In teaching the workshop this weekend more than a few of my students were frustrated by having to mix colors instead of just squeezing them from the tube.They all asked me for a way to approach color mixing and so I thought I would write it for the blog.
The best way to understand color is to experiment with mixing two colors in unequal proportions to see the results. After you exhaust the possibilities with two colors try three colors and their combinations. By experimenting this way you will see how powerful just a few colors are.
At the very simplest level color mixing is combining two colors to make a third color. Examples would be blue and yellow make green, red and blue make violet and yellow and red make orange. Once you mix secondary colors you can now mix the tertiary colors by adding even more of a primary color. An example would be after making violet you can now shift that violet to blue violet by adding more blue or red violet by adding more red.
My palette consists of primary colors, red, yellow and blues plus white. When I mix, I try to think of the value of the color first. Is it dark tone, medium tone or light tone? Next I look for its hue starting with the primary hues of red, yellow, and blue followed by the secondary hues of green, orange, or violet and then consider tertiary hues, blue violet, blue green, yellow orange, yellow green, red orange, red violet?
If I want to mix a mid-tone green I know ultramarine blue and cad yellow can make a mid-tone green because one color is dark and one is light. By mixing equal portions I get a green with an approximate middle value. The reason I say approximate is because you must also take into account the tinting strength of the colors.
That gives me two aspects of color, the third is saturation. Saturation depends on value, so if I know the value of the color is low but it appears more saturated than the colors around it then I need to use the colors closest in value to the color I am trying to mix. If a color is less saturated I use its compliment to modify it, again taking into account its value.