Your Palette Inside and Out
There’s a common misconception that color mixing is random and simple. Painters, at some point of their painting journey, learn that color is a very complex topic. Unlocking its full potential is easier said than done.
Color mixing may sound simple, but there are a lot of things to consider — value, color ratios, the feel and a whole lot more.
In our last lesson, we talked about value and all its benefits and practiced how to get the values between white and black. We know that value is more important than color, but if we inject color to what we already know about value, we’ll be on a whole new level.
Remember, value creates context and emphasizes emotion. Color amplifies value.
This lesson includes two exercises wherein we explore the potential of color and the values each of them can have.
The first exercise is similar to that of our last lesson. However, now we will use various colors instead of black — mixing them with white to get the incremental values in between.
This is great for us painters because color is a nuanced subject. Mixing colors with other colors is obviously cool, but did you know you can find a lot more options just by adding white?
In the FIRST exercise, you’ll make a chart that will have all of your colors pure — adding white to adjust the value.
In our last lesson, we talked about value and all its benefits and practiced how to get the values between white and black.
Let us begin.
STEP 1: Prepare your chart.
The chart you will be using should have eleven rows and five columns made of squares — the sides of the squares should be masked with tape so that no paint accidentally goes to unwanted areas.
You can get yourself one here: https://www.colorfrontier.com/
STEP 2: Choose eleven colors from your palette and label the top row with the names of the colors.
These colors will serve as your pure colors — the colors that we will mix white with. You can label your pure colors using any method you prefer. Printing, writing or using color based labels are some examples — it’s up to you.
STEP 3: Spread your Pure Color to the first square.
Using a palette knife in these exercises is recommended since it is easier to clean — and by using it frequently, you’ll be more acquainted with the feel of the tool.
Palette knives can be awkward at first, but in time having experienced this exercise will pay off and using the tool will be second nature.
Take out your palette knife and take the first pure color of your choice and spread it thinly in the first square on the top row.
Make sure to spread the paint evenly; having an inconsistent spread could mean having inconsistent values.
STEP 4: For this next step, there are actually two methods you could use to arrive at the five different values.
In painting, we have to remember that there could be a lot of methods to arrive at the same result. Learning more than one method can mean having more tricks up our sleeves.
In this first method, we’re going to find the values of our pure colors chronologically from darkest to light.
To do so, we’re going to use a method called tinting — the process of taking your pure color and mixing it with white. This is just similar to the value exercise in the previous module. What we are looking for here is the consistency of the change — the jump from one value to another.
Mixing your colors on your palette first is highly recommended — it's better to work out the value jumps first on your palette to save you the trouble of unnecessarily taking out the paint in the squares.
Here’s how you do it:
Mix your pure value color with white until you get a slightly lighter shade. Remember, you should always use white little by little until we get your desired color — so you can get the feel of how the value changes
Repeat each process until you get the five values (including your pure) from darkest to light — then spread each color, chronologically from darkest to light, on the squares below the pure.
In the second method, we are going to find the values in between the values. This is easier for some since it’s basically a process of finding the middle-ground, rinsing and repeating
To do so, we have to consider our pure as the “dark” value. Then we have to find the medium and light values of our pure color.
To find the lightest value, mix white with your pure color until you get a slightly off-white color. Make sure that you just barely stain the white — tint it ever so slightly. Once you think you have the right value, spread it thinly at a working area and make sure to leave some space for three more values.
Next, we need to find the value between your pure color and the off-white color — the medium value. You can do so by measuring out 50% of your light and dark values. However, there is never an exact ratio in color mixing, so add either light or dark as needed.
Once you get your light, medium and dark colors, you will now have three colors as reference. These colors will be your basis of finding other values.
Using the light, medium and dark values, we can easily find the values in between. To find them, you can either eye-ball it or use 50% of each of the surrounding values.
Again, there’s no exact science to this process. Adjust the colors as needed by adding white to lighten or the pure color to darken. The goal is to get a feel the values of the pure
Remember to always compare your new color with its surrounding ones. Go back and forth to see if the value is really in the middle. And take note that what we’re looking for is a jump from one value to another — it doesn’t need to be a big jump though.
Once you have the values, you can now put them on the squares — and you should have the same result with Step 4’s first method.
STEP 5: Repeat steps 2-4 using your other pure colors and fill up your color chart.
Easy enough right? Well, we do have to remember a few things to maximize the exercise.
First, take note that, in painting, there are so many options to arrive at the same conclusion and it should be the artists’ job to judge whether or not if he/she arrived at a desired value.
Secondly, both methods of step 4 are equally effective. However, it is up to you to choose what’s best. Choose one (or both) you’re comfortable with. It’s all about preference and how much you can learn from it. Both serve a purpose of training your eye to see values in between values.
STEP 6: Be a perfectionist and review your work.
I’m just kidding, it doesn’t have to be perfect. However, we do need to make sure we have a good result to get good results. What I mean is, we have to make sure that we understand what this exercise does for us.
Here are some things to take note of:
First, we have to compare different values as you look at your color chart — use a value scale if any assistance is needed.
Secondly, compare the rows as a whole and consider how light and dark your value is compared to those that are next to them. In other words, compare one value of one pure to another value of another pure.
You can see in this photograph, when you squint your eyes, how a couple of these values are darker..
Your goal here is to attempt to make each row have the same intensity of value. If one value doesn’t match the intensity of the other, you can correct it by removing the paint on the square and mixing it with white on your palette. Then place your new color back on the square — best done while the paint is wet.
STEP 7: Remove the tape and be proud of yourself!
Simple enough, right? Value and color are two integral aspects of painting. Only when we know the extent of value of each color can we really unlock the full potential of depth and perspective.
The second exercise is a whole other level. Instead of using one color to mix white with, you use two! Simple right?
Well, it’s more complicated than you may think. You might think that there's a magic ratio that you can use to get the right mix, but this exercise explains that there's more to it than that.
In this SECOND exercise, we will use one color as the predominant, mix it with another and run it through other colors to create five values.
This exercise is similar to the last since it helps you get to know color and value in a more fun and satisfying way. However, it is kind of like a level higher than the last one because we will be using three colors — instead of two — in finding the values.
There are a lot of rules in painting, and we should always remember that Pigments are one the most important factors in determining the color and the range it is capable of.
Let’s get right into it.
STEP 1: Choose one pure color and do steps 3-4 of the previous exercise.
This color will be considered as your dominant color and be your reference throughout the whole exercise or chart.
STEP 2: Choose another color to combine with your dominant color.
The mixture of the two will be, from here on out, known as the “mix”.
Remember, your dominant color should be considered as the integral color of your mix. In other words, the mix should have more of it than the other.
STEP 3: As a rule of thumb, use a 75:25 mixing ratio to make a mix
In this step, 75% of the mix should be the dominant color.
However, this exercise is partially by feel and the 75:25 rule is not absolute. It will ultimately depend on the value of the color you chose.
Change the color frequently to see how the colors interact with each other while keeping one of them dominant. Don’t be afraid to add either colors as necessary.
STEP 4: Create 5 values of the mix and add them to your squares
To do so, do steps 3-4 of the previous exercise to get the values.
Take note that either methods in step four work fine. Use what you’re comfortable with.
STEP 5: The next step is to move on to the next color
This step is similar to step two. However, the new mix should be composed of the dominant color and a new color. This is where the exercise gets interesting! Now you will select 11 colors from the recommended palette, choose the ones that you want to get to know more. You may choose only one yellow and one red from the palette it’s up to you.
STEP 6: With the new color mix, create five values using steps 2-4 of the previous exercise.
If you squint at this chart and look at the bottom row, assess and see if one of the colors pop out. That's what you're going for — the consistency in the values.
You will find, as you get into mixing these colors and values, the process will be your own. The main thing is to create five different values with logical steps in between.
STEP 7: Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you fill up the whole sheet.
Take as long as you need. The most important thing is to be acquainted with the process of getting the values and the feel of mixing.
STEP 8: Once again, be a perfectionist and review your work.
Squint and compare — rinse and repeat. Keep in mind that colors beside each other, especially in the lower rows must have the same intensity. This exercise isn’t only about color mixing — it’s also about value.
Correct the values you aren’t satisfied with by removing the paint on the square and mixing it with white on your palette. Place your new color back on the square ones you’re content.
STEP 9:Remove the tape and be happy at what you’ve done!
There you have it! Two simple exercises that are fun and satisfying to do.
Keep in mind that the objective of these exercises is for you to be more acquainted with the intricacies and nuances of color mixing. Color can be extremely complicated but with mixing, there’s more than one way to get the result. Choose what’s comfortable for you and have the courage to explore other options.
We know how important value can be, and how it should be prioritized over color, however, we must keep in mind that color complements value. With that being said, we must always remember the fundamentals as we move on to new techniques.