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Oil Painting Lessons - Tips on Color mixing and theory
by: Ralph Serpe

When I first
began painting some 10 years ago, I recall how intimidating it all seemed.
With all of the various colors, mediums, brushes and other tools available,
it was enough to make my head spin.

While learning
about the various brushes and mediums was a bit confusing, the biggest
challenge for me was how to accurately depict nature and other real life
objects on canvas using color.

How do I
make a color lighter or darker? What about making realistic shadows or
highlights? This article will shed some colorful light on the situation,
and with practice, working with color in your oil paintings will become
easier and more enjoyable.

Thank God
for the beautiful Sun, for without it, we would not see color. Everything
would appear dark and colorless.

the light from the Sun also travels in a straight line. If it didn't,
we wouldn't have the wonderful variety of light and shadow that makes
everything so enjoyable to paint.

If you take
an apple for instance, and put it outside in the grass in the sunlight,
you will notice several different values that the light creates when shining
on the apple.

You have
the main overall tone of the apple, the shadow on the apple, the cast
shadow, reflection from nearby objects like the green grass and the sky,
and highlights. Our job as painters is to accurately depict these values
on canvas using color.

There are
so many different oil colors on the market today. All of these different
colors come from the six colors that make up the spectrum - yellow, orange,
red, violet, blue and green.

Colors have
four main properties - value, intensity, temperature and hue. The value
of a color refers to how light or dark a color is. The intensity of a
color refers to how bright or dull it is - also known as a colors saturation
or purity. If you used yellow straight from the tube, it would have a
higher intensity then if you mixed it with white. The temperature refers
to how warm or cool a color is. Colors range in temperature from warm
yellows and oranges to cool blues and violets. Finally, the hue is just
another word for color. An apple and a cherry are both hues of red.

Color mixing
is not an exact science. Artists have different formulas and methods for
mixing and applying paint, so the following tips are general guidelines
and not necessarily rules that must be followed.

When mixing
colors don't over mix. Over mixing a color will take the life out of it.

To create
highlights in your paintings, use white with a touch of the objects complimentary
color. There are some exceptions however. When painting highlights on
certain objects like brass for instance, which can be depicted on canvas
using yellow, making a lighter yellow tinted with white can create a convincing

Cast shadows
of objects are complimentary to the color that the shadow is cast upon.
For instance, the cast shadow of a red apple on a blue tablecloth would
be orange.

To get any
desired color, try to mix as few colors as possible. Try and limit it
to three.

Try to keep
the theme of your painting either all warm or all cool in temperature.

Again, color
mixing is not an exact science. If you survey 10 artists and ask them
various questions about mixing oil paint, you will likely get many different
answers. My advice is to keep painting and practicing until you develop
your own formulas and techniques that you are comfortable with. Happy
Painting and God Bless!


Ralph Serpe is Webmaster and Cofounder of Creative Spotlite -,
a free educational art and craft community. Visit Creative Spotlite today
for more free art

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