Hello everyone & welcome! I would like to start with a short summary about the paints & other pigment based materials we use as artists:-
They are all pretty much created from the same sources of powdered pigment. Some colours are derived directly from nature and others are produced synthetically. When the powdered pigments are mixed with various additives, the following are then created – the binders lending differing qualities as under:-
OIL PAINTS: As the name implies, pigments are already mixed with oil (usually Linseed) in the tube, which makes for slow drying & easier blending. Cleanup with turps or preferably an odourless solvent. Can be used straight from the tube (impasto) or thinly for underpainting or glazing. Usually used over canvas or board prepared with an acrylic or gesso undercoat. Retouch varnish may be used to even out the shine when finished. All other varnishes should not be applied until the paint has cured (around 6 months). Oils pretty much maintain their mixed colour once dry, unlike water based paints which tend to dry darker or lighter than when wet.
WATER SOLUBLE OILS: Inter-mixable with traditional oils, water cleanup if used alone, otherwise turps or odourless solvent.
OIL STICKS: contain waxes which bind the stick together. Slow drying, they allow hand use as well as brushing once applied. Solvents are the same as for oil paint.
ALKYD OILS: oil paints with the addition of a resin to speed up drying. Inter-mixable with traditional oils. Handy to include if you are working to a deadline in drying time.
ACRYLICS: contain an emulsion creating a non-soluble waterproof surface when dry. Can be used thinly diluted with water or other mediums for that purpose or used straight from the tube without dilution. Texture pastes can be added for impasto. Water cleanup. Can be used on non oily surfaces from paper to board & canvas.
GOAUCHE OR POSTER PAINT: contain a binder which remains water soluble when dry. Pigments used are generally of a coarser quality than watercolours and are therefore more opaque, especially pastel shades which are achieved by mixes that include white. Can be wetted again for further blending. Framing is usually as for watercolours.
WATERCOLOURS: Top quality watercolours are derived from the most finely ground pigments and purists do not use white, but rather allow the luminosity of the paper to shine through, representing the lighter tones. They are created by the addition of special water soluble gums. Used on specially prepared W/C paper available in smooth, medium or rough textures. Only heavy papers do not require stretching. (See Post on Watercolour) Framing is usually behind glass with a matt board to prevent the work touching the glass.
WATERCOLOUR PENCILS: allow for line drawing, shading or wetting up into ‘paint’.
PASTELS: Here the pigments have been moulded into sticks using distilled water and a minimum of binders. Some are wrapped in waxed paper to prevent breakage. They come in square & round sticks + in pencil form. Usually used on tinted pastel paper which has a texture (or “tooth”) to hold the dry granules of pigment. Spray fixatives prevent rubbing, but tend to darken the pastelwork. Framing is behind glass with a matt board to prevent the work from touching the glass.
INKS: come in waterproof and non-waterproof. Very fine pigments are used and good quality inks can provide glowing luminosity over white, which can be increased by adding layers when using waterproof varieties. Can be used with brushes, sponges etc. and also loaded into special fountain type pens for various thickness of line. Nibs need to be cleaned frequently.
NOTE: Tony and I often begin by establishing an “underpainting” in acrylics and then finish in oils – giving us “the best of both mediums”. Remember you can put oil over acrylic but it is not recommended the other way around because the oil can resist the water based paint over it and it can pull away rather than adhere. Most canvas boards and stretched canvasses are already undercoated in acrylic, so you may be painting oil over water based paint anyway.
BEFORE WE GET INTO THE COMPLEXITY OF COLOUR MIXING, BE AWARE THAT WE HAVE 3 MAIN METHODS OF CONTRASTING IN A PAINTING:
1. THE FIRST IS THE MOST EFFECTIVE – & THAT IS DARK AGAINST LIGHT, THE EXTREMES BEING BLACK & WHITE.
2. THE SECOND IS WARM AGAINST COOL COLOUR.
3. THE THIRD IS TEXTURE AGAINST SMOOTH.
Because the awareness of dark against light (tonal values) is so very important, it is wise to limit the amount of colours used until you feel in full control of tone. Here are 2 monotone ranges by way of example:
LATER ON, YOU MIGHT FEEL READY TO LEARN ABOUT THE COLOUR SPECTRUM.
Here then are some demonstration charts for you … all mixed from the 3 primary colours RED, YELLOW & BLUE(+ WHITE, WHICH WE DON’T CALL A COLOUR).
These three primary colours cannot be mixed so you need to have these ready made in order to begin. They are needed to create ALL the other colours!
Lets begin with a very basic colour wheel mixed by my grand-daughter, Julia, showing primary and secondary colours..she used a painting knife, wiping it clean with a paper towel in between each mix. Mixing with a brush is messier and it is therefore harder to keep the tints clean.
Next, we made together another wheel, this time mixing some in-between TERTIARY colours as shown.
Here is a demonstration to show you how to mix a basic Colour Wheel:
Next is a demonstration showing the mixing of complementary (or opposite) colours on the wheel. Even if all you need to know is how to find – for example – the shadow colour on a red apple (by mixing a little of the opposite colour on the wheel, being green, into the red) this demonstration is of value.
The next chart shows each of the opposite pairs on the above wheels mixed gradually one into the other, then lightened with white for lighter tints. This shows more possibilities than just the single range in the outside ring above right. Remember all these are still from just the three primaries RED, YELLOW & BLUE + white. Isn’t it wonderful? What a beautiful range of colours and tints they give!
Of course the end result varies depending on which red, yellow & blue you started with!
The trick to getting a good purple range is to use a red and a blue that have no yellow content within them. If a hint of yellow is in there the result will be more browns than purples.
If you are starting out in painting and wish to develop a feel for colour harmony, delicate mixing and tonal values (darks to lights) it is a good idea to try a few paintings using just one row from the above chart. Here are some examples…(the first, red-orange to blue-green, which is the range most used in landscapes). You will need a good sized palette and a mixing knife (the ones with the raised handles are best to keep your knuckles out of the paint!)
The cityscape below I based on a RED TO GREEN mix – but instead of lightening with just white, each was lightened with lemon yellow plus white for a golden look. This is a great way to avoid “chalkiness” in a painting. This painting is executed with a painting knife rather than a brush, for texture. I just love the buttery texture of the paint used undiluted this way!
Now a complete change of colour scheme…beautiful and unusual for evening landscapes or seascapes…
When Tony and I were lucky enough to enjoy a trip to the UK and Europe, we travelled most of it by train, armed with sketch books. Once home I did this little painting of the picturesque lane in Venice where our apartment was, using the colour range shown…
Whilst the above formulas work, there are many occasions when we don’t have a lot of time for mixing colours OR we may be using water-soluble fast-dry paints and need to work quickly. So…. here is a
QUICK-FIX MIX METHOD:
THIS IS A SYSTEM USING A “MOTHER COLOUR” (A MIXTURE OF ALL 3 PRIMARIES), THEN WARMING & COOLING IT ETC. YOU MAY NEED A TINY AMOUNT OF ADDED BLACK AS WELL, AS PER THE LEFT HAND COLUMN, OR TO GREY ANY COLOUR THAT IS TOO BRIGHT – (USE VERY LITTLE OR IT WILL DEADEN THE COLOURS). HERE IS A VISUAL CHART WHICH MAY HELP YOU:
Using this “Mother Colour” method of mixing leads you to creating what we call the more subtle “EARTH COLOURS” whereas colour wheel methods tend to result in brighter ‘SPECTRUM COLOURS”.
In commercially available oil paint ranges EARTH COLOURS are readily available in tubes and are very convenient if you enjoy landscape painting in particular, to save you mixing time. Some are derived from the ochres found in the earth and rocks, whilst others are synthetic. Below are some earth colours from the Art Spectrum range of oils. They all have four asterisks **** which means they are highly resistant to fading. (Try to avoid anything labelled ** or *** as they are not as permanent). Some of the earth colours shown are opaque (dense with pigment) and cover well, whilst others are semi-transparent or very transparent. The more transparent paints are very glowy over a white background and are also useful for glazing (see separate post on “MISTING AND GLAZING SECRETS”.
ABOUT DRYING TIME:
If you choose water-based paint such as acrylic or poster colour, you may find that your colours will begin to dry on the palette before you can use them. To avoid this, mix in a shallow plastic lidded box (I use a file case) and spray your palette with a little water occasionally to keep the paint from drying. Whenever you aren’t using the paint, close the lid to keep moist. There are also commercial liquid retarders which slow the drying of acrylics. With oil paints you won’t have that problem so much as they are slower drying but it still helps to exclude air from your palette when not in use.
Hint: Be generous with your initial amounts of the primary colours – remember they have to go a long way to create all the others – and you will need on average twice as much of the yellow as the other two.
You will find my favourite PORTRAIT MIX under the PORTRAIT PAINTING post.
Finally, I just want to point out the importance of TONE in painting. TONE MEANS DEGREES OF LIGHT TO DARK and is by far the strongest means of creating good compositions. We have 3 main ways of contrasting in painting:
1. TONE (LIGHT AGAINST DARK) 2. COLOUR (WARM AGAINST COOL) 3. TEXTURE (TEXTURE AGAINST SMOOTH)
THESE ARE THE TOOLS WE USE TO CREATE ILLUSIONS ON A FLAT SURFACE.
Here is what I mean by tone below. You can see it clearly goes from light to dark when you look at the black and white range but it takes a more practised eye to see degrees of tone when you look at colour, especially when they are next to others out of sequence…
It is very important to keep control of tones when you are painting and very easy to lose that control when you use colour. It is just something to be aware of.
Good luck and happy mixing!!! I hope you have found this post helpful.
Note: THE “AUSTRALIAN ARTIST” MAGAZINE FEB.2009 EDITION FEATURES A 6 PAGE ARTICLE BY JULIE “FREE & EASY COLOUR” page 22/27.