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Updated: Mar 15, 2023

If you haven't seen the previous few blog posts I definitely recommend you do so. This one will make more sense.

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!


I spoke in the last email of the importance of knowing your pigments/colours and where they sit on the colour wheel, if they are warm or cool, and how this dramatically affects your colour mixing.

The two principles I want to talk about here are:

1) How to lighten & darken colours

2) The easiest way I have found to think about colour

Then Colour Mixing in Part 3 (the next post) we will look at how to bring all of this together to mix ANY colour you want, with no guess work and frustration (after a little practice of course;)

The KEY principles of COLOUR MIXING I am sharing in this email, we are going to go really deep into as part of the Watercolour Masterclass Series

Having taught it in person to many students I know that it really does create some serious lightbulb moments!

This Series will only be running once a year and starts in early May.

So there’s not long left to book your spot!



Ok, so initially this may seem like the most basic of topics, but in watercolour we generally do not use white to lighten our colours as it makes them go cloudy and we loose the wonderfully luminosity of watercolour (white has it's place of course and we will cover this in the Masterclass Series) We do of course have black, and there is nothing wrong with using black! It is a versatile and very useful colour...but... just using black to darken colours can easily result in lots of flat dull colours. Plus, depending on the black used, it will have a cool or warm bias and therefore will affect all of our mixes in a certain direction, and may create and unwanted overall colour scheme. SO We must be very careful with it. LIGHTENING COLOURS

Of course we are using water to lighten colours - number 1 But in doing so, actually much like using white, we are also de-saturating the colour (making it less intense) as well as often altering the colour as it lightens. So the biggest point to consider is HOW is the colour lightening? examples: Most blues are dark in tone. Adding water is one way to lighten them...but we must also consider what is happening to the Blue as it lightens. Is it lightening in a neutral way? Or is it shifting over towards being a bit more greeney as it lightens? Or over towards being a little more purple? The same with red; does it lighten to be a more soft pinky colour (cooler) Or does it retain a fieriness (warm) by shifting towards orange? The same with yellows too. This is NOT complicated at all. In fact it is very simple, but many people never ask these simple questions and as a result can get very frustrated with colour mixing.


Exactly the same questions should be asked when darkening colours.

Most Blues being all ready dark are a little easier. Depending on the combination of blue & red used, we can get a very rich deep dark. As well as very dark greeney or purpley blues. Yellow can also be incredibly useful in darkening colours (more on this below)

Reds being generally lighter than blues have to have the same considerations, and generally are fairly straight forward as long as you are considering the above questions.

Yellows I would say are what most people find very hard to darken!

Too much blue and they turn very green.

Too much red and they turn to orange.

Even black with either a cool of warm bias can create very unwanted colours...

the TRICK?

Understanding how to use all 3 primaries to balance colours, darken colours.

Then finally to create beautiful subdued colours, or as I like to call them COLOURED GREYS



For me, this next section is the most useful point in Watercolour Colour Mixing

All the colours around the outer edge of this particular colour wheel are at their most high chroma, or most intense.

It's rare that we want all of our colours to be at their highest chroma.

In fact most paintings benefit from having much more subdued colours; Greyed down colours; or as I like to call them:


These are the beautiful array of soft subdued colours that still retain the beautiful transparency and luminosity of watercolour, and that really allow any areas of stronger colours to speak out and SING!!

Of course we can use a grey or a black to subdue colours. This great but it also has a tendency to make our colours a little dull if we are not careful. They may all take on greyish feel that simply dominates too much. However you choose to subdue colours knowing the principles that underpin it absolutely key.

Learning how to subdue colours is absolutely crucial...

...and it's very simple!

Say we have a Blue that is very intense, and is way too strong for what we are after.

We need to subdue it, or grey it down.

In the case of the Colour Wheel above we need to bring this blue from the outside edge of the wheel further into the centre.

We do this by adding in its OPPOSITE colour on the wheel.

It's complimentary colour

In the case of blue, this is orange.

We do not have to mix a separate orange. We simply have to add a touch of Red, and touch of Yellow (both of which make orange)

This will begin to bring the colour closer to orange on the colour wheel

I.e. closer to the centre of the colour

Therefore more SUBDUED!

In most cases it will also be darkening the colour but in a very neutral way.

This applies to every colour:

To subdue your reds - add green. I.e. just add a touch or Blue & Yellow

To subdue Yellows (and also darken them but in neutral way) add Purple. I.e a touch of Blue & Red

In this way we can have FULL CONTROL over a myriad of BEAUTIFUL colours


What does this mean? All we are ever doing in COLOUR MIXING is basically just balancing all 3 of the Primaries. (Even when using tube secondaries and tertiaries this is still true) As soon as we understand this, colour mixing becomes SO SIMPLE! All we are doing is simply moving the colour around the colour wheel in whatever direction we please. "A touch more red pulls it over here." "A touch more yellow pulls it this way"...and so on!! Once students get this and practice for small time, colour mixing becomes significantly easier!! IMAGINE you are just PUSHING & PULLING colours around the colour wheel PULL colours into the middle to subdue them PUSH colour out to the edge to make them more intense


That's it guys. As I said, if you really want to learn these principles on a deeper level and learn how to really apply this and significantly improve your watercolour paintings, please consider hopping over and having a look at the Watercolour Masterclass Series It starts in early May and I am really m very excited to be sharing all of this in a very practical way. It is knowledge and a way of teaching it that I have accumulated over the last 10 plus years of painting a teaching. I know it will really help you to improve your watercolours!! Hopefully see you there... Kind Regards Tom

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