Thank you so much for my first painting lesson. I feel quite emotional, mostly because I regret that I didn’t do this decades ago! Well, there’s no time like the present…
Susan Calvin

All Mixed Up About Colour: Help with Understanding Colour for Beginner Painters

acrylics colour color acrylics oils palette paint imagination illustration
The Brentford Job. Acrylics on paper.
Having difficulty with colour? People often do -and we're all confuddled by the infinite variety of mixes that are possible. There are almost as many palettes as there are artists. And many teachers take a very categorical view on the matter. In fact, what you're mostly dealing with is just tradition. Artists working hundreds of years ago had only a limited variety of pigments available to them, and some of those are extremely expensive, to boot.

Ultramarine is a lovely blue, but it leans toward the red end of the spectrum. Thus, when you try to make a bright green by mixing yellow with it; you get a brown tinge. Cadmium Red leans towards the yellow side; hence, when you try to make a violet or purple by mixing ultramarine blue into it; once again it looks off. And so on all around the palette.

 So to get around this most basic of problems for beginners all you have to do is get scientific for a while. Just look at your inkjet printer. What colours is it using? Process colours, that's what. Science has revealed which pigmented colours give the widest and truest mixes. Cyan, Yellow, Magenta and Black. It's possible to make an entire and believable palette from just these.

That's how the above painting was created (the colour part, rather than an armed robbery on a Vespa getaway!). Traditionalists will recoil in horror, of course. But they always do. The traditional colours are beautiful and have innate qualities that are impossible to emulate. But they're also yet another complicated layer of difficulty in an already complex endeavour. Since you can't buy Process colours in oils, as far as I can see, I've researched what will get us closest.

Take a look at my short video on the subject on my teaching web site above. If you need to learn about the basics of colour; simplify. Then you can branch out to really enjoy what glorious pigments are on offer. This is what I teach in my class; Methods to help you create paintings; not hidebound lore that confuses. My aim in class is always to unravel the entanglement of sacred technique.

You can see more informative videos on this page.