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Did you know?
       "Mixing equals amounts
       of red, yellow, and blue
        will produce the color black."


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Sample of three primaries making black

How to Mix Three Watercolors

  • How to mix the color taupe
  • Adding just a tad of the third color
  • Mixing illuminating blacks
  • Creating radiant shadows

There may be times when you will want to add "a little something extra" to your mixture. Perhaps a sedimentary color to add texture, a bright color to make the mixture pop, or a complementary color to help tone the mixture down. Mixing a third watercolor, with the other two colors, can help you achieve those effects.

A third color also helps to create harmony within your painting. For instance, let's say you are using Cobalt Blue in your sky. A great way to carry that color to other parts of your painting would be in a shadow mixture. For example New Gamboge + Permanent Rose + Cobalt Blue.

But, not all colors mix well with one another. Some combinations will make your mixture look like mud. If you feel uncertain, try staying within the transparent to semi-transparent range of watercolors. Once you feel confident, then branch out and explore.

How to Mix Three Watercolors

Example 1.

illustration showing how three colors mixed can make the color taupe

For this example I have chosen Permanent Rose, New Gamboge, and French Ultramarine Blue. All three colors are non-staining, and charge beautifully together.
The first two watercolors make up the main color. In this case, it's an orange that is just slightly more towards the yellow side. The third watercolor (a blue) which is the complementary color of orange, has been added to neutralize or gray-down the first two colors. The third color needs to be added sparingly, as not to dominant over your previously mixed color.
The  Color Key 
would be written
like this:
New Gamboge  +  Permanent Rose  +  French Ultramarine Blue  =  Taupe

Adding just a "tad" of color

Example 2.

illustration showing how adding only a tad of color can slightly alter a color mixture

Adding just a "tad" of color to your color mixtures is a quick and easy way to tone down, enhance, or slightly alter it's appearance and color temperature.
In Example 2, Sap Green is the main color, and I have added enough of the French Ultramarine Blue to make a bluish-green with sediment for texture. The third color, Permanent Alizarin Crimson, is a complementary color to the green. So, by adding just a " tad ", I am slightly graying down the combination of the first two watercolors. Be careful not to let that third watercolor take over!
The  Color Key 
would be written
like this:
Sap Green + French Ultramarine Blue + Permanent Alizarin Crimson (tad) = Pine Green
personal note   As a general rule of thumb, it's best not to have any more than three colors in your mixture. As you learn more about color you will find that it is not necessary, and that three watercolors are sufficient to achieve the look you are after. Also, try to avoid over mixing your puddle. It will break down your paints, and cause them to lose some of their uniqueness.

Mixing Illuminating Blacks
The most well known, and readily available, blacks in watercolor are;
Lamp Black (a cool bluish black), and Ivory Black (a warm brownish black).

Mixing equal proportions and values, of yellow, red, and blue you will achieve a black true to the three watercolors that you have chosen to use.
painted examples of both colors
Lamp Black:  made from carbon, soot.

Ivory Black:  made from burnt animal bones.
Although black is available in watercolor, the majority of artists prefer to make their own black by mixing together equal amounts of all three primary colors; yellow, red, and blue. The advantage to this is you have control of the final outcome. Depending on the colors you choose, your blacks can be soft, medium strength, or strong and bold, as shown in the examples below.
Example 1.
a soft and delicate black
Example 2.
a medium strength black
Example 3.
a strong and bold black
painted example

Rose Madder Genuine
Cobalt Blue
painted example

New Gamboge
Permanent Rose
French Ultramarine Blue
painted example

Winsor Yellow
Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Winsor Blue

Creating Radiant Shadows
When it comes to painting shadows, Payne's Gray has been a quick and easy choice to use as a shadow color, but the majority of artists (especially colorists) prefer to mix their own shadow colors using the three primary colors; yellow, red, and blue, or from other colors used within their paintings.
The shadow mixture I use most often in my paintings are mixed using these three primaries:
title: Sun Kissed Bottles
When I paint subjects that have reflected color in their cast shadows, I still use the same shadow mixture that I mentioned over on the left, but now I will also include the colors I used in the subject. This method helps to create more lively shadows, as well as make them appear more connected to their subject.
New Gamboge (a warm yellow)

Permanent Rose (a vivid cooler red that's actually more pink than red)

French Ultramarine Blue (a warm blue with sediment).
close-up of cast shadows in Sun Kissed Bottles

NEXT:   Mixing the Complement   

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