Principles of Mixing Colors

Making painting colors is challenging, but with deliberate exercise, you’ll get better and better.

I started painting by using out of tube colors until one day my teacher told me to stop and learn how to mix my own color. I started looking into color theories. They were complicated. I didn’t fully understand color mixing until I made a rainbow circle using just Red, Yellow, Blue. In RYB color theory, you can get any color by mixing just these three colors, where white is the absent of any color and black is 1:1:1 ratio of red, yellow and blue. However, for practical use cases, we still need white color to make the mixed color lighter and black color to make the mixed color darker.

After learning the principle, I challenged myself painting only using white, black, yellow, red, and blue colors. Here’re three principles used when practicing this method:

  • If you want bright colors, or a RYB hue, no muddy feeling, only mix two colors from red, yellow and blue, then add white to change the lightness of the color.
  • If you use all third colors when mixing red, yellow and blue, you’ll get a muddy feeling, which means the color will be in the darker side of a hue. However, if you add white now, you’ll be basically adding grey into a hue.
  • Red and Black are strong colors, even though in theory, red and yellow could produce orange, but 1:1 red and yellow would result in very red color, to get a beautiful orange, you should use less red, and more yellow. Same with black, even a touch of black could darken the color very much.

Nothing speaks more than a graph, so I made the following tools to help you better understand the relationship between colors.

Click on a color to get the mix
Instead of using the RGB color picker that's made for digital display, I also made a RYBW(Red, Yellow, Blue, White) color picker for painters to use. Please check here. It's still in experiment mode.