How to Mix Colors

Color theory and color wheels can help you understand how to mix colors for your paintings.

How to Mix Colors for Paintings
The three basic, or primary, colors for painting are yellow, magenta and cyan. The yellow involved is a bright yellow color. Cyan is a blue color, and magenta is a deep pink color. You can't make these colors by mixing together other colors. When you add the three primary colors together, you will end up with black.

Secondary colors are created by mixing primary colors. Secondary colors are the combination of red and blue to make violet, red and yellow to make orange and yellow and blue to make green.

There are six tertiary colors. These colors are created by adding together primary and secondary colors, resulting in red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet and red-violet.

A color wheel consists of the three primary colors placed equidistant away from each other. The secondary colors sit between the two primary colors that created them. Then, the tertiary colors are placed next to the secondary and primary colors that were used in the mix.

One way to use a color wheel is to consider complementary colors. Complementary colors are directly opposite of each other on the color wheel and provide contrast. These colors will also help brighten each other.

A variation on complementary colors is split complementary colors. Instead of using that red and green, you would use the green and the two colors next to the red on your wheel.

Another approach is to use analogous colors, or three colors that are next to each other on the wheel. These colors will give your painting a harmonious appearance and "feel." When using analogous colors, pick one to dominate the area in which you are painting, another to support that color and the third to accent the other two.

Triadic colors are three colors that are placed equidistant from each other. You will see that when you draw lines between the colors, the lines form a triangle. It is better to use one color as the dominate color and the other two colors as accents when you use triadic colors.

You can also consider warm colors, which run from magenta to yellow. Cool colors range from green to violet. You can add dabs of cool colors to warms to cool them a bit and vice versa. Warm and cool colors next to each other also provide contrast.

Expect to make mistakes as you mix colors. You will be tempted to try to break the rules just to see what the colors look like. Who knows? You may end up liking the result anyway. 

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