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How your hairdresser can teach you to mix
colour
by WI LL KEMP
i n ACRYLI C PAI NT I NG, COLOUR T HEORY
I'm Will Kemp, I'm an award-winning
professional artist and teacher.
I've studied in Italy, run my own art gallery,
taught in museums & schools and I'm going to
share my professional art secrets with you.
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HOME NEW? STA RT HERE A CRY L I CS OI L S DRA WI NG COL OUR FREE V I DEOS A RT COURSES A BOUT CONTA CT
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All colours will agree in the dark.
Francis Bacon
How to Mix Colour: The Basics
Learning how to mix colour can be daunting, colour theory can be off putting, but
understanding the basics is key when starting to paint.
A knowledge of colour theory is helpful, but in practice nothing beats actually mixing colours,
however, you need to start somewhere so lets start with some basic theory. Ill be going into
some advanced techniques in later posts.
Please note: New Colour mixing course for beginners is now live!
How your hairdresser can teach you to mix paint colour
Ill be honest, a few years ago I knew nothing about the hairdressing business until my wife
opened her hair salon above my gallery, I can now tell you the difference between a
champagne blonde and a beige blonde..(0.4 if you were wondering) but the main thing I hadnt
realized was the similarities between hair colourists and painters.
If you want to learn a fast track to understanding your paintings next time your at the salon
have a chat to your hair colourist
They are amazing. They could pick up painting in no time and heres why.
When hair colour goes wrong our old friend colour theory can save the day. Have you ever
seen really yellow bleach hi-lights and wondered how to save them? Well a colourist will
immediately put on a violet toner to neutralize the colour.
Why?
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This is an example of when colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel
(complementary colours) are used to tone down a colour e.g: If the yellow in your painting is
too bright add a touch of violet to achieve a much more muted subtle colour.
This video below shows how a blue can tone down orange. And how orange can make blue
appear darker.
These are both opposite each other on the colour wheel so are complementary colours.
Ever seen someone try and cover blond with brown home dye and end up with khaki green
undertones? The hair colourist will put on a red based rich colour to counteract the green.
So if your trees are unnaturally bright green add a little red to the mix to make a more subtle
shade.
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Complementary colours help tone each other down and are the simplest colours to start to
understand colour theory. (3 tricks of complementary colour you can learn from Van
Gogh)
Yellow & Purple, Red & Green, Blue & Orange

WI L L KE MP AR T SC H OOL C H A N N E L
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The problems with the colour wheel
It puts you off
It reminds you of school
It appears more complicated than it is
Its ugly to look at
It seems too academic
It is a tool and not a list of paints to go and buy and paint all your paintings with.
The irony is, when learning about colour mixing, it is the most important thing to understand.
Having a basic knowledge of the colour wheel is really important so you can always find your
way out of a colour mixing corner.
The 3 primary colours
Blue, Red and Yellow.
These are the colours that are impossible to mix from a combination of other colours.
The 3 secondary colours
Orange, Violet, and Green
These are a mix of two primary colours.
For example mix primary yellow and primary red to make secondary colour orange.
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Varnishing an Oil Painting
New Small Glass Acrylic Study is Live!
3 Reasons why artists varnish their work (and
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These 3 primary colours and 3 secondary colours make up the basics of the colour wheel.
This is where theory hits reality and the colour wheel should be used only as a tool to learn
about colour rather than a guide for choosing paint as all paint colours have a colour bias.
For example: Cadmium Red is an orange-red and will have a bias towards yellow. Alizarin
Crimson is a blue-red and will have a bias towards purple. So it is not just as easy as buying a
pure red and a pure yellow they dont exist.
As a beginner painter learn the theory and start simply.
The 6 Tertiary colours
No, I dont know how to pronounce it either! These are the mixtures between the previous 6
colours mentioned above. To start with dont worry about them.
Analyzing the 3 properties of colour
To accurately mix or match a colour you need to analyze its properties. This takes years to
master so dont feel overwhelmed if you dont get it straight away, the more we talk about it the
more practiced youll become.
The 3 things to remember are Hue, Value & Saturation
Hue In the land of colour mixing Hue simply translates as the colour e.g: that vase has a red
hue literally means if you had to mix that colour in paint what is the closest pure colour you
can think of, as in red, orange, yellow etcbut not necessarily bright red.
Pro tip: Not to be confused with the labelling of pigments on paint tubes such as Cadmium red
Hue. In this example hue means imitation. So Cadmium Red Hue isnt a pure pigment, it has
been replaced with a alternative.
3 Reasons why artists varnish their work (and
why some artists dont)
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Confusing isnt it.
Value how dark or light the colour is if you took a black and white photo of it.
This is one of the most important factors in mixing accurate colours but one of the hardest to
master.
Pro tip: We easily understand value when we look at a range of greys, or a black and white
photograph. When it it transferred into colour it is sooooo much harder to judge. Try squinting
while looking at colours to determine their value. Squinting helps the eyes black and white
receptors to make value judgments
Saturation - how bright, or intense the colour is. It is sometimes called Chroma or Intensity
How to match a colour
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Target Colour
Once you know this information you can match any colour, although the steps below seem a bit
mechanical they actually all intermingle together when you look at a colour. When you first start
its advisable to take your time to understand each step.
Step 1: Analyze the hue what colour is it closest to on the colour wheel?
Im going to go with yellow. And in this example Im going to uses Cadmium Yellow Light.
This is a yellow with a orange/red bias.
When I look at Cadmium Yellow next to the colour swatch I can see its too Yellow and the
swatch has a much more Orange hue to it. So Ill add a bit of Cadmium Red (remember this has
a bias towards yellow) to achieve a Yellow-Orange
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Step 2: Analyze the value How light or dark is it?
For this it is easiest to paint a swatch onto a bit of scrap paper, let it dry and compare it.
If its too dark we can add white, if its too light we can add the complementary colour.
In this case Id look at the colour wheel and see what is opposite the yellow-orange we have
mixed which is a dark blue-purple.
Step 3: Analyze the saturation How bright or dull is it?
Mines too bright, so Ill need to add a touch of blue-purple to tone it down. For this example Im
using Ultramarine Blue (which has a purple bias)
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Be careful though as darker colours usually have a lot higher tinting strength than yellows so
you only need a tiny amount. A little at a time and keep checking it.
Developing your Artists Eye
The process of developing your Artistss eye can take a while. So be patient. Your brain is very
good at playing tricks on you, telling you it knows what colour you need to paint. Often when a
colour first goes on the canvas it will look wrong. It is only when it is surrounded with colours
around it it balances together.
Im a keen believer that starting Acrylic painting with muted pigments such as Burnt Umber and
Ultramarine Blue is more beneficial to your work than starting with Cadmium Orange and
Phthalo Blue, same ball park but very different results.
Acrylics can get a bad press as being too garish and childlike but its not the paints but an
Artists choice of pigments.
You might also like:
The hidden hues of colour mixing
How to balance Warm and cool colours
The 3 tricks of complementary colour you can learn from Van Gogh
{ 36 comments read them below or add one }
Dave Carpenter September 17, 2011
233
More
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Thank you for this article. It has a ton of helpful information packed into it in an easy
to understand format. I will be coming back to this page often till I get it :)
REPLY
Will Kemp September 18, 2011
Hi Dave, glad you found the information helpful, it can be a lot to take in to start
with but keep with it!
REPLY
Zheila November 6, 2011
Thanks Will, you are great.
REPLY
Will Kemp November 6, 2011
Hi Zheila,
What can I say, I totally agree with your comment 100%!
Good to hear youre finding the site helpful in your paintings,
Will
REPLY
rachel April 29, 2012
Great website!
Have you got any tips for choosing a good palette knife for mixing colours?
Rachel
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REPLY
Will Kemp April 29, 2012
Hi Rachel,
I usually use a number 45 palette knife from RGM, you can watch a video here on basic
palette knife techniques,
Hope it helps,
Will
REPLY
Tony Fountain September 21, 2012
Hi Will,
Really enjoyed this article Im learning a lot, but I do have a few questions
Having read about the difference between value, tinting, saturation / intensity etc. Im a little
confused. Surely saturation / intensity is the same thing as value? The way I see it youre
simply talking about the brightness or darkness of the colour.am I missing something here?
Also with regards to tinting am I right in thinking that tinting strength relates to its value, i.e.
the darker the colour the higher the tinting strength? However I have also read in other
books that a tint is lighter than the hue and is made by adding white, so Im a bit confused
here?
Add to this the concepts of shade and tone and I wonder if these terms sometimes have
different meanings in different contexts? For instance Ive also read that a tone is made
lighter by adding its complementary colour, but this seems to be the opposite of what I have
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read in this article.
Any help would be much appreciated!
Thanks
REPLY
Will Kemp September 21, 2012
Hi Tony,
Colour mixing can be tricky at times and different artists use different expressions and
approaches to colour mixing.
To answer your questions:
1. Im a little confused. Surely saturation / intensity is the same thing as
value? The way I see it youre simply talking about the brightness or darkness
of the colour.am I missing something here?
Saturation / intensity is not the same thing as value. You can have a bright red that has
a high saturation of colour, but if you took a black and white picture of it it would have a
mid-tone value.
Its not a simple case of brightness or darkness, more looking at the intensity of pigment
and then where the colour falls on the value scale, ie: lightness or darkness.
2.Also with regards to tinting am I right in thinking that tinting strength relates
to its value, i.e. the darker the colour the higher the tinting strength? However I
have also read in other books that a tint is lighter than the hue and is made by
adding white, so Im a bit confused here?
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Youre right, a tint is a colour that has had white added to it so as result is lighter in
value than the colours hue. (Its original colour)
Tinting strength describes how little or how much of a pigment is needed to change the
colour, for example, generally the darker the colour the higher the tinting strength but
there are exceptions to the rule.
A good example is Phthalo blue as indicated in the table in the article.
3.For instance Ive also read that a tone is made lighter by adding its
complementary colour, but this seems to be the opposite of what I have read in
this article.
A colours intensity is reduced when adding a complementary colour, you wouldnt
normally use it to lighten the tone.
It can be confusing as there are works such as shade and tone that mean different things
in drawing and painting.
Hope this has helped to clarify some points,
Thanks,
Will
REPLY
Tony Fountain September 21, 2012
This helps a lot, thanks for the reply
Lets see if I understand thisout of two different reds, say alizarin crimson and cadmium
red, my guess would be that cadmium red would have the greatest colour saturation
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because it appears to have more red pigment.is that correct?
REPLY
Will Kemp September 21, 2012
Hey Tony,
Yes, youve got it!
Will
P.S Im currently working on an Essential guide to colourmixing course keep an eye on
the blog for updates.
REPLY
Robin September 30, 2012
Hello Will,
I am very happy to have joined you.
Ive read a bit about colour mixing but found differing opinions from different sources, so
gave up for a whiletoo hard.
I happened on your website by accident and decided to try again since it looked a lot more
friendly.
From what Ive understood so farand you seem to subscribe to thisis that two primary
colours make a secondary colour red and yellow make orange ..like 1+1=2?
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You mentioned tertiary coloursso does it work like math, i.e. a primary colour and another
primary colour generate a secondary colour, therefore a primary colour and a secondary
colour generate a tertiary colour? (1+2=3)?
If, for example, primary red and secondary purple mixed together make a tertiary
colour.what is the name of that colour? ( and the others?)
I bought a tube of each colour on your colour wheelas close to the colours as possible,
and, in my search for tertiary colours on the basis of 1+2=3, much to my disgust, I mixed
some really awful colours!
Where did I go wrong ? ..(set aside impatience, curiosity and excitement about making
paintings.) This is such a buzz! R
REPLY
Will Kemp September 30, 2012
Hi Robin,
Great to have you onboard, to answer your questions about the perils of colour mixing!
Two primary colours make a secondary colour red and yellow make orange
..like 1+1=2?
Correct, two primary colours make a secondary colour.
A primary colour and a secondary colour generate a tertiary colour? (1+2=3)?
Correct, a tertiary colour is a mix of a primary colour and a secondary colour.
If, for example, primary red and secondary purple mixed together make a
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tertiary colour what is the name of that colour? ( and the others?)
In this example it would be: red-purple (red is the primary colour, purple is the secondary
colour made from red + blue) The colours would be named by using a hyphenated name
that indicate the source of the colour, yello-green, yellow-orange, blue-purple etc
Where did I go wrong ?
Usually due to the hidden colour bias of a pigment.
Have a look at these videos to see how using the wrong red or blue can make a vivid
bright purple or a muted purple.
Hope this helps,
Thanks,
Will
REPLY
Esther F October 18, 2012
Yes! My art teacher can be confusing but after watching the clip i understand! I even
sent a link to my classmates to help with their homework!! Very helpful! ^-^
REPLY
Will Kemp October 18, 2012
Good one Esther! Glad youve found it useful.
Cheers,
Will
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REPLY
Sara Halter December 13, 2012
Hi Will,
Great blog! The way you explained things made it a lot easier to understand. In my art class,
the assignment was to do a painting, and now I am stuck! How do I mix colors to make skin
color? Which colors do I mix?
REPLY
Will Kemp December 13, 2012
Hi Sara,
If you have a look at How to choose a basic palette for portraitsi there is a video
lesson at the bittom of the article showing you how to mix and match your own skin
colour.
Cheers,
Will
REPLY
kevin January 25, 2013
Thanks for this article.
Im a 22 yr old boy from Durban(KZN, South Africa) and draw portraits but i can only draw in
pencil and I have mastered my medium after drawing for years now since I was 8 and without
any art lessons but now I feel that I also want to do coloured paintings but ive been finding it
hard to mix colours, but from reading this article i now have the basics of mixing colours. So
as ive learned over the years of drawing in pencil, practice makes perfect so with this start
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on paintings Ill have to apply the same principle.
Thank you so much and God bless.
REPLY
Will Kemp January 25, 2013
Youre welcome Kevin, mixing colours is a step-by-step approach, but with your
drawing skills youll be able to pick up painting very quickly.
Cheers,
Will
REPLY
Suzie May 8, 2013
Hi Will, Thank you so much about the colour wheel, whenever I see one my eyes just
glaze over it and nothing else, I also quite often end up with a lot of muddy colours on my
pallet and waste so much paint. After reading what you wrote about the colour wheel, I gave
it a go and I am converted. Thank you for your free tips, by the way, you have another talent
other than being artistic, you possess and display an exceptional talent in conveying ideas
and concepts effectively.
Thanks again
Suzie
REPLY
Will Kemp May 10, 2013
Hi Suzie, thanks very much for your kind comments. Really pleased you gave it a
go with the colour wheel. Just taking the colour mixing a step at a time can really make a
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big difference in your success rate!
Thanks again,
Will
REPLY
Zachary June 3, 2013
Hello Will, you have written a really wonderful and approachable article on color
mixing, that being said, if you are able to receive my comment I would like to ask you how you
go about mixing a purple out of napthol crimson and ultramarine blue? I most often arrive at
a result which is more similar to a dark maroon mud than anything which actually resembles
brilliant purple. If you were able to answer this question I can imagine myself as well as other
internet users may find it helpful.
Thank you for your time,
Zach
REPLY
Will Kemp June 4, 2013
Hi Zach, pleased youve found the article helpful.
You might be interested in these two videos:
How to mix bright pink paint & a bright purple
Cheers,
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Will
REPLY
Jordan June 30, 2013
Hey Will,
Just a question Ive been curious about during the time reading your articles.
It has to do with toning down.
I understand that the complementary color is used to tone down, but if I were to use a pure
black (such as the Mars) in very small amounts, would this achieve the same result? (Toning
down).
Also is toning down the same thing as desaturation?
REPLY
Will Kemp June 30, 2013
Hey Jordon,
Nice to hear from you, yes, you would achieve a similar result on certain colours.
If you added black to red it will mute it down nicely, as with blue. However, if you add it to
yellow youll produce a green due to the underlying blue bias of the black.
Have a look at the green mixes here:
And an article on the use of black in your paintings here.
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Hope this helps,
Will
REPLY
deane July 10, 2013
Hi Will, my wife has just started to paint a German shepherd dog for a friend,
but she cant seem to get the colours right for the light coloured fur.
Could you please tell me the exact colours she needs to make the fur?
It looks a sandy colour to me. thank you
Deane
REPLY
Will Kemp July 11, 2013
Hi Deane,
When painting there isnt usually an exact formula for a particular subject.
Different light conditions and surroundings of a subject will effect how we perceive
the actual colour.
A grey circle will appear differently on a white background, black background or
coloured background.
This is called colour constancy and is why in painting each colour needs to be
judged individually.
She might me interested in my simple colour mixing course which goes
through the entire process of mixing and matching colours.
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Cheers,
Will
REPLY
Vanessa October 31, 2013
Hi Will
Have found your website amazing thank you. I am painting a horse portrait in oils. Its a
ginger/warm brown colour. Have made the under painting in raw umber and oms as per your
lessons. Im not sure whether to complete a full black to white value under painting using the
measured mediums because I think the paint might be too thick by the time I get to use
colour. I am intending to buy the portrait lessons but in the meantime want to get this done as
its for a friend. Please could you advise as Ive made three attempts already n cant keep
buying more canvases! Also too impatient to wait for the lessons!
Kindest regards
Vanessa
REPLY
Will Kemp October 31, 2013
Hi Vanesssa,
Nice to hear from you, and so pleased youve been finding the website helpful in your
painting.
Regarding the layers on your painting i t depends how you are going to add the colour to
the painting, either by glazes or by painting thicker, more impasto paste.
If more impasto, then once youve had some practice turning forms and building tones
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with the black and white portrait you can start to build up the first layers using more tonal
colours for the portrait.
For glazing, youll be able to apply colour ontop of the completed grisaille.
Hope this helps, enjoy the portrait course.
Cheers,
Will
REPLY
Michael Worobec November 6, 2013
I am an artist and part time Art teacher and stumbled on your site today. Great.
Learned a few things and I went to art school. Great site.
REPLY
Will Kemp November 6, 2013
Hi Michael, thanks for dropping by, so pleased youre finding the site of interest,
thanks for your kind comments,
Cheers,
Will
REPLY
B.RIYAS DEEN November 26, 2013
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Thank uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu
REPLY
Timothy Hime December 23, 2013
Your articles and videos show that you have pedagogy which is rare. (particularly
among teachers) You bring in concrete ideas, simple presentation, packed with an
abundance of the real meat of painting. All one need do is become playful and diligent for
the abstractions so hard to grasp to come to one seemingly out of the blue. Play to the muse
and she will reward you, so to speak. Thank you very much and I just bought a box-load of
paint and brushes. With the valor of St. George I will now destroy some blank white dragons.
REPLY
Will Kemp December 23, 2013
Hi Tim,
Thanks for your kind words, may the valor of St. George be with you with your creative
endeavours with paint!
Cheers,
Will
REPLY
Aiseng February 26, 2014
it was great
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REPLY
jacob jackson July 24, 2014
Your tips on colors and the blends that we can use to create those colors on our
palette helped me a lot. I have even bought Magic Palette Color Matching from Jerrys
Artarama, it simplifies my color search and gives me ideas to get perfect color.
REPLY
Will Kemp July 24, 2014
Good one Jacob, pleased you found it helpful.
Cheers,
Will
REPLY
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