Watercolor Class – Color Mixing 101
As humans we are a curious species and we like to analyze everything and that includes the whys and wherefores of art. The Ancient Greeks set up committees to better understand why we like some things better than other even when the quality was equal and came up with what they called “The Golden Mean” we call it the Rule of Thirds today but that was just the beginning into how to create the perfect art masterpiece. We still do it today and there are volumes and volumes written on every aspect of art and while some of it might be helpful to the everyday artist sometimes there is just too much information and proves to be more confusing than helpful, Color mixing and Color Theory are no excepting to the rule. I don’t want you to discourage you from learning more on the subject but sometimes having a basic understanding of the subject is helpful when you want to learn more because it will make more sense to you. This is going to be a VERY basic introduction to color mixing but it should be helpful to you in your efforts to create your own masterpiece.
There are 3 Primary colors and their 3 Complimentary Or Secondary colors, these colors and their combinations should be burned into your brains if you are going to paint in color. The PRIMARY COLORS are: RED, YELLOW and BLUE. What that means is there is no way to mix any other colors together to get any of the three primary colors, you must have a source of red, yellow or blue to get these colors. SECONDARY colors on the other hand, are the combination of two primary colors. The 3 Complimentary colors are: ORANGE, GREEN and PURPLE.
You can buy a color wheel at the art store or better yet, make your own so you can learn about the primary and complimentary colors. You can make a circle on your paper or a canvas and then in the 12, 4 and 8 positions put a patch of your primary color (R,Y,B). Midway between the red and the yellow, apply a patch of orange. Midway between the yellow and the blue apply a patch of green and midway between the red and the blue apply a patch of purple. While it is good practice to mix these complimentary colors for your wheel, if you have premixed tube colors, that is okay too, the goal here is to create your color wheel.
Now look at your wheel and memorize these colors and what is directly across from it on the color wheel. The colors directly across from each other on the color wheel are COMPLIMENTARY COLORS. If you have these colors together in a painting they will complement each other giving a pleasant visual balance to the painting. For instance, if you are painting something with a lot of red in it adding green will enhance your painting more than adding say orange.
Most beginning artists do not have a problem when it comes to mixing mud, the problem comes from how NOT to mix mud or how to control the amount of mud you mix. The way you get mud is when ALL 3 PRIMARY COLORS ARE PRESENT. Mixing a primary and its complement together will get you some form of brown or gray. For instance, if you take the primary color blue and you mix it with orange (yellow with red) you will get a steel gray color if it is more to the blue side and a rich brown color if it is more to the orange side. Yellow and purple (blue with red) makes a great sand color. Red and green (blue with yellow) make rich browns and grays. There are some artists who only use the 3 primary colors with white (oils, acrylics or other opaque medium) and maybe black and that is it for their palette and they can mix any color they need but it takes years of practice to get the subtle differences in color and most of us aren’t that patient so getting pre-mixed colors saves us some time but we still need to understand the reasons behind what we are doing on the palette or our canvas.
By-the-way, all of this applies no matter what medium you are using. It doesn’t matter if it is acrylic, oil, watercolor, pastel, colored inks, anytime you are using color, these guidelines apply. If you ever want to try pastels, you really need to know more or less what you are going to get because you mix the color on your paper by putting 2 or more colors down then blending them with your finger or a blending tool.
Now why, you might ask, do I need to know what makes gray or mud? The answer is so you know how to correct or adjust you colors.
Most modern colors that you buy premixed at the store are usually too intense in color to use straight out of the tube and you need to know how to “tone them down”, greens can be particularly challenging out of the tube and need to be quieted to look more natural. For example, knowing that by adding some form of red to your green, be it red, orange, burnt sienna (which is in the orange family) or purple for shadow greens, will go a long way to improving your overall painting. This goes for all your colors.
Before I close this, I want to touch on a trend in the manufactured paint of ever expanding palette of colors, you now have many choices for a similar color. Blues, for instance, may say red hue or green hue or variation. All this means is instead of being a true blue color it has more red or yellow (respectively) and this will affect the color depending on what other color you have mixed into it. Bottom line is “Do you like the color?” if the answer is yes, then you may have to do some testing just to see how it mixes with your other colors or maybe you have to save it for special circumstances when you don’t have to mix it too much to use it. Art is all about you, if you like it, that is what matters sometimes it can take years of experimenting with color to find the combinations of color that work best for you needs, just never be afraid to try something new or to test your new color because they are all different even between the different manufacturers.
No pictures for this blog because your results will be different from mine and that is okay, we will be working on perspective and atmospheric perspective next class so practice those grays!