I am often asked, “Do you REALLY only use six primaries on your working palette?” Yes, that is correct. If I am working in oils or acrylics, then I do add white.
Which six primaries are they? The choice is personal for every painter. The important decision is making sure you have strategically chosen two yellows, two blues and two reds. I call this a Balanced Palette, because it truly is well balanced much like the four tires on your car. This color mixing concept is the core message of my forthcoming book I Just Want to Paint: Mixing the Colors You Want!
Many painters use only six primaries when they paint, but they refer to them as the ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ of each primary. I find these terms — warm and cool — confusing and not relevant to mixing color. I prefer to call them: orange-yellow, green-yellow, green-blue, violet-blue, violet-red and orange-red. With these adjectives added as descriptors, isn’t it much easier to see the color leanings of each primary?
Recently, I painted a 12″x12″ landscape with the intent of using a yellow and purple color scheme. The below photo shows you how I laid out my six primary colors before starting on this painting. Starting in the lower left, I squirted out my green-yellow. Then going around clockwise, you see my orange -yellow, orange-red, violet-red, violet-blue and green-blue. There is NO magic in the way I squirt out my paints out, and there is not right or wrong way to do it. Do what is comfortable for you.
What’s that other color in the bottom? Along with white, I have added some burnt sienna. Even though I know how to mix burnt sienna, I am lazy and consider it my one convenient color. Notice there is no black. Many of you know how I dislike tube blacks, as well as tube greens. By the way, my palette is a well used enamel butcher tray that can be purchased in art material stores.
Next, I mix my secondary colors into piles. I have mixed an orange in the upper left — using my orange-yellow and orange-red –, and purple is in the upper right. Because this is going to be a landscape with various greens, you can see that I have mixed a pile of bright green and a pile of dull green. (For more information on mixing greens, download my FREE ebook found in the upper right hand corner of this blog.) And on the far left, I mixed my two yellows — the orange-yellow with the green-yellow — to achieve a middle yellow. Again, I did this because of the color scheme I have chosen. In Chapter Eight of my book, I lay all of this out in greater detail. It works for any and all tube-based media.
Next, I mix a few more colors for my landscape. Notice the two piles of yellow toward the upper left corner. I mixed a lighter yellow by adding white and then I de-saturated it a little. What did I use to do this? I added a little of my mixed purple, because it is the color complement of yellow. Mixing color opposites and knowing how they impact your color mixing is vital to acquiring color confidence. Again, this is well discussed in my book as well as in this blog post: What Are Your Favorite Pairs of Complementary Colors?
You can see that I have also mixed a few purple grays and a darker blue-green.
Granted, my working palette looks much messier than the one you see above, but it got out of hand before I remembered to take photos. Here is my painting, “A Golden Surprise,” using this palette. Is it helpful to see how I actually work with my paints — my six primaries?
Here is another painting “Beyond the Ridge,” using the same palette, but it is not as moody.
Which yellows, reds and blues do I use? First of all, I don’t use the same six tubes paint for every painting. They vary according the color scheme I want to use. Knowing which six to use only comes from practice. In the above working palette, my Yellows are: lemon and cad yellow. Reds: cad red and permanent rose. Blues: ultramarine and Prussian. Notice that I do not use alizarin crimson. In fact, you will never see it on my palette. For more information as to why, check out this blog post: Could You Toss Your Alizarin Crimson?
Question: Are you willing to try mixing with only six primaries? Which six will they be? In my experience, using this Balanced Palette has freed me to more fully understand the process of mixing color.
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Colorfully and gratefully yours,