The Art Surgery

A limited palette does not mean limited colours

First published in January 2017 issue of the Four Shires Magazine

A limited palette does not mean limited colours – By Barry Whitehouse of The Artery, Banbury

 The traditional colour wheel, we are all familiar with, was invented in the 1700s. It supposes that all colours can be made from just three primary colours.

Is this true? Well, not really!

The wheel should be used as a rough guide to colour mixing and shouldn’t be thought of as the be-all and end-all of colour mixing.

In the 1980s, artist Michael Wilcox looked into how we see colour and how the paint on the shelves of the art shop could be deceptive to the eye.

Wilcox established a school of art (of which I am a registered tutor) and wrote: Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green. Why does one mix of red and blue give us a totally different colour to a different mix of red and blue? By understanding the science behind it, it takes out the mystery that many artists find when mixing colours.

The science behind his research is quite complicated but basically all red paint is either orange based or purple based; all blue paint is either green based or purple based and all yellow paint is either green based or orange based. There is no such thing as a ‘pure’ yellow, red, blue or in fact, any colour!

Even the tubes of paint labelled ‘primary red’ are biased towards purple or orange (usually purple).

Here the rules change a little…

Instead of having one red, one yellow, and one blue paint you now begin to use one of each biased primary colours so giving you an orange-red, a purple-red, a purple-blue, a green-blue, a green-yellow, and an orange-yellow.

This way if you want a bright green, just mix the green-yellow and the green-blue together as they both have green in them. A mid green would mean keeping one of the green based primaries and using the other non-green based primary (so yellow-green plus purple-blue, or blue-green plus orange yellow). A dull green would be both of the non-green biased primaries (yellow-orange and purple-blue). It really is that simple and applies to all colours.

If you then add two earth tones to your six primary colours it is possible to mix thousands of shades and hues!!

Here are my suggested colours:

Orange-Red                 Cadmium Red, or Cadmium Red light

Purple-Red                  Alizarin Crimson, or Carmine

Purple-Blue                 Ultramarine

Green-Blue                  Cerulean Blue, or Cyan

Orange-Yellow            Cadmium Yellow, or Gamboge (for a transparent version)

Green-Yellow              Cadmium Yellow Lemon, or Lemon Yellow, or Aureolin (for transparent version)

 

Additional earth colours: Yellow Ochre and Burnt Sienna

Additional colour for oils and acrylics: Titanium White

The Mixes:

Mixing Purples

For bright purples, use the red and blue that reflect a large amount of violet. Mix together Ultramarine and Alizarin Crimson to get stunning bright ‘sweet pea’ purples.

For mid purples keep the Ultramarine and mix it with Cadmium Red (an orange violet). This gives you a wide range of mid purples. Alternatively, you can mix together Alizarin Crimson and Cerulean Blue for a further range of mid violets

For dull purples mix together the blue and red that does not reflect violet – Cerulean Blue and Cadmium Red

 

Mixing Greens

For bright greens, use the yellow and blue that reflect a large amount of green. Mix together Ultramarine and Lemon Yellow to get vivid spring time greens.

For mid greens keep the Cerulean Blue and mix it with Cadmium Yellow (an Orange Yellow). This gives you a wide range of mid greens perfect for summertime. Alternatively, you can mix together Lemon Yellow and Ultramarine for a further range of mid greens

For dull greens mix together the blue and yellow that does not reflect violet – Ultramarine and Cadmium Yellow, this colour is great for autumn and winter greens.

For dark, dense greens, mix together Ultramarine and Yellow Ochre and for Teals and turquoises, mix Cerulean Blue with Yellow Ochre.

 

Mixing Oranges

For bright oranges, use the red and yellow that reflect a large amount of orange. Mix together Cadmium red and cadmium Orange to get beautiful crisp oranges.

For mid oranges keep the Cadmium Red and mix it with Lemon Yellow (an green yellow). This gives you a wide range of mid oranges. Alternatively, you can mix together Cadmium Yellow and Alizarin Crimson for a further range of mid oranges.

For dull oranges mix together the yellow and red that does not reflect orange – Lemon Yellow and Alizarin Crimson.

For burnt oranges mix Alizarin Crimson with Yellow Ochre.

 

Mixing Browns

For dark browns such as sepia and burnt umber, mix together Burnt Sienna with varying amounts of Ultramarine.

For cool browns mix together Burnt Sienna with Cerulean Blue

For tree browns mix together Ultramarine and Yellow Ochre to make a dark green, and add some Burnt Sienna to it.

 

Mixing Greys

For dark greys such as Payne’s Grey and darker, mix together Ultramarine and Burnt Sienna, Adding more blue, the warmer you want the grey.

For cool green-greys such as Davy’s Grey, mix together Cerulean Blue and Burnt Sienna