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!
Once you start mixing from this palette, you will see how you can mix virtually any color with your 6 colors — plus white if you use an opaque medium. You will experience the joy of simplicity.
How Do You Mix Bright and Dull Secondary Colors?
The Two-Primary Palette is based on strategically choosing six primary colors — 2 yellows, 2 reds and 2 blues. Each of these primaries needs to carry a strong color bias. In other words, for the yellows one is an obvious a green-yellow and the other is an obvious orange-yellow. For the blues, one carries a strong green-blue and the other a red-blue. Lastly, for the reds, one is obviously a blue-red, whereas the other is a strong orange-red.
The schematic below shows the overall concept of the Two-Primary Palette laid out in a color wheel. I have numbered them going clockwise to assist in learning how to use it.
Mixing Bright & Dull Greens:
To mix a bright green, you want to use yellow #2 with blue #3 or a green-yellow and a green-blue. Notice the adjective or color bias of these two primary colors is “green.” Neither one of these yellow or blue primaries carries a red bias in them.
In the swatches below, you can see that the resulting mixture of #2 with #3 is a bright green.
To mix a dull green, mix yellow #1 with blue #4 or an orange-yellow with a red-blue. Both of these primaries lean or carry a color bias of red in them. You know that red and green are color opposites and when they are mixed they neutralize or de-saturate each other. Hence, this mixture of orange-yellow with red-blue results in a yummy dull green.
Isn’t this cool? When I first started using this approach to mixing secondary colors, I was jazzed — very excited. Suddenly clarity arrived. Yippee! To expand upon mixing greens, please download my free e-book “Mixing Greens with Ease.”
Mixing Bright & Dull Purples:
Continuing this same approach in mixing bright purples, mix blue #4 with red #5. This is mixing a red-blue with a blue-red. Notice the adjective or color bias of these two primary colors. It is “red” and “blue.” Neither one of these primaries carries a yellow bias in them.
Looking at the swatches below, you can see the brighter purple on the top half of the chart. A duller purple is achieved by mixing blue #3 with red #6. Why? Because each of these primaries carries a bit of yellow in them. Since yellow is the complement of purple, it will de-saturate purple making it impossible to mix a bright secondary. This is evident in the lower section of this example.
Mixing Bright & Dull Oranges:
Many painters do not typically oncern themselves with learning how to mix bright and dull oranges. We just dip our brush into a yellow and a red while accepting whatever orange is mixed. After breaking it down as we did above, you might use this new knowledge to your advantage when mixing your next puddles of orange.
A bright orange is achieved by mixing a red #6 with a yellow #1. Notice that each of these primaries has “orange” as its color bias.
In the swatches below, you can see the result of #1 mixed with #6. It is a bright orange! Then for your duller orange, mix the red #5 with the yellow #2. Each of these primary colors carries a color bias of blue in them. Since orange and blue cancel each other when mixed, the resulting orange is going to be dulled or de-saturated.
Can you see applying this the next time you paint a pumpkin or orange cloth? The brighter orange could be used on the sun/light side of the object and the duller orange on the shadow side.
Your resulting mixtures combined in one chart, could look like this. Isn’t the simplicity of this approach liberating?
One of the keys to mixing color is learning to really see the color bias of your primary colors. Take a few moments to study your tubes of paint. If you don’t have 6 primary colors with strong color biases, then it is time to purchase the color you need to use the Two-Primary Palette; it will unleash your ability to mix bright and dull secondary colors.
When mixed primary colors carry a color bias of complementary colors, mud is likely to show-up unless you are conscious of which colors you are mixing. As you have seen, dull colors are desirable and lovely, it is just more pleasant when you have control over them. To discover more about complementary colors, visit my blog: Complementary Colors are Dancing Partners. On the flip side, it is quite lovely when you know exactly how to mix bright secondaries.
I want to make sure all painters realize this simple approach to color mixing applies to all media. I have used it for years while working in watercolors, acrylics and oils.
Are you anxious to try it out? Let me know about your discoveries in the comments below. My hope is when you mix bright and dull secondary colors, you will do so with confidence.
Demonstrations of using the Two-Primary Palette and mixing secondaries are available via my online video course produced by Craftsy.com.
If you found this information helpful, please share it with other painters.
Gratefully and colorfully yours,