmingly simple. You will, however, find that working with color is a lifelong and complex practice.
  • Primary and secondary colors.
  • Primary colors are basic colors that cannot be mixed from any other colors. These colors simply exist by themselves
  • The primary colors are: red, yellow, and blue
  • Secondary colors are those colors formed by mixing any two of the primaries together.
  • Secondary colors areā€¦
  • Red and blue mixed creates purple.
  • Read and Yellow mixed together creates orange.
  • Yellow and blue create a green.

If one mixes all three primary colors together the result will be a neutral brown-gray. The rule with regard to determining complementary colors is that it is the primary color not used in the mixing of any secondary color is its complement. For example, mixing yellow and red creates orange; the primary color that is missing here is blue. Therefore the complementary color of orange will be blue.

There are numerous theoretical rule that can be cited about color. The artistic truth is that none of these rules will truly teach you about color and color mixing. The following is a far more practical method of learning about color.

Once you have understood the basics of color theory and how complementary colors are produced, then begin with the following procedure.

Take some paper and begin creating swatches of color. The paper you use will depend on the medium in which you are workingin. For example, if you are working in oil, then use paper that has been prepared for oil painting. Alternatively, coat the paper with a layer of acrylic paint. You can also, of course, paint on a prepared canvas surface, but this may prove to be somewhat expensive. If you are working in acrylic, then any paper will do.

Begin experiencing with mixture of primary colors. In other words, mix red with blue, and red with yellow to produce a range of different hues and tones. The key word here is experimentation. Taking one color at a time, experiment with mixtures of other colors and find a range of possible variations within that color. For example, if you start with red, then mix blue and create swatches of different gradations of blue and red.

Move onto red and yellow and create swatches of different degrees of orange. Once you have worked your way through he primary colors you can begin creating variations on the complementary colors. The entire purpose of this process is to train your eye to the endless variations within the three basic primary colors. Keep these swatches or place them where they will be visible while you paint. Add to these swatches as you work on your paintings, and use them as a reference point when searching for as special tone or color.

Remember that working with color must be essentially intuitive. Applying rules will not be sufficient. Color is most of all about awareness and perception. Study the colors around you. Study and sketch the objects that are commonplace in your home and garden. The purpose of this is to begin to actually see color. This is something that many people think they do, but very few actually achieve.


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