Australian Fine Artist

Colour Mixing for Artists

Workshop Number Two of Five 2016

Tutor: David Chen

The Basics: Mixing Clean Colour

Why you need to understand how to use colour:

  1. Understanding colour will help you to harmonise your paintings.
  2. Using colour with the understanding of soft and hard edges will gain depth in your paintings.
  3. A clean colour is the place to start before you grey off colour for tonal paintings.
  4. The mixing from a pure colour to tonal graduations will help when applying planes to your painting which adds to the depth.
  5. The understanding of the ‘undertone’ of colours will help to create clean colours that ‘look right’.

TIP: Understanding your colours, how they work with each other and how transparent they are, will help when mixing them for glazing with a medium such as Liquin.

The Language of Colour

There are various things you need to think about when mixing colour. It isn’t just about looking at a subject and trying to copy the colour. Where you are, the time of day, the lighting conditions if you are inside all need to be considered. Think about the following issues:

  • The effect of light on your colours. As the light moves into shadows the colours are affected. It isn’t just a matter of adding black to darken a colour, you need to know how the colour changes as it goes into shadow.
  • Is the light warm or cool? this will affect your colour.
  • Remember as you moved away from light colours cool off, so as you paint a landscape for example, you will need to cool or grey off colours to symbolise atmosphere and depth. As items move away from the light they will also ‘cool off’.

Mixing the ‘Right’ Colours with Each Other

Unless you are mixing for grey tonal values immediately, mixing certain colours will only give you what is commonly referred to as ‘mud’. Even so, it is good practice to mix your clean colours first and then tone them down or up.

Look at your colours and see what the ‘undertone’ of each one is. they will all have one, even the blacks. Mixing like for like will give you brilliant results when mixing. Here are a few examples:

  • Lemon Yellow has a GREEN UNDERTONE
  • Cadmium Red has a YELLOW UNDERTONE
  • Alizarin Crimson has a BLUE UNDERTONE
  • Golden Yellow has a RED UNDERTONE

Mixing like for like (EG: Prussian Blue (GREEN UNDERTONE) with Lemon Yellow (GREEN UNDERTONE) will give you a brilliant clean green.

This method of mixing is NOT tonal painting. It is pure colour. It can be used to paint with, there are examples of artists who painted this way, particularly the Impressionists and later.

It is a discipline for understanding your colours and a starting point for mixing for better results when tonal painting.

Next time you go through your paints, why not separate them into groups according to their undertones and then experiment with mixing to see what results can be achieved.

Below: We had our own choice of subjects for the day so I selected something from my library of photos. The result is below, and I am happy that only a few little marks were popped on by David during his critique at the end of the session to suggest where I could improve.
I used a prepainted board that had another painting on, which I have painted over to use for this workshop. This has a nice result of adding texture to the board before I even start painting the new scene. The edges had tape on them to help in handling for travel, but also to give an immediate ‘finished’ look without having to pop it into a frame.


© 2016 Janice Mills.Westernport Bay Near Stony Point. Oil on Board. Approx. 30x20cm.

David’s workshops are in very high demand and many are booked out in advance, but you can go on to a waiting list as sometimes spaces open up. If you would like to go on the waiting list, you can contact David via his website:

Please mention you have been referred by Janice Mills.


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