Cool colours

Colour mixing is one of the best parts of painting. Since, I’m currently working on a couple of new seascapes, here are some of my top tips for mixing cool colours.

Artist trowel and palette with predominantly cool blue colours being mixed

1. Be generous with your paint and use a palette knife

Mixing colours is fine, especially with creamy oil paints. I don’t always make the most of this part because I often mix my colours directly onto the canvas. But, when you need to block in a large area, it’s a good idea to take the time to mix a good quantity of your base colour on your palette. What you might not use to block in the base, cold be useful to help you achieve subtle harmonies as you add in more colour to your layers later on.

2. Know your blues

Blue is the king and queen of the cool colour palette. If you’re mixing blues, greens, or even a cool grey or purple, you’ll need to start with the right blue hue. Work out which ones you like. I find blues are strong and hold their colour well. So starting with the right blue is important because it’s going to stand its ground.

After years of being a little frustrated with most of my blue skies, I realised French ultramarine was the culprit. I’ve since banished ultramarine from my palette and become much happier with my skies. Although I did surprise myself recently by digging it out the back of my blue paint drawer for a ballet creation.

Prussian blue and indigo are the stalwarts of my blue palette. In the last couple of years. I’ve also been experimenting more with cobalt turquoise light and king’s blue light.

3. Practice your greens

Green is often the colour artists say they find the hardest to mix so if you’re new to painting, this is the colour to invest time in creating swatches for. Some artists say they never buy green hues and only mix their own. I usually start with sage green as a base but I’m starting to be more experimental with other green hues.

Greens can get murky quickly. A tip to keep your greens lively is to use phthalo or some zesty lime green. And of course, keep an eye on the purity of the yellow you start off with. A yellow with even the slightest hint of red in it is likely to surprise you with how influential that red can be. As red is the complimentary of green, you’re headed straight into dark or muted territory if you add it.

Detail from lavender painting

^ The purples in this painting are created using magenta rather than red, plus some fabulous out-the-tube purples.


4. Create a clean purple

One of the colour questions I observe that artists ask most frequently in artist forums is how to mix a vibrant purple. This one is simple. Forget red and use magenta or rose. You’ll get a much more zingy result, especially if you mix magenta with a bright cyan or cobalt blue.

And if you need a really dark purple, I’d go straight out the tube with purple lake – definitely one of my favourite colours and it’s really useful for accentuating shadows and depth.

Seascape underpainting on easel in studio

^ Grey underpainting achieves atmosphere in this seascape in progress.

5. Mix greys without black

I rarely paint with black for any blended creations. If I’m creating cards or sketches, I’ll use it. But for any really layered work, Payne’s grey is about as close to black as I go.

I’ve tended to avoid greys most of my painting life but it’s certainly coming to play a stronger role in my palette. A cool grey is a great backdrop for a sunflower as it makes the yellow pop more.

I’m currently working on a seascape with a lot more grey in it (see photo). It’s rather atmospheric with a moody sky and brooding ocean. The secret to this grey is burnt umber. You don’t need a lot. A small hint of burnt umber readily nudges a blue to grey. For lighter greys, if you don’t want to brighten them up too much, add buff titanium instead of or alongside your whites.

Hope these tips are useful. Use the link below to subscribe to my newsletter, if you enjoyed this post.

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