While you may be more than ready to get started on a painting, one of the most important parts of working in acrylic takes place before you ever put brush to canvas: mixing the paints. It's one of those things you have to get right if you want your work to turn out as beautiful as you imagined. Which is why these tricks are particularly handy — they're exactly what you need to properly prep colors before beginning your newest masterpiece.
1. Create Complexity
Have you ever noticed acrylic paint used directly from the tube sometimes looks flat and hard on your painting surface? Consider adding a touch of white, or a lighter version of the color you're using, to add complexity to the shade. This small shift can bring a lot more dimension to your art.
2. Reinforce Colors
If you've painted with different acrylic colors, you may have noticed some are more opaque than others. Adding a touch of white paint to any color will boost opacity, giving the hue more impact. Case in point: the red paint on the left in the image above is straight out of the tube, while the one on the right has a bit of white added.
You can learn so much about your paints — and how to get the results you want — by studying their opacity. An easy way to know which colors are more opaque is to complete a chart exercise .
3. Avoid Black for Darkening Colors
While you want to use white to lighten colors, it's not the smartest idea to use black to darken them. Black paint tends to make colors muddy and murky, so it's best used in compositions where this effect will work to your advantage. To create a darker color that's still vibrant, try adding brown or dark blue — the painted effect will look more natural.
Take the yellow mixtures pictured above, for example. On the far left, you see yellow paint straight out of the tube. The mixture in the middle combined yellow and brown, creating a burnt mustard color that's still in the yellow family. On the far right, yellow was mixed with black — and things got weird pretty fast.
4. Mix Colors a Shade or Two Lighter Than You Want
You may already know this, but it bears repeating: paint dries slightly darker than the way it looks on your palette. Keep this in mind when mixing colors, and try to make your shades a bit lighter than you really want them. To test the finished color, just smudge a bit on scrap paper to see how it dries.
5. Make Brown Paint in Seconds
The easiest way to make brown paint : combine roughly equal quantities of the primary colors (red, yellow, blue). These will yield brown paint in a snap, and then you can adjust the shading from there.
6. Make Blues Deeper With Red
Fun fact: luminous skies and vibrant blue blossoms get their glow from a touch of red paint. The swatch on the right pictured above has just a bit of red mixed in. The trick is not to add too much — otherwise your beautiful blue will become a deep purple.
7. Play With Your Hues
Mixing colors doesn't have to be stressful because you don't have to nail it on the first try. Start by making a very basic version of the color you're going for, then refine from there.
If you want to make a tangerine orange, for example, start by combining equal parts of red and yellow. Chances are, this will yield more of an orange orange. So try adding some white. Add colors little by little, slowly refining it to suit your needs.
8. Create a Family of Colors
Once you've mixed a color for a key component in your painting, create a "family" of tones around it. For instance, say you've created a perfect blue for the vase of flowers you want to paint. Create another version of that blue color with a little bit of yellow added, another version with a little bit of red, etc. This will help you create the shadows and highlights in various parts of the painting with a natural color progression.
9. Make a Basic Skin Tone
The secret to making a great skin tone base is shockingly easy: first combine all of the primary colors, then adjust as needed.
10. Add Green or Blue to Refine Skin Tones
Adding a bit of extra green or blue to a skin tone might sound alien, but a tiny (tiny!) touch of these shades adds depth and complexity, making the skin color look more realistic.
This skill takes practice — get more tips for perfecting it in our class, Paint Better Portraits: Realistic Skin Tones .
11. Store Mixed Colors in Old Film Canisters
Once you've mixed the perfect color, be sure to save it! Acrylics dry if left out, so store the extra stuff in airtight containers such as film canisters. (Yes, you can still buy them!) This will help maintain the color if you need to take a break, or want to continue painting another day.
Learn More Now
Get more tips for working with acrylic paint in our class, Startup Library: Painting With Acrylic .