Colour Mixing Basics with Acrylic Paint (video)

How to mix the colour you see. Basic principles

This video is a basic introduction to matching a colour using 3 primary colours.

The palette used was Cadmium Yellow Light, Cadmium Red Light and Ultramarine Blue. The brand was Golden Heavy Body Acrylics.

The basics of colour mixing are discussed in How your hairdresser can teach you to mix colour

This Post Has 48 Comments

  1. Thank you for the best information on mixing color complete with videos. You have been a tremendous help!
    I have recommended your web site to my students.

    1. Hey Sharon,
      Thanks so much for your kind comment, really pleased the articles have been helpful in demystifying color mixing. And thanks for passing the website on to your students, much appreciated.
      Will

  2. Have just started painting about a year and a half ago (am sort of ancient – 86 years old but needed a hobby!) and have just completed my first acrylic painting.
    Have a great teacher, but am thrilled to find your wonderful website to help me as well. Want to practice at home and you have given me some tools to do so.

    1. Hi June,
      Fantastic to hear the website is helping your acrylic painting,

      Thanks,
      Will

  3. Hi, may i know what kind of palette you are using?

    1. Hi April, it’s a disposable tear off palette, super quick for clearing up!

      Cheers,
      Will

  4. Super useful information for beginner and easy to understand
    Am enjoying all of your videos thanks

    1. Pleased to near it Amna, glad your enjoying the painting lessons.

      Cheers,
      Will

    2. One the areas that always gives me a problem is how to change the value of a color.
      Take for instance a red ball. Do I add white or orange to go lighter? Do I add Alizarin or black to darken it?

      1. Hi Sharon, it all depends on the actual appearance of the ball, and what light it is in.

        If you add white to the red it will bring out the pinks, if you add yellow it will bring out the oranges. To Darken, again depends on the mood you are after. For colour in the shadows I would add a green to the red, to create a tonally equal painting I would add black.

        Hope this helps,
        Cheers,
        Will

  5. Good point about the light source. The Sun would give a yellow light and a florescent might give a bluish light. Also I think it would depend on the red you are using so let’s start with cad. red light for the base color. It’s bias is orange so I think I would lighten it with a bit of yellow, probably Cad. yellow med. Adding white tends to dull the color rather than lighten it.
    Now would a touch of phthalo green work to darken it for the cool shadow side? I have used Alizarin Crimson for the shadow side, but that tends to be too blue.
    Just sharing my thoughts before I go to my palette to experiment.

    1. Hey Sharon,
      Yes, the Phthalo green would work well to darken the red for the shadow side. Gamblin’s chromatic black ( a black made from colours) is a mix between Phthalo green and quinacridone red. So the phthalo green, in this instance, will give you an even tone when you darken the red.

      Cheers,
      Will

  6. Well I did a little experimenting with thalo blue and Cad, red light and was very pleased with the results. I did a little 5×7 painting called “Apple, Orange & Pear”. You can see it on my web site if you like. Thanks for your help.

    1. Hi Sharon, love the background colour choice on the painting, the cool phthalo blue works really well in contrast to the warm apple and orange. Also, the cast shadows have been handled well and the form of the apple looks great.

      Cheers,
      Will

  7. I am a beginner, but I’m taking on a project. I want to paint 8, 18″x18″ canvases, which will go on a large wall behind our sofa. I have to mix acrylics to get the background color I want. I don’t know how artists mix large quantities of a color or how to store the paint because it will take me more than one sit to paint those squares.

    I think I’m asking how to measure the amount of paint from each tube to recreate the color I want. Please help. Thank you.

    I see artists in their studios with pails and buckets of paint, which I assume are acrylics.

    Are they mixing tube paint with gels to extend the paint or are they buying store paint like Serwinn Williams and mixing those? Like what was Jackson Pollack using?

    1. Hi Jan,

      For large scale paintings you just need to add water to your paint to extend the working qualities and mix the paint in a plastic resealable tub, a screw top is advisable to keep the paints airtight as acrylics dry by evaporation.

      The pails that you see Jackson Pollack using are filled with Oil paint thinned to a good dripping consistency! You can buy these metal pails fairly inexpensively at most diy store in the paint department.

      Acrylics come in a variety of sizes from 20ml tubes to 2.5 litre pots. For the areas you are painting, for one colour, you would need about 60 – 100ml of acrylics diluted slightly with water.

      It’s hard to give an exact coverage amount because different paints have a variety of different coverage qualities, but 60ml of artist quality acrylic paint should cover about 14 ft square of canvas if slightly diluted, your working area is 12ft square so you shoukd be fine.

      Hope this helps,

      Will

  8. Hi Will,

    Your website is fantastic. I don’t have any artistic experience but have had an itch to take up painting and had no idea how to get started until now.
    One issue I was having when I was just getting a feel for things, (and it sort of relates to Jan’s comment above) is not having an idea as to how much of a mixture to make, quantity-wise. I’d finally get the colour I was going for, but would use it all up and need more. Do you tend to mix great big amounts and keep the unused for later, or mix smaller amounts and just re-match as necessary as you’re doing in this video?
    I also didn’t know about mixing with water before now, so maybe that would solve the problem.

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Jacqueline,

      Nice to hear from you, it can be a bit of a balancing act when you’re first starting to mix out the ‘right’ amount of paint as it varies depending on which part of the painting you’re on. With acrylics you usually need a higher volume of paint than oils or watercolours. I tend to mix larger quantities using a palette knife, and then use these mixes to grab paint from. See the How to paint with colour strings article. These can be transfered to a stay-wet palette if you’re working in a hot climate or still need a bit more working time with the paints.

      Hope this helps,
      Will

  9. I´m a retired high school teacher from Venezuela. I´ve just registered and have a lot of spectations with the art classes from Will kemp. I´ve always wanted to learn about acrylics painting.
    Thank you

    1. Good one Jairo, enjoy exploring the site.

      Cheers,
      Will

  10. Hi
    Have you ever worked with or do you have any knowledge of Utrecht Artist’s Paints?
    I’m thinking about getting back into painting (haven’t picked up a brush for years) but would like to mitigate my upfront cost while testing the waters of whether I want to get back in to it or not.
    Thanks,
    Lisa

    1. Hi Lisa, yes the Utrecht paints can give you a good price/paint quality ratio for starting up painting again, I’ve found the Golden have a more opaque titanium white which would be a worthy investment.
      Cheers,

      Will

  11. Hello will Sir, I am from India…My query is ” i can not do shade on canvas by acrylic..pls give me some tips to give shades on canvas.. thank you…

  12. Thanks Will,

    Once again pretty amazing stuff. I now know how to use a colour wheel…. I hope! I look forward to starting your tutorials. Just waiting for my stuff to arrive.

    Salma x

  13. I never comment on sites.Ever. But I am so thankful for stumbling across this site. I have only gone through a bit, though it will be a main go for me. Here is why I am here. I was convinced blue and red made purple. Last week, my world was rocked and my faith in my knowledge of painting was broken when my blue and red, made green. I am a relatively new painter as I was only ever a black and white pencil sketcher. Colours scared me. Painting scared me. But I “knew” the colour wheel and figured I was fine. So to hit a huge bump in the road was devastating and frustrating. I am trying to expand my art to a small home based shop, leading with a passion for mixing my own colours from just the primary colours. I realize this comment to be a bit long winded,but this find has allowed me to continue to grow that passion. It is just that I am so amazed with the information, and truly feel it has already increased the endless possibilities of my creations. I am forever thankful for that. I have a very long way to go. Thank you for the great stepping stone.

    1. Hi Colleen, thanks for the comment, appreciate it. Great to hear the article it helping to demystify the colour mixing process. Good luck with your mixes!
      Cheers,
      Will

  14. Hi Will,

    We are excited to get the exact colors at the store & follow your steps to make a joint Valentine’s Day painting together. We have recently tried painting scenes from our beach vacations with much frustration … So we are very glad we stumbled on your video!
    Sean & Kelly

    1. Really hope you both enjoy the tutorial.
      Cheers,
      Will

  15. ^referring to your blue tropical beach waves painting video :)

  16. Hi Will,
    Does this method of color-matching account for the color-shift when the paint dries. It would seem to me that the wet paint will dry darker than the color you were matching. At least, that has happened to me.
    Great website, thanks a lot!

    1. Hi Judy, there is always a slight colour shift to adjust for, it will be more pronounced in different paint brands, most artist quality paints have a very minimal shift.
      Cheers,
      Will

  17. Hi

    Was wondering what colours should I use for a portrait painting. not sure how to mix the background colour as well.

    Any input/help would be much appreciated.

    Thank you

    Georgina Swan

  18. Hi Will! I really do enjoy your website! It pushed me to revive a dying passion! I was wondering about the use of housepaint enamels with acrylics. Is it advisable to use housepaints for large canvases, to save up on cost? Thanks!
    Nico

    1. Hi Nico, pleased you’re enjoying the site, with house paints you will get much more of a ‘colour shift’ if you’re trying to mix colours accurately and you won’t have the same level of pigment load and intensity, but if you’re painting large-scale abstracts with flat colours they can be a low-cost way of experimenting. (Also bare in mind some housepaints often don’t have the same level of flexibility and longevity for painting onto flexible surfaces such as canvas.)

      Cheers,
      Will

  19. Hi! is it possible that the result of mixing colors can change from brand to brand? I mean, I use Amsterdam acrilic paint but sometimes i feel like I cannot reach the color I want.. I can’t understand if I still have to study and try, or is the paint’s fault :D when I use gouache the result is very different! what do you think?

    1. Hi Mattia, yes, the same named colour can vary from brand to brand, so a Burnt Sienna from Winsor & Newton is slightly warmer and more vivid than a Burnt Sienna from Golden paints.
      Cheers,
      Will

  20. Will…is the stay wet palette used for both storing colours and mixing, or is the mixing done on a tear-off palette and then put into the stay wet palette to keep from drying.

    1. Hi Dave, it can be used for both if you’re mixing primarily with a brush, but if you’re mixing quite vigorously it can sometimes damage the paper surface of the stay-wet palette, it this case I opt for a two-palette system, using the stay-wet palette as the ‘loading and storage bay’ and then mixing onto a tear-off palette.
      Hope this helps,
      Will

  21. Wonderful video course! Love the demo! :)

    1. Thanks Jenn, pleased you enjoyed it.
      Will

    1. Pleased you enjoyed the video Carol.
      Cheers,
      Will

  22. I love your videos. I have a question though. I just started out last week with painting and already got some ultramarine, titanium white, burnt sienna and some more colors to start to paint. Along with one palette knife for mixing and two brushes (filbert and round). I also don’t want to spend a lot of money in my first month and rather collect materials a little slowly.
    I see you use a lot of Cadmium Red Medium and Cadmium Yellow Light however. These come at a lot higher price tag than most of my acrylic paints. Would you really suggest me to buy these (maybe later) or can I use some alternatives?

    1. Hi Kevin, glad you’ve been enjoying the lessons. You could try a cadmium red (hue) in a student grade paint, these use different pigments that are similar to cadmium red and cadmium yellow or a Naphthol red. With the student grade versions, you’ll notice less opacity (particularly in the yellow) in comparison so you might need to use a little more paint for the mixes. You might find this article of interest about the difference between artist and student grade paint.

      Hope this helps,

      Cheers,
      Will

  23. Hi Will

    Thanks for your generous sharing of knowledge and advice. I have found your colour mixing videos really enlightening, it s helpful to see the colours changing in different ways. I am wondering if you could do one on mixing blues for sea and sky….I find it hard to get the subtle blues I see in the sky. Thanks, Isabel

    1. Really pleased you enjoyed the colour mixing lessons Isabel, I haven’t currently got any specific lessons on mixing skies but you can get some great results using Ultramarine Blue and a Phthalo (or Cobalt) Blue and a Titanium white.

      Cheers,
      Will

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