A TECHNIQUE DRIVEN Blog dedicated to mastery of surface design techniques. First we dye, overdye, paint, stitch, resist, tie, fold, silk screen, stamp, thermofax, batik, bejewel, stretch, shrink, sprinkle, Smooch, fuse, slice, dice, AND then we set it on fire using a variety of heat tools.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Colour Palette and Mixing (how not to get mud!)

Rarely does the colour label on the paint tube tube accurately reflect what it's contents are so I always squeeze a little out onto  strips of watercolour paper for reference noting the name and brand ( as I said  in an earlier post, the same colour  can vary quite widely between manufacturers) Other things to look out for on the tube are whether the paint is opaque or transparent.
For instance although they  look quite similar in colour Winsor and Newton's Yellow ochre is opaque while raw sienna is transparent .  Just to confuse things Liquitex raw sienna  is opaque (although they now have a transparent version )
My choice of colours is very much dictated  by my colour mixing experiences being mainly in Winsor and Newton Professional watercolours. In watercolours  the white is provided by the paper,  and I've had it drummed into me that for vibrant  colours should only mix 2 pigments together - 3 for greys and browns. The more you mix in,  the muddier it gets!
So for a basic set of paints  from which in theory you can mix most colours I would start with equivalent  of  printing primaries yellow, cyan and magenta) :
Cadmium yellow(light),
Phthalo Blue green shade
Permanent Rose 
Titanium White 
Burnt Umber  (good for darkening other colours)
I personally only use black on it's own, I never  use it for mixing as it deadens everything but if you buy a starter kit it's usually included. Payne's Grey is versatile transparent alternative .
For an expanded palette a cool and warm version of each primary is good
Yellows: Lemon Yellow (cool); Cadmium yellow medium ( warm) 
Blues: Phthalo blue green shade (cool); French Ultramarine (warm)
Reds: Permanent Rose or Alizarin Crimson (cool)  Cadmium or Naphol Red (warm )
Greens: Phthalo green ( yes I know you can mix them but it's a good starting point)
Purple: It's worth getting a very dark purple as you can waste a lot of paint trying to mix one : Dioxazine purple or Quinacriline blue violet are my favourites  
Earth colours: Burnt Sienna, Burnt Umber (raw sienna optional)
Unbleached Titanium  is very useful  off white for mixing.

I've learnt a lot going on acrylic painting courses with artist Susan Gray. One of the optional exercises was  in colour mixing , just on white photocopies.  Quite a meditative process  and a useful one,  time well spent. Seeing these makes me want to do some more with different colours - purples and greys for instance !  I often do patch tests on fabrics as they are usually not white unless primed and these can have an influence on the result.
So some tips on colour mixing to avoid mud:
- mix pure pigments for brightest, intense results, the fewer the better  
- add dark to white  (it takes far more paint to lighten a colour than darken it)
- add opaque to transparent ( opaque colour has greater strength)
- don't overmix, if you don't completely combine your colours you'll end up with more interesting result
Next post: tools of the trade


  1. This is all so interesting. Black deadens everything... will keep that in mind when colourmixing again!!

  2. I appreciate this focus on the basics (but so important). Thank you!

  3. I'm used to working with craft acrylics where black is used to darken a paint. It will take me time to get used the depth of colour in the professional ones. I appreciate the tip on using black. You've saved me time and paint.

  4. I found an excellent book on color mixing when I was a newbie dyer. It was for paint but the theories were also applicable to dye. It's called "Blue & Yellow Don't Make Green" by Michael Wilcox. The first 17-18 pages are informational and then the rest of the books shows what happens when mixing different colors. It made my dye experience improve by leaps and bounds.


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