This post is part of a series on some of the resources I use to improve my skills.  You can read the introduction to this series here.


Ooooh, I get such a geeky pleasure out of this topic, I just find it so fascinating.  I’m not going to go into the science behind how we see colour.  It’s better explained by those in the actual know.  But understanding how to work with paint and mix colour is critical to a successful piece of art.  Yes, you could buy every colour available in your chosen medium, and sometimes it makes sense to invest in a particular hue if you always end up using a lot of it in your work, but that’s for later on, when you know what you’re doing.  The thing is, a lot of follow-along-and-paint-with-me tutorials use specific colours that you feel you need to use, and if you watch a lot of tutorials you could end up buying a lot of paint for different projects that don’t come together to form a cohesive palette.


Having a grasp of colour theory isn’t just about mixing paint and knowing yellow and blue make green.  It’s about understanding triadic colour ways, complimentary splits and being familiar with words like chroma, saturation, and value.  If you want your art work to be cohesive, using a considered colour palette is essential.

Most advice, whatever your medium*, is to start with a simple palette, usually consisting of red (one warm, one cool), blue (one warm, one cool), yellow (one warm, one cool), and,  if you’re using oil or acrylic, white.  With these colours you can mix practically all the colours you will ever need.  It’s such a practical skill to have, to know what you’re going to get if you add lemon yellow (cool ) to ultramarine blue (warm) or cadmium yellow (warm) to ultramarine blue.  And then what happens if you add a smidge of alizarin crimson to it?

It’s one of the most useful skills I’ve developed, being able to mix my colours.  For a long time, I only ever used typical standard palette, which forced me to mix my own colours and which I know if I don’t write down in a list here that’ll be irritating:

  • alizarin crimson (cool)
  • cadmium red (warm)
  • lemon yellow (cool)
  • cadmium yellow medium (warm)
  • cerulean blue (cool)
  • ultramarine blue (warm)
  • plus white
  • plus burnt sienna, considered an earth colour, it leans towards orange and mixed with ultramarine blue makes the most amazing greys.

Mixing your paint, making some colour charts and understanding how far you can push your colours will also help you understand that certain hues have different qualities.  Some are very opaque, others more transparent.  These too have an impact on your mixes and ultimately how you apply them in your work.  And if you don’t learn a bit of colour theory you’ll always be limted!  Plus, you’ll save a ton of money only buying minimally.

I have added to my colours as I’ve got more experienced, and perhaps I’ll do a post of it and link it here when it’s written.

Anyhow, that’s as much as I’m going to say, otherwise I’ll just be repeating what these fabulous experts share:


Carol Marine gives an excellent demo of how she mixes her colours in her Saturation and Colour Mixing tutorial. It’s a few dollars, which is about about £6, and worth the money.  In fact, I’ve bought most of her tutorials on this page, and I have her book Daily Painting.  It covers painting but also colour.  I love this woman.  I got such a lot out of her book and videos I wrote and told her so.  And I don’t do that sort of thing.  She replied too!


Craftsy – I purchased Master Palettes: Exploring Colour Mixing with Scott Gellatly  I remember this had some great visuals of the colour wheel.


Betty Edward’s book Color.  I really like how she explains stuff.


Not essential but the Colour Mixing Bible by Ian Sidaway is useful, particularly when your eyes stop seeing or your trying to mix a colour that’s so subtle you have no idea where to begin – I found it quite good to have to hand as a reference.  There’s also a lot of info around paint properties.


Will Kemp’s Art School has some great videos (free and paid) which I found so useful when starting out, particularly Painting a Jug with Two Colours.  It gives great insight to a beginner what you can achieve with so little.  He also has an enormous amount of resource, including a section on colour.


Paint manufacturers also have lots of useful guides on their websites.


*   soft pastels are a different kettle of fish, in that you need a good amount of variety by comparison to have an adequate palette…..however, even if your primary medium is pastel, I really recommend you spend time mixing paint -after all, you’re handling paint in it’s purest form and knowing how to glaze and scumble one pastel over another is a skill enhanced by understanding colour in more detail.  I speak from experience peoples.



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