An artist color mixing guide 

My color mixing guide, how to mix your colors, color recipes, color mixing tips, and a few pointers on setting up your palette. 

Why is color even important? Did you know that color is the #1 factor in the decision process of an art purchase. Yep!  If the color aien't right, the buyer moves on!

Read further to find out how to mix your colors, how to match any color using 3 to 5 colors, and to set up your palette for a faster way to accomplish these tasks.

Colors have four properties:

  • Value = refers to the lightness or darkness of a color.
  • Intensity = how bright or dull it is.
  • Hue = Hue is just another word for color. Red hue means red color.
  • Temperature = how close to fire, or ice the color is.

Color Mixing Guide Shades and Tints

It’s a general practice to tint a color with white, thus making it lighter. And shading a color with black to darken it.

But this doesn’t work all of the time with oil colors.

See more details below.

The Masters usually used a very limited palette. This was due to many factors, cost, time in grinding their own, or having apprentices doing this, and availability of the raw compounds or their own previous training or preferences.

In today’s world, access to different oil colors is mind boggling. So where do you start?

Well, if you’ve been following some of my lessons here, and you’ve started a work, you’ll know I begin with an imprimatura, (a coated pre-colored toned canvas) of a yellow ochre/olive. Then the first and second Umber underlayer using burnt umber as the only paint. From here we go into the dead or gray layer which uses a prepared black, white, and 3 to 5 midtones.

Color Mixing Guide list of oil paints

Here is your color mixing guide list of paints so far:

  • My prepared black will have 2 parts Ivory or Mars Black,
  • 1 part Burnt Umber,
  • and 1/8 part Prussian Blue.

You can experiment with making a very deep rich black using just Prussian blue and burnt umber.  And it will dry faster than when using Ivory Black.

For my Brown Underpainting I usually use these:

  • Prepared Black, (Which is Ivory black, Burnt Umber and Prussian blue)
  • Yellow Ochre,
  • Titanium White,
  • and a touch of Prussian Blue.

The lightness or darkness is depending on the average tone of the entire painting.

I find this by squinting my eyes to get the average tone of the whole subject matter.

I've also found a few other things I'd like to pass along to you.

  • I have found Flake White, and Zinc White will not cover (not enough opacity) during the dead layer. They are however, the brightest whites for highlights.
  • I have also found that Permalba is a very good blend of Titanium and Zinc white that does cover well in the dead layer.

Now back to my palette:

For my other colors, I use these,

  • Cadmium Yellow Light
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium (rarely used)
  • Cadmium Red Medium (rarely used)
  • Permanent Alizarin Crimson (PR 177)  or Quinacridone Red (PR 209)
  • Phthalo Blue (rarely used)
  • along with Prussian Blue (already mentioned)

Now remember, from this point on in our color mixing guide, references to the color wheel will be made to the RYB (Mixing Color) Wheel.  (below)

Color wheels and the differences

And not the RGB Visual Color Wheel. (below)  You should keep both within your studio, the later being for color schemes and color meaning within your work.  Besides, the color wheel below is geared more for techie's in the television and lighting world. 

 RGB color wheel, visual color wheel

Color is so important to our lives, even my local lumbar and paint store has done some research.  Click Here to see what Home Depot has to say about it. (Opens in new window)

Before we get too far in, you’ll need to start thinking about paint color differently — you must understand that every oil paint manufactured color actually has a main color (the one you see) and another color that is part of a filler and blend.

Cadmium Yellow Light leans towards the green/blue (actually has a touch of blue paint)

Cadmium Yellow Medium leans towards the orange/red (because it has a touch of red in it)

Cadmium Red Medium leans towards the orange (because it contains yellow)

Alizarin Crimson leans towards the violet/blue

Phthalo Blue leans towards the green

Prussian Blue leans towards the red

So you ask, Where are your greens? 

They are completely mixable from the above. 

A very true and intense green can be created using Phthalo Blue (leans green) and Cadmium Yellow Light (leans green). 

This green has proven just to intense for my work, and rarely do I see this intense a green in nature, but then again, my eyesight genetically may be different from others and your use of it may be quite satisfactory! 

I put it out there as something you may want to try.  Certainly when you make your color wheel swatch, you will see what to I’m referring. 

Is this the best palette?  Certainly not.  It’s only the palette I use.  As I said earlier, there are volumes of books on color theory.  And this 3 page color mixing guide just scratches the surface of our subject.

There are some artist’s that use much less, some that use much more.  It depends on your level of mixing capability, the style or art, the color scheme you like to work with. 

So, how do you mix these colors without getting mud?

How do we lighten or darken a particular color?

What exercise can I do to help in matching colors I see in my subject matter?

Why do I get a green instead of a dark yellow when I mix black with yellow?  I thought blue and yellow make green.

Click below to get "the rest of the story" or Part II of my color mixing guide.

If you haven’t already, please jump over to the color wheel lesson , as it is a precursor to understanding some of the terms and diagrams of what we've talked about here.

Ever wonder about why certain colors make ya all mad, or the opposite, a bit romantic maybe. Yep, colors can really have that effect.

Have you ever seen a pink public bathroom? No? Would you like to know why?

Pink is one of those "lowers your heart rate" and a relaxing color, to the point where I'm gonna sit here all day and read this magazine kinda color.

The folks in line outside the door aren't gonna appreciate it either. So, more exciting colors (deep burgundy or reds) or just a drab white will be used, 'cause they don't want you in there all day!

Read more about the meaning of color and the psychology of color here.

Then you can sit in that pink parlor and ruminate about how to set up your own color palette.

NOW, are you ready to get into some more color mixing under your belt? 

Lets look exactly at what happens when you mix that yellow and black with oil paints.  Expecting a dark yellow, sorry, you gonna get a big dollop of green on your palette.  Click below to see why.

The rest of the story on Color Mixing Guide part 2!

This is one of my favorite YouTube videos on color mixing.  It is the same basic method I use.

Magic Palette

In the video below, it gives a great idea on how to mix with the help of the chart, or you can also create your own chart.  It's only downfall is I've never mixed a color using just two paint colors.  Well,... maybe I shouldn't say never.  Most colors you are attempting to match will require adjustments in value, and chroma, so.... enjoy the film, it may help give you some ideas.

If you're interested in picking up this Magic Palette, then click below to get yours today!

Click Me! for a magic palette

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Care to see more of my work?  Click here to head over to my fine art site at

Color Mixing Guide Part 2 

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