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Color Mixing: Are You Doing It the Right Way?

Are you an aspiring artist and want to know more about colors and paint types? Read this article to know about different colors and the right way to mix them.

What is art without colors? Even if someone is not an artist, they would still know how important colors are to paintings. As far as painters are concerned, knowledge of different colors and how to mix them is essential.

Why is color mixing needed in the first place? It is simply to create custom shades of colors that may not come in your paintbox. Different colors, such as acrylics and oil paints, need to be mixed differently to get your desired shade.

This might seem a bit tricky at first, but by following the basics, you’ll see how smooth you can get at it. You can check the artincontext guide for color mixing to know more. Interested in sketching instead of painting? Get a sketching book now!

In this article, we have gathered a few tips on creating the perfect shade by mixing different colors.

Color Theory

Before you know how to mix colors, you need to be familiar with color theory.

It is a set of guidelines and references to use when mixing colors.

You will also know about specific terms, such as the following.

  • Hue: a shade of a color
  • Primary colors: Red, yellow and blue are primary colors, and all the other colors are created by mixing these. They, however, cannot be created by combining any other colors.
  • Secondary colors: Achieved when two primary colors are mixed; for example, combining red and yellow will give you orange.
  • Tertiary colors: Achieved when a primary color is mixed with a secondary color.
  • Complementary colors: Colors that are in contrast. You’ll find the opposite to each other on a color wheel.
  • Analogous colors: These are adjacent colors on a color wheel.

Color Wheel

When mixing colors, always keep a color wheel for reference.

The color wheel, invented by Sir Isaac Newton, contains the full-color spectrum.

You will be able to know which color contrasts with another color and which one matches with another.

With this, you can create depths using complementary colors and analogous colors to create gradients and shading purposes.

mixing black paint with blue, red and yellow

How to Mix Acrylic Paint

Acrylic paint is perhaps the simplest to work with for beginners.

And you can also learn how to mix them on paper.

Since acrylic paints are water-based, always dip your brush in water so that you can mix more smoothly.

Take the primary colors on the edge of your palette and start mixing them by dragging them towards the center with the brush.

Mix in different proportions to get different shades.


Acrylic colors tend to dry a bit darker than when initially painted.

So you might want to mix a little bit of white color to lighten them.

How to Mix Watercolors

Watercolors are also water-based and are quite transparent and runny.

This is why it needs a bit of practice to get a hold of it.

Use a palette to mix different colors together in small proportions.

Make sure to wash your brush and maybe soak the excess water onto tissue paper.

This will ensure that you get your desired shade since a small trace of another color can change the mixture significantly.

How to Mix Oil Paint

Oil paints have a thick, buttery texture and can easily create depths in paintings.

However, they also require practice to be dealt with properly.

You can use a knife or spatula to mix them instead of a paintbrush.

Unlike other mediums, they are not water-based, so never mix water with them.

Opt for oils such as linseed oil if you need to make your paintless viscous.

How to Mix Gouache

The best part about mixing colors in this medium is that you don’t need a palette.

You can simply mix them on a piece of paper.

Just add one color, layer it with another, and mix them before they dry!

Having consistency between watercolors and acrylics means you don’t need to use any water to work with it.

Expert Tips

Now that you know the basics of mixing colors of different paint types on different mediums, here are some tips that will help you improve.

Start Simple

Always remember not to complicate your art.

Start with one or two colors and then gradually mix more according to your needs.

Starting off with more colors will only result in muddy shades that will do no good to your painting.

As a beginner, you need to know the opacity, temperature, and drying properties of the paint and colors that you are using.

So, using less is better than overwhelming yourself with tens of different color tubes.

Use a Palette of Recommended Colors

A lot of artists tend to use warm colors, while others prefer cooler tones.

Go through palette recommendations on different websites, articles, and even videos to see which palette you might like to start with.

Paints can be expensive, so you don’t want to waste your money buying colors that won’t be used.

Get familiar with one palette and only then move on to another.

Intermix Colors

A lot of artists tend to premix two or three colors that dominate their paintings.

You can also follow this technique and then use other colors in small portions to create smaller objects.

This combination makes your painting more thematic and harmonious.

Premix Colors

Just like how having all the ingredients prepared before you start cooking makes your cooking experience easier, many artists find premixing and preparing all required colors to be more comfortable and less distracting.

This is mostly important for portrait painters with limited amounts of time because they won’t have enough time to create new shades in the middle of their paintings.

Mix on a Palette or a Painting Surface?

There is a huge difference between mixing colors on a palette and mixing them on the surface of your painting, like paper or canvas.

You need to know which colors you can mix on paper and which colors aren’t suitable to be mixed on a palette.

As we have discussed, acrylics are best mixed on a palette, whereas gouache can be easily mixed on a painting surface.

Write Combinations Down

Unless you have mastered the art of mixing colors and know which mixes produce which shade by heart, it is important that you write them down.

Having a note on color combinations will help you create the exact shade later on.

Now that you know how to mix colors, it’s time for you to get creative.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Mix different colors and make any shade you want.

After all, you only learn when you start doing it by yourself.

About Julee: Julee Morrison is an experienced author with 35 years of expertise in parenting and recipes. She is the author of four cookbooks: The Instant Pot College Cookbook, The How-To Cookbook for Teens, The Complete Cookbook for Teens, and The Complete College Cookbook. Julee is passionate about baking, crystals, reading, and family. Her writing has appeared in The LA Times (Bon Jovi Obsession Goes Global), Disney's Family Fun Magazine (August 2010, July 2009, September 2008), and My Family Gave Up Television (page 92, Disney Family Fun August 2010). Her great ideas have been featured in Disney's Family Fun (Page 80, September 2008) and the Write for Charity book From the Heart (May 2010). Julee's work has also been published in Weight Watchers Magazine, All You Magazine (Jan. 2011, February 2011, June 2013), Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine (Oct. 2011), Red River Family Magazine (Jan. 2011),, and more. Notably, her article "My Toddler Stood on Elvis' Grave and Scaled Over Boulders to Get to a Dinosaur" made AP News, and "The Sly Way I Cured My Child's Lying Habit" was featured on PopSugar. When she's not writing, Julee enjoys spending time with her family and exploring new baking recipes.
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