Mix paint – from the notebook – 8

By | February 2, 2014
To mix paint it can be handy to have a system in place. Mix colour – to think colour.

To mix paint it can be handy to have a system in place.

The big problem – to mix paint

Even if you know the colour theories by heart, most people struggle when it comes to mixing paints and achieving something that can be described as a work of art. However, there is a simple solution to systematically mix and think colour.

Mix colour – to think colour.

If you imagine colour knowledge is like an atlas or a map of colours, then the following is to be looked at as directions from A to B. It is a way to reach your destination – your goal. It isn’t necessarily the only way to reach it, but it should help.

To mix paint it can be handy to have a system in place to do it in an organised fashion. One often start with a very small amount of paint, because that is what is needed, but ends up with buckets of the wrong shade of colour and not knowing what went wrong. In this situation it can be helpful to know how to ‘think colour’.

Here is a method to help you with this:
You start by asking three questions.
1. Where on the colour wheel is the colour I want?
2. Where on the greyscale is the colour?
3. What value/shade does the colour have?



1. Start with the colour wheel
Decide where on the colour wheel your colour is.


2. Light or dark
Then decide where on the greyscale the colour is.


3. Value and shade
Then decide what value the colour has.  As an example we have chosen a light blue with low chroma and a darker blue with higher chroma.

Colour harmony – disharmony

When you talk about colour harmony you often refer to how the different colours work together. This is an individual experience. Harmony is all about balance and symmetry – disharmony is the opposite.

Johannes Itten spent a lot of time trying to scientifically find an objective truth regarding colour harmony. In his colour theory he describes seven colour contrasts that achieve harmony.
1: The intensity and contrast of a colour
2. The lightness of a colour
3. Cold/warm colours
4. Complementary colours
5. Simultaneous contrast (the eyes seek to identify the complementary colour)
6. Intensity contrast
7. Quantity contrast

Stimulate the brain

There are later theories regarding the harmony of colours, but what they all have in common is that harmony is achieved when the brain is stimulated by balance in opposites.

If you want to achieve harmony – which is what most people consider beautiful – then you need to try to give the brain what it looks and longs for. The brain looks for the complementary colour, with the same lightness and chroma.

  • The brain looks for the opposite value and lightness of each colour.
  • The brain looks for the opposite intensity and chroma of each colour.

A very good book on colour and how to mix these is ’Color: A course in mastering the art of mixing colors’ by Betty Edwards.

Colour and shadows

Can I use black? A common question is ’am I allowed to use black?’ The answer is ‘yes, it is a wonderful colour, but use it correctly’.

We will start by explaining light, colour and shadow to then explain a common mistake which you can see in painting where black is the main culprit.

Main colour
The main colour is the colour of the object. A banana is yellow and the pear is green.

The objects we observe are illuminated. This light can be cold, warm, yellow, violet, orange, neutral or even grey.

When light falls on an object it creates a shadow.

The shadow of an object
The shadow of an object is always cold but will fall on different coloured surfaces which the colour of the shadow will be influenced by. For example a shadow which falls on a red surface might not become blue, but a mixture of blue and red.

The shady side of an object
The shady side of an object is always warm or warmer. This is where the problem of black appears. Many use the black colour to darken the shady side of an object.
Black mixed with yellow will give green shades = black appears as a dark blue shade.
If you use black to darken the shady side of an object you get a cold colour. What you want to achieve is a warm colour for this area. You need to compensate the cold shade by mixing in more warmth consisting of red/orange/yellow colours.

A simple rule to follow is therefore – light has different shades which gives different colours on the side of the objects lit. The object’s shady side is always warm and the shadow it creates is always cold.