Colour Mixing

Over the past few weeks I have been experimenting with colour mixing. I don’t think I’ve come up with any startling results, but at least it has helped me to decide on the palette I want to use and the results I can get with it.

I used to subscribe to the idea of a palette using two shades of each of the primary colours:- lemon yellow, orangey yellow, scarlet, crimson, violet blue and green blue. As a demonstration, I have prepared a chart showing the two colour mixtures available using this system. The colours are cadmium lemon, cadmium yellow, scarlet lake, permanent alizarin crimson, french ultramarine and pthalo blue (green shade).

In practice I include secondary colours in my palette – particularly with watercolours I tend to use the paints pure and not to mix them. To show the different effect, I have prepared another chart showing the colour mixtures available when using one of each of the primary and secondary colours. The colours I have used are winsor yellow, winsor orange, permanent rose, winsor violet and pthalo green (yellow shade).

To my mind the advantage of using the secondary colours is that one gets brighter violets and greens and a greater range of these colours. Think of a colour circle with the primaries of yellow, magenta and cyan at 120o intervals, the purest colours being at the circumference and black in the centre. The colours become more neutralised as you move from the outside to the centre. You can represent a mixture of two colours by a line between their points on the circle. The further apart these colours are on the circle, the closer to the centre this line will run, and therefore the duller (more neutralised) the mixture will be.

With the secondary palette you are spreading the colours more evenly round the colour circle. In the primary colour palette there are large gaps between red and blue and between blue and yellow which makes it impossible to mix really bright violets and greens. There is not the same gap between red and yellow so there is less difference between the oranges available in the primary and secondary palettes.

I have found on Bruce MacEvoy’s website a colour circle showing where the most commonly used pigments fall. If you are interested in colour theory and practice, has as much information that you could possibly wish for.

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