Saturday, 20 February 2010

Why are My Colour Mixes Dirty?

Colour mixes in oil painting could end up looking dirty if the colour theory is poorly understood. The most common problem occurs when painting shadows, silhouettes or trying to darken a bright colour. The resultant colour mix ends up looking muddy and lifeless which could ruin a painting. How can muddy colour mixes be avoided, and how can this problem be put right?

The Causes of Muddy Colours

Understanding the cause of dirty colours will help find a solution. The following bad practices will create dirty colour mixes:
  • Trying to darken a colour with black
  • Using more than four colour within a colour mixture
  • Overworking a painting or fiddling too much within a particular area
  • The inclusion of too many earth colours, ochres and greys within the artist’s palette
  • Introducing too much dark colour in a colour mix at once and trying to lighten it again with white, causing the colour mix to lose life
How to Avoid Dirty Colour Mixes

The following simple tips on colour mixing will help prevent muddy colours:
  • Dispense with black altogether
  • Try to use no more than three, or at the most, four pigments to attain a colour mixture
  • Darken a colour with its complimentary colour instead of black or a dark colour. The complimentary colour is the opposing colour on the colour wheel to a given colour. Red’s complimentary is green; yellow’s complimentary is violet
  • Try not to overwork the painting. Allow streaks of colour to remain in the brushwork to retain its vibrancy
  • Don’t over-mix a colour, or it will end up as a solid lifeless block
Darkening Colours for Shadows

A summer’s sky will appear darker at the zenith than at the horizon. Darkening blue can be achieved by introducing a little violet or even crimson into the blue mix, as red is an opposing colour to blue on the colour wheel. Introducing this complimentary colour in increments will help get the best result. Similarly, darkening green foliage can be achieved by introducing a little red.

Painting shadows as pools of black or dark brown is a common mistake and will kill the life out of any painting. Looking closely will reveal a multitude of colours within shadows, including crimsons, greens and violets.

A Cure for Dirty Colour Mixes with Tonking

A muddy splodge on a painting cannot be put right. The best thing to do is start again. This does not mean starting the painting again. The area can simply be wiped off or carefully blotted out by a process known as “tonking.” This is an oil painting technique where the oil paint is lifted off by placing a newspaper over the area concerned, pressing it down and lifting it off. This can be repeated several times until little of the paint can be lifted from the painting.

With the paint lifted off, the area can be wiped gently with a clean rag to rid of any oily residue, and allowed to dry over a day or two. The area can then be begun again.

Essential Art Materials to Prevent Dirty Colour Mixes

Oil pigments in primary colours, which will be labelled differently according to the manufacturers. In oil, this will be pthalo blue, permanent rose and cadmium yellow (pale). In other mediums, this could include the word “process” or “permanent” with the colour label, such as “permanent yellow.” Winsor & Newton and Daler Rowney are established and trusted manufacturers in oil painting pigments.

Related Articles on Colour Mixing

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