You already know red plus yellow equals orange, yellow plus blue equals green, and blue plus red equals purple. But did you know those combos are only a tiny fraction of the millions of colors you can create just by mixing primary colors ?
It sounds like magic, and in a way it is. By varying the combinations and ratios, you can transform red, yellow and blue into an an incredible color spectrum.
Bonus: By combining those three tubes of paint, you'll also learn about color theory.
Ready to wave that wand? Grab your paint and let's do this.
What you need
- Red, yellow and blue paint (the photos below feature acrylic paint)
- Work surface (like canvas paper)
- A palette
- A palette knife for mixing colors
- Paper towels for cleaning off the palette knife
- Water for cleaning brushes
1. Start with primary colors
This is the easiest part: On your work surface, put a dab each of the pure primary colors (yellow, red and blue).
2. Create secondary colors
Let's look at all the ways you can combine primary colors to form secondary colors. This step is broken down into three parts. In each one, you'll create a 50-50 mixture.
Take each of the primary colors and add yellow to it, and see what happens. Well, not much happens to yellow, obviously. But the other primary colors get a makeover: Red becomes orange and blue becomes green.
What do you get when you mix some blue into each color? The blue stays blue, natch, but yellow turns green and red becomes violet.
Let's round this out by adding red to each primary color. Red keeps on being red but yellow turns orange and blue becomes violet.
So far, you've created enough color variations to make a rainbow. But you're not done yet.
Now you can start playing with those rainbow colors. Say you put together a mixture that has about 70 percent yellow and 30 percent blue: That gives you a grassier, yellower green. Or you might make a mixture with slightly more red than blue for a rich red-wine tone.
3. Combine primary and secondary colors
Once you've created the secondary colors, you can use them as new base colors to combine with primary colors (adding equal parts yellow, red or blue). Those mixtures will give you more unique and subtle tones. Here are some of the combinations you'll see.
From here, you can play with the ratios of primary to secondary colors and come up with endless variations.
4. Make brown
Grab each of the primary colors and mix them together in equal parts. What do you get? Brown paint. It may not be the most glamorous color, but it's an extremely helpful one in painting. Use it to start creating skin tones , shadows and natural elements like trees. You can also add it to darken mixed colors.
5. Enter white
So now you know that hundreds of colors are within your reach if you use primary colors and nothing else. But what if you want to lighten your colors? Adding white lets you create different tones of each of the colors, so now your combinations really are infinite.
What about black?
Black paint is useful in so many ways, but it tends to muddy up your colors when you mix it in. For a more natural-looking way of darkening a color, add in more of the dominant primary color. Or use brown paint (which you just learned how to mix in step 4).
Go for a color-wheel spin!
Now that you've got serious color-mixing skills, study this color guide and learn the difference between hues, shades, tones and tints — then grab your tubes of red, yellow and blue and get mixing!