Color Mixology: the art of mixing colors

Apparently in the past few years, the cocktail has made a comeback. Nowadays instead of calling the people who make them bartenders, they are now called mixologists.

I think it’s kind of silly.

But mixing things together to get new things is inherently how we humans create.

Color is no exception.

You can always mix colors together to get new colors. You can put colors side by side to increase the intensity or calm things down.

Color mixing requires an understanding of color theory and an eye for it. If I’m feeling pretentious, I could call it color mixology. But it’s just combining colors to make new ones. Here are some of my go-to color combinations.

Black(ish), the color of concrete

Cobalt + Raw Umber or Burnt Umber

Blue plus brown creates a nice, cold black-ish color that I use quite a bit in my urban landscapes. Add white to it and you get a grayish color that resembles concrete. Use Burnt Umber with Cobalt for a “warmer” color, or Raw Umber for something “colder.”

This works really well in oil. Since I made the switch to acrylic, I haven’t been able to replicate this quite as well. I avoid using a black out of the tube. Colors right out of the tube tend to lack character.

A color created with several other colors is by default more interesting than something right out of the tube. (Tweet that)

Detail from “Interchange” – oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches. 2004


Alizarin Crimson + Cadmium Red + Cadmium Yellow Medium + White

I love this reddish-orange. It’s almost a Coca-Cola red. It was perfect for the stripes on the Snow Speeders in my “Hoth” painting. The red-purple of the Alizarin gives it a slight “edge” and deepens the color a bit more than just red-orange. It cools it off a little. That red-orange can be pretty intense. I think this color is delicious.

Detail from “Hoth” – acrylic on canvas, 14 x 11 inches. 2015
I used something similar in my “Ireland” painting, putting it against several greens for contrast.

Detail from “Ireland” – acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12 inches. 2015

Light Yellow

Cadmium Yellow Light + White

If you want to make a color lighter but keep the intensity, mix in light yellow. The yellow helps it retain the chroma, or saturation. But do it in moderation or it will begin to skew the color toward yellow.

Detail from “Dusky Haze” – oil on panel, 16 x 20 inches. 2014
So those are a few of my favorite color mixes. It’s always fun putting colors together to see what happens. It’s not always what you expect.

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