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Can we LEARN to mix ANY COLOUR we want?

Updated: Mar 15, 2023

Of course we can! A little colour theory (nothing to heavy!) and. few tricks can go a long way.

Whatever your current experience level, we can take all of the guess work out of colour mixing...and make it fun to PLAY with COLOUR!


Yes, there is lots of colour theory for those who wish to dive deep, but actually we can pull out of that a fairly simple understanding of colour, and certainly one that is practically useful to us as artists, and actually particularly useful for watercolours…

I think there are two important parts to understanding colour, we will cover part 1 in this email (stay tuned for part 2 next week)

For this simple approach to colours and mixing we will be using the colour wheel shown here.

There are many colour wheels.

Some are mathematically perfect but fairly useless to us as painters.

Remember: Colour Wheels are just a way to conceptualise colour. A way to think about it and make sense of it in a way that is useful to us.

The wheel above is a simple 3 primary colour wheel, with secondaries and tertiaries. The complimentary colours are directly opposite each other. I will get more into this in the next email, but in short as we go into the middle of this colour wheel the colours subdue, or “grey down”.


So the first useful point to understand is that colours can be cool or warm.

We can split the colour wheel and say there is a cool and warm side, in itself not that useful other than to help us understand that Reds, Oranges and Yellows are warmer than Blues, Purples and Greens.

We don’t need to obsess over colour temperature particularly, remembering that colour temperature is always relative. Rather than absolute.

i.e. take purple and put it next to red, purple is the cool colour. Replace red with blue, now purple is the warm colour...and so on.

Where this idea of cool and warm becomes particularly useful is understanding which combinations of colours mix other colours (well obviously! But stick with me…)

We know red and blue makes purple.

Whilst this is correct, we can’t just mix any old red and purple and expect to create a vibrant bright purple. Only certain reds and blues will give us this.

Think of each Primary Section of the colour as being a spectrum of colour.

So the yellow section, or spectrum, is warmer closer to the orange (the yellow has more red in it)...and cooler over towards the greens (yellow has more blue in it. Blue is cooler than red)

The red spectrum is warmer over towards orange and cooler over towards purple (more blue in it)

Blues are warmer over towards purple (they have more red in) and cooler over towards greens (more yellow in them)

The pigments and colours we have in our tubes sit somewhere on these spectrums.

Just a few examples:

  • Ultramarine Blue (warm)

  • Cerulean Blue (cool)

  • Pthalo Blue (cool)

  • Vermillion, Napthol, Pyrole Red (warm)

  • Alaizarin Cirmson (cool)

  • Quinacrdione Red (cool)

  • New Gamboge Yellow, Cadmium Yellow, Indian Yellow (warm)

  • Aureolin Yellow, Lemon Yellow (cool)

  • Yellow Ochre (cool)

WHERE colours and pigments sit on this spectrum has a HUGE affect on what sort of colours they can mix!!

So understanding your OWN pigments and colours and how these affect your colour mixes is probably the single most important bit of info you can have in relation to colour mixing.


Take an Ultramarine Blue (warm) which is very far over towards purple on the spectrum, and mix with a New Gamboge Yellow (warm), which is very far over towards orange.

Whilst a blue and yellow, yes; neither colour is close to green on their spectrum. Neither colour is “interested” in turning green.

Therefore we get very subdued, softer greens.

How ever hard we try we will never achieve a vibrant, clean, punchy green with this blue and yellow.

Swap out the warm blue for a cooler one, say Pthalo Blue, which is very far over towards green; it is much more interested in turning green and therefore will give much a stronger more vibrant green in this case.

However, the orangey warmth of the New Gamboge Yellow is still having an influence. If we change this to a cooler green, like Aureolin, which is much more interested in turning green as it is all ready well over that way; this will give us a very, very strong and bright green!

It is not to say that one green is better or worse than another.

It is very simply that if we want a particular type of green it is vital we know that we will simply never be able to get it with certain combinations of yellow and blue. How ever hard we try.

The exact same principle applies to oranges and purples too.

Of course we can and do use tube secondaries, and even tertiaries. But we usually need to alter them slightly, and the above information is vital in understanding how to change and mix any of our colours.

We can also thing of colour/pigments as sitting not just around the edge of the colour wheel (higher chroma colours), but they also sit somewhere on the spectrum as we move into the middle.

Pthalo Blue or Aureolin Yellow are high chroma colours, so are bright and intense.

However something like Prussian Blue is more muted than Pthalo, it is closer into the centre.

Something like Yellow Ochre is a beautiful earth colour but it sits much closer into the middle of the colour wheel, it is more greyed down than Aureolin.

This moving of colour in and out of the colour wheel is what we will look at in the next email, and with this a closer look at how to mix the exact colours you want!

Colour mixing is not complicated, a little theory and bit of practice goes a HUGE way; and getting a grip on this relatively simple approach to practical colour mixing not only takes all of the guess work out, it makes colour mixing easier, simpler, far more successful and ultimately making the whole painting experience much more fun!

We will take a really deep dive into colour theory in the Masterclass Series, and pull out of it the practical information which allows us to mix any colour we want, with relative ease (after a bit of practice)

This Masterclass series is designed to really help you find the correct ways to dramatically improve your watercolour painting.

Join me for all 4 courses in the series, or you can pick and choose the one which suit you.

Hopefully see you there


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1 Comment

Behzad Amir-ansari
Behzad Amir-ansari
Mar 15, 2023

Interesting as always. May I be bald and refer to an old Persian Sofi, Ataar who said,

If you have no knowledge of mixing colours

Don't judge the beauty or lack of it among flowers.

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