Familiarise yourself with the colour wheel
The best way of getting to know the colour wheel, off by heart, is to paint your own. Do this exercise of mixing vivid colours and painting them each in place. You can add more white as you go towards the centre and add more black to each colour on the outer edge. This will create all the shades of each colour. Google, ‘Colour Wheel’ for more examples. It’s a really good exercise to do in order to learn how secondary and tertiary colours can be made from using only primary colours.
Using a limited palette
Mixing vivid colours using only primary colours. Choose one red, one blue, one yellow and a black and white paint. Sometimes there is a symbol on the front of the tube to say how transparent the paint is. I prefer the more opaques for solid colours. I use cadmium red or magenta, cobalt blue or a turquoise, lemon yellow or a cadmium yellow light, titanium white and any black. I use pretty much use the same colours in my limited palette whether painting with watercolour, acrylic or oils.
The knack of mixing
I prefer mixing vivid colours in daylight, as they look so different under artificial light. Add only tiny spots of the darker colour at a time, into the lighter colour. For example, see in the picture below, I add just a tiny dot of blue into the yellow to achieve the lightest greens. It doesn’t work the other way round, mixing light colours into dark, because it takes loads of light paint to shift the darker colour lighter by a tone or two, thus you end up mixing up way too much quantity in order to get the desired result.
Mixing vivid colours
Use a long thin flexible palette knife to mix the acrylic or oil colours, using a figure of eight motion. Wipe all the paint onto the paint palette and start again until you have an even hue. If the colour is not exactly what you were looking for, before adding more colour, look at your painting and see where else this colour might be suitable.
Retaining vivid hues
Only mix up to 3 colours together at a time, to retain the vividness of your paints. Otherwise the more colours you add, the more towards the grey or brown your hue will gravitate. Try it out, mix a tiny amount of each of your primary colours together and see what colour they make. This is also good way of creating neutral colours. Any neutral tone can set off a strong colour, as in the beige under the orange brush mark below.
The good habit of keeping your brushes clean
Don’t double dip! Get used to cleaning your brush before touching each colour or have a different brush for each colour. If you do contaminate a colour on your paint palette simply wipe the invading colour away. Keep a rag or a tissue to hand for this. Have two jars of cleaning fluid (water or spirit depending on which medium you are using) one for the dirty brushes and one for the clean. Blot any excess liquid from your brush before working with it, look at the colour on the rag, is it clear? Any excess colour still lurking in the depths of the hairs of your brush will contaminate your lighter colours, which are very receptive to the darker colours attempt’s at invasion.
Whether you use a white plate, a wooden board or any other flat surface, you know it’s hard to get dry paint off, so best to give it a wipe at the end of every painting session. Unused fresh paint can be collected with a pallet knife and popped back on once the paint palette is clean.
- Dried out watercolour just rinses off.
- Dried in acrylic can be scrubbed off with a wire scourer and warm soapy water.
- Dried oil paint is much harder to shift, it can be scraped down with a paint scraper.
Cleaning and storing brushes between sessions
After wiping excess paint off and rinsing your brushes in the appropriate fluids, wash thoroughly with washing up liquid until the water runs clear. Clean brushes will dry out best left upright in a jar. If you are going to come back to the painting after a short while or over night you don’t have to wash your brushes:
- Oil brushes – can be stored in a jar of light cooking oil or spirit, as long as the hairs are covered.
- Watercolour brushes – can be left to dry out and can be easily wetted and the colour left on them will become usable again.
- Acrylic brushes – need to be washed at the end of every painting session, though if they have enough paint on them, you can wrap them in clingfilm, making sure it’s air tight or leave them in a jar of water.
Cleaning the paint splatters off your clothes
I recommend wear an overall or designated painting shirt, as it saves cleaning time later.
- Watercolour washes out.
- Acrylic can be washed off easily when still wet, try and catch it before it gets really dry though.
- Oil paint needs to be seen to with a good dose of washing up liquid and you’ll find a light scrub will lift it out. Once it’s dried in though, that’s it.