Colour Mixing

Most people are familiar with the idea of primary colours, that any colour can be mixed from a palette of red, yellow and blue. This works well up to a point but unfortunately no pigment is a pure colour. I was introduced to Six-Colour-Theory by a book in my local library and I strongly suggest all watercolourists read it. The book is called Blue And Yellow Don't Make Green by Michael Wilcox. (My thanks to Mr. Edwards for reminding me of this)

Choosing a Palette

Six colour theory is so-called because it requires six different paints in the palette You should choose two reds, two yellows and two blues. The choice is important and each pair should be chosen as on the colour wheel above.

Arrange the paints in your palette in a circle. The pairs of colours should be next to each other, leaving a gap between the pairs to allow for mixing. The layout should be the same as on the colour wheel.

When you need a bright colour, mix it from the paints close together, for a more muted colour use paints that are further apart on the palette.

When you mix colours across the center of the palette, the result will become more muted, usually giving a brown or a gray. Grays result if the mix tends towards the blues, brown if it tends towards the yellow. You should usually avoid trying to mix more than two colours as the result will be muddy. You do in fact have four combinations to mix any colour from.

The following is a suggested palette based on the above. You may wish to replace some paints with others such as Burnt or Raw Sienna. I usually use the palette as below but add the extra colours as well. Burnt Sienna is just too nice a pigment to do without! There is no real need for a Black as this can be mixed from ultramarine and burnt sienna.

Suggested Palette

French Ultramarine

Cobalt Blue

Lemon Yellow

Cadmium Yellow

Cadmium Red

Crimson Alizarin

These colours are in order above and should be laid out in this order in a circle so that crimson alizarin ends up next to french ultramarine.

Finally, a word about the palette itself. There are many artists palettes for sale, most of which are made up of numerous little wells. I use an old pate' tray from a delicatessen. Any tray will do as long as it is white and gives plenty of room for mixing. The wells on commercial palettes can be a hindrance and a plain flat tray gives much greater freedom, especially for big brush techniques.

© Adrian James 2001


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