Have you ever considered eliminating burnt sienna from your palette? After all, it’s probably one of the most popular earth toned colors found on painters’ palettes. I know it is one of my favorites and for most of my painting career, I always squirted it out of a tube.
Do you know why you mix mud?
In my humble opinion, the Two Primary Palette is the gateway to color mixing with confidence and not mixing mud. Knowing how to use this well balanced palette opens doors to mixing clean colors while mixing mud only when you choose. Imagine not mixing mud!
Throughout this CelebraingColor blog, I write about color bias and its role in creating the Two Primary Palette. To read more, please visit these posts: 1) Why Color Bias is Key to Mixing Color; 2) How to Mix Bright and Dull Secondaries. This eye-opening information is also taught via my online Craftsy video course Acrylic Color Mixing with Ease!
Below is a schematic showing the foundation of the Two Primary Palette, which can also be called the Double-Primary or Split-Primary Palette. You will notice I have two strong color bias tubes of paint for each primary color. By this I mean, the color leanings of each primary color is evident. The palette consists of a: green-yellow, orange-yellow, green-blue, red (violet)-blue, blue (violet)-red, orange-red and orange-yellow.
What Does a Two Primary Palette Look Like in Action?
Recently, a reader asked me to show how I place these colors onto my working painting palette.
Below shows you how I translate it onto my palette. On the left I have numbered the six colors of the graphic Two-Primary Palette and on the right you can see these colors squirted out. There is no correct way to do this. It just happens to be how I like to lay out my paints. Putting out your paints is personal and unique to each of us.
Wait I don’t stop there! In the next image you see mixtures of my primaries to add more colors to my palette. In other words, I mix the two yellows, then the two reds and then the two blues. By doing this I have eliminated needing more tubes of paint — see the image below of my yellow mixture that matches up with a tube of paint.
Creating these additional mixtures is optional. Watercolorists you can do the same thing in your palette using the wells and leaving empty wells in between your 6 primary colors and, of course, not including white.
This is an example of mixing my two yellows into another yellow mixture. The big blob is my mixture and the squirt of color out of the tube is to the right of it. I don’t need to own this tube of yellow because it is easy to mix.
Next, I typically mix my bright secondary colors. To learn more, please read How to Mix Bright and Dull Secondaries. By the way, I use a porcelain butcher tray for my palette.
And then, if you want to continue setting up your palette of colors, you can mix your tertiary colors of burnt sienna, olive green and purple-black. Again, these are completely optional.
To learn more about tertiary colors, please visit my post: What is the Correct Definition of Tertiary Colors?
By starting out with this well balanced Two Primary Palette, I have increased my possibilities of a successful painting because of this color unity. Decision making is also easier and I have decreased the chances of mixing mud.
Now you are ready to rock and roll! How do you lay out your colors when using the two primary palette? I would love to know. Please share this in the comment section below.
By the way, the Two Primary Palette and the color mixing principles taught in Acrylic Color Mixing Made Easy! apply to ALL media, not just acrylics.
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Artists, are you interested in the straight forward approach on how to mix bright and dull secondary colors? I have heard many painters express their exasperation when trying to mix the greens, purples and oranges they want.
You have been told since you were a toddler that red and blue make purple, right? Yet your experience indicates that this is not always true. Or you go to mix a bright green and it results in something less than bright. Why is this? Then you go out and try to buy tubes of purples and greens and they too, are unsatisfactory.
In my last blog post Why is Color Bias Key to Mixing Color? I explained why I use the phrase ‘color bias’ when describing the hue of a primary color. Then I introduced the Two -Primary Palette using this principle of color bias.
When combining your discoveries of complementary color mixtures with your knowledge of color bias, color mixing merges into a journey of confidence while frustration begins drifting away. This is also where you start to discover the magic of the Two-Primary Palette. It isn’t really magic, though when I learned it and started to use it, it did feel like magic.
The clarity it provides helps to make color mixing seem achievable and fun! [Read more…]
When teaching about mixing color, how often have you heard art instructors use the phrase “warm and cool colors?” Most likely, you have heard it often.
What does “warm and cool colors” really mean when you mix a color? Don’t you find this confusing? I know I did when I was learning about mixing color. To this day — after 25+ years of painting — I still don’t refer to a primary tube of paint as warm or cool when I mix paint. It’s not relevant.
Why is Color Bias Easier to Understand vs Warm & Cool Colors?
What language do I use instead of following this trend or mantra? I teach and use the phrase “color bias.” Why? Because it is a straight forward way to describe a primary tube of paint versus trying to identify it as warm or cool.
What is color bias? I am referring to the hue that influences a primary color. For example, a red-blue, a green-yellow, orange-red, etc. It is the adjective we artists and non-artists use to further describe a color.
When mixing color, it is much easier to describe a yellow, a red and a blue by its color leanings versus identifying whether it is warm or cool. Who cares if a blue is warm or cool – which is confusing? Identify it as a green– or red-blue and color mixing becomes manageable.
The diagram below illustrates what I mean. Nearly every primary tube of paint available carries another color with it — they carry a color bias. There are very few pure primary colors.
When stating the color bias of a color it’s easier to imagine the hue in your mind’s eye versus trying to imagine whether it’s warm or cool, isn’t it? In your everyday life you might say, “He just bought a orange-yellow car or an orange-red sweater.” You would’t say, “He bought a warm-yellow car or a warm-red sweater.”
To mix clean colors, seeing and knowing the color bias or leaning of each of your primary colors is essential.
Because if you mix paints that carry a pair of complementary colors within them, then you will mix a muddier color than you might have intended.
Here is a “test” question. Which mixture will result in a bright green? 1) a green-yellow with a green-blue, or 2) a red-yellow with a red-blue? The correct answer is #1. If you want a duller green, you would use mixture #2.
Why? You know that complementary colors, when mixed, will dull each other. Red is the complementary color of green. Hence, when mixing a yellow and a blue to create green, it is important to know if either tube carries a color bias of red.
If you want a bright green, then you choose a yellow and blue that are not influenced by red. If you want a dull green, then you do want red to be present in the yellow and blue. Does this make sense?
As painters we want and use both dull and bright colors. It’s empowering when we know how to do it! This concept is taught in greater depth in my online Craftsy video course Acrylic Color Mixing Made Easy!” From my research, I do not know of a book or another artist who teaches the concept of color bias. Please let me know if you do know of someone.
For mixing greens, download the free ebook you see in the upper right column of this blog.
Mixing Color is Facilitated by the Two-Primary Palette
To facilitate the ease of mixing color, I am a huge fan of using the Tw0-Primary Palette because it employs the use of two tubes of each primary, as seen here. It is important that each set of primaries carries an obvious color bias in each tube of paint. For example, with your two yellows one will carry a strong color bias of orange and the other a strong color bias of green. To maximize the effectiveness of the Two-Primary Palette, pure or nearly pure primary colors are avoided.
By the way, the Two-Primary Palette is also called the Double-Primary Palette or the Split-Primary Palette.
Here is an example of a set of six primary tubes that could make up a Two-Primary Palette. Notice that each of the tubes is convincing in the color bias it carries.
How can you identify the color bias of your primary paints? The most effective and efficient way is to create a pigment chart for each yellow, red and blue hue family. This exercise is described in my post How to be Intimate with Your Colors.
Below is an example of my chart of reds. Creating a chart like this is a lovely way to really SEE the color bias of each tube of paint you own. Several orange and blue reds are apparent in this chart. The fun you have as a painter is choosing the pair you want to use given your creative preferences.
I recommend starting with just two yellows, two reds and two blues. Oh, I know we like to have lots of colors on our palette. However, using a balanced palette such as the one above will open the door to color confidence while decreasing the probability of making mud.
In my next post, I will explain how the Two-Primary Palette is key to mixing the colors you desire. We will start with mixing bright and dull secondary colors. It’s a simple approach to mixing a bright or a dull green, a bright or dull orange, and a bright or dull purple.
In conclusion, I submit that knowing warms and cool colors is important when it comes to applying colors in a painting, It’s just not essential when mixing colors. Hopefully I have convinced you that seeing the color bias of a primary color is easier to comprehend and use versus trying to determine if it is warm or cool.
Let me know what you think in the comment box below.
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You may be asking, “Yikes! Is Carol going to discuss how to mix with green tubes of paint?!”
As many of you know, I am not a fan of green paint that we can buy in tubes no matter the medium. I much prefer mixing green with yellows and blues as described and demonstrated in my free Mix Greens with Ease e-book. I have never liked tube greens. The top two reasons are, 1. They do not look natural, and 2. Most of them have a very strong tintorial strength and can be over powering. For some reason, my reaction to tube greens is similar to hearing chalk screeching on a black board.
At the same time, I know that many painters have tube greens on their palettes, such as: Viridian, sap green, and permanent green, etc. Given their popularity, I thought I would share with you a few color charts showing how you can mix more natural looking greens using these tube greens. Don’t get me wrong, these unnatural greens do come in handy when painting a green glass vase or creating a sense of fantasy, such as the Wizard of Oz. 🙂 Abstract paintings are open game when it comes to color.
How Do You Make Tube Greens Look Natural?
This first chart displays how I mixed the watercolor tube greens of Winsor green and Viridian with three different reds. You can also see three different ratios of green and red in the rows.
There are some yummy dark greens as well as delightful blue greens that you would find in spruce trees, a deep forest or back in the distance of a landscape painting. Where else could you apply these greens? Because I am mixing the color opposites of red and green, I added only a bit of the red to maintain the integrity of green. It may take some practice in achieving these different hues.
Then I duplicated this chart but this time I added a little bit of aureolin (for those of you who do not know watercolor paints, aureolin is a transparent green-yellow similar to Hansa yellow light) to Viridian and Winsor Green respectively. Notice how the resulting greens warm up nicely and look even more natural.
These next two color charts show the results of mixing three different oil tube greens with the corresponding cadmium red, rose and Indian red. Do these appear natural looking to you? Which ones would you use in a floral, landscape or abstract painting?
Next, I mixed only Viridian with two different yellows – lemon yellow and Hansa yellow medium – as seen in the first row of greens in the chart below. I then mixed this yellow + green mixture with the same reds as above. The subtle differences are difficult to see in this digital format. Time to try out your own chart of greens?
Of course there a many variations of these charts given the colors available to you. Which are you inspired to try mixing?
In the end, mixing my greens with yellows and blues remains my preference over using tube greens. I prefer this because I will have used those same yellows and blues in other mixtures in my painting which creates more unity throughout the piece. However, we live in a world of many options and color is personal. Enjoy making discoveries about color and learning what tickles your fancy.
What is your preference? Does it vary depending on what you are painting? Hopefully the above has inspired you to further explore your colors.
Please share this post with other painters who may benefit from this information. Thank you!