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Top 5 Color Mixing Tips

Tips to help you get the best results when mixing colors.

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Color Theory
Image: © Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

I truly believe that an artist could spend a lifetime exploring color and the results of color mixing, there are just so many possibilities and results. Color mixing is something beginners often shy away from. Don’t, rather learn the few fundamentals, embrace the challenge and get mixing. At worst you’ll produce mud colors; if you don’t want to waste the paint by throwing it away, use it with some white to do a tonal exercise, or underpainting. Here are some tips to help you with color mixing that I wish I’d known far earlier than I did.

Color Mixing Tip No 1: Add Dark to Light
It takes only a little of a dark color to change a light color, but it takes considerably more of a light color to change a dark one. So, for example, always add blue to white to darken it, rather than trying to lighten the blue by adding white.

Color Mixing Tip No 2: Add Opaque to Transparent
The same applies when mixing an opaque color and a transparent one. Add a little of the opaque color to the transparent one, rather than the other way round. The opaque color has a far greater strength or influence than a transparent color.

Color Mixing Tip No 3: Stick to Single Pigments
For the brightest, most intense results, check that the two colors you are mixing are each made from one pigment only, so you’re mixing only two pigments. Artist’s quality paints normally list the pigment(s) in a color on the tube's label.

Color Mixing Tip No 4: Mixing the Perfect Browns and Greys
Mix ‘ideal’ browns and grays that harmonize with a painting by creating them from complementary colors (red/green; yellow/purple; blue/orange) in the palette you’ve used in that painting, rather than colors you haven’t used. Varying the proportions of each color will create quite a range.

Color Mixing Tip No 5: Don’t Overmix
If, when you mix two colors together on a palette, you don’t mix and mix until they’re totally, utterly, definitely combined, but stop a little bit beforehand, you get a far more interesting result when you put the mixed color down on paper or canvas. The result is a color that’s intriguing, varies slightly across the area you’ve applied it, not flat and consistent.

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