I Heart Painting: Part V

Welp, the world is on fire (again) and everything is (still) terrible but at least I can keep trying to explain how paint works.

I thought that it might be helpful if I went into a bit more detail about the color theory I briefly touched on in a previous post. Let’s paint some color scales!

Far left column: cadmium yellow medium, cadmium red medium, cadmium orange. Far right column: dioxazine purple, ultramarine, cobalt green, ultramarine

They look thrilling, I know. But if you want to really understand why you’re getting the results that you do with paint, I recommend trying to at least do three–yellow to purple, orange to blue, and red to green. These are the three sets of complementary colors–the colors opposite each other on the color wheel–that when mixed together will produce various shades of mud. I included a bonus here–the cadmium red to blue–because it’s a mixture that I use a lot for grays.

So guys, first I have to admit that I cheated a bit here, and I’m kind of regretting it. After doing a whole series on how, specifically, to paint with watercolors, for this segment I used oils. This is because I’m honestly a pretty sloppy painter, especially with watercolors. I just kind of mush them together until I get the color I want, which I know isn’t exactly helpful advice. I tend to correct watercolors as I’m painting, where if the color I put down isn’t quite right (or just not intense enough) I’ll quickly add a bit of whatever color I need to correct it, but like, that’s something you really need a fair amount of experience to pull off without messing up your painting. I’m much more controlled with my color mixing when using oils, so I thought for demonstration purposes they’d be the better choice. But. But the thing about oils, is that they take. Forever. To. Dry. So uh, apologies for the questionable phone photos I’m about to use to demonstrate this, as while I can color correct the image to account for my yellow office lighting, I can’t do much about the glare off the wet paint.

Captions read, from left to right: cadmium yellow medium, midpoint, dioxazine purple

Captions read, from left to right: cadmium orange, I’m noting there’s too big of a jump between the 1st and 2nd step, midpoint is off, and I swear the 6th and 7th steps are actually different, ultramarine.

Captions read, from left to right: cadmium red medium, midpoint (note how we never get a good purple), note how dark these mixtures get, note that my brush had too much turpenoid for one swatch, ultramarine.

Captions read, from left to right: cadmium red medium (again), midpoint, sorry about the glare on this one swatch, cobalt green.

Why do these at all? So that everyone understands the true suffering that’s the first year of art school? The point of making graduated scales between two colors is that it teaches you how the paints will interact with each other in different proportions. What does a mixture of this yellow with a tiny bit of this purple look like, versus one that’s half and half, versus one that’s mostly this purple with a tiny bit of this yellow? This exercise is also a good way of determining if one paint has pigment that’s much stronger than the other–sometimes to get a color that’s visually midway between the two sources, you end up using a lot more of one paint than the other. For example, a color that I own but rarely use is phthalo blue, which is a pretty synthetic pigment that I find overwhelms just about everything it’s mixed with. Another thing you might notice is that one paint color is more opaque than the other and that’ll make the more opaque paint seem stronger. It’s nice to figure put these interactions before you’re working on an actual painting. This trial also teaches you to really see color. When I did this exercise for school one of the things we were graded on was if the transition between each step was even so that the path between purple and yellow was a smooth staircase, instead of a rickety ladder. If you want to try this I find it easier to mix the midpoint first, then the two new midpoints, then fill in the rest. It’s easier for me to judge what color will be halfway between two others instead of trying to estimate each step on its own.

I hope this is helpful, and comment if you have any questions!

Previous posts in this series:
Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Celia Yost

Celia Yost is a graphic artist and painter by both training and trade. She's also prone to ill-advised craft projects and yelling about politics.

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