In this blog post, we will teach you how to mix watercolors like a pro! Watercolor painting is an art form that can be quite challenging for beginners. It can be difficult to create the exact color you are looking for, and it takes a lot of practice to get the hang of it.
We will cover three key steps including how to manage water and palette, then we will show you how to choose the right colors and finally, we will create a watercolor split primary chart that you can use as a reference guide. These tips can be applied to any subject from loose florals to stunning landscapes. Before we dive in, let’s cover some common questions that come up when learning how to mix watercolor.
Here is a list of chapter markers so you can find what you need fast!
00:07 Palette setup
00:28 How much paint to use
00:50 Common mistake
01:12 Using white gouache
01:26 Grouping hues
01:34 Tilting palette
02:32 Managing water [IMPORTANT]
03:02 Managing brushes & water
05:14 Color mixing basics
05:39 Why split-primary works
06:21 Begin color chart
09:17 Mixing secondary hues
10:41 Mixing tertiary hues
12:33 Example of poor mixing
How to mix watercolors
It all starts with a split primary watercolor chart!
By using a split primary chart, you can easily make any color imaginable! Just remember that if you want to create a lighter shade of red, start with pink as your base color instead of pure red out of the tube. Adding water is like adding white to a color, it will result in a lighter value.
How much water do I mix with watercolor?
Let’s start with some of the basics you need to know about how to mix watercolor paint before we grab the paintbrush and palette. The first thing you need to do is how to manage water and your palette.
If you are mixing colors on a wet palette, be sure that the surface of it is dry before starting. You can use a paper towel or tissue paper if needed; however, this will not allow for as much control when adding drops of paint because they might get absorbed into the paper instead of staying on top where they can be picked up with your brush.
What paints should you use?
One way how you mix watercolor paint is how to choose the paint and the right colors. There are many different brands and types of paints available, so how do you know what will work best for your project? It all depends on your budget. However, using inferior quality watercolor paints may result in poor-quality color mixing.
If you are on a tight budget use Cotman’s by Winsor & Newton. It’s a good-quality student-grade paint that will yield the results you’re looking for.
If you can swing it financially, choose an artist-grade paint like Holbein, or Daniel Smith. The results are well worth it. Read this article on choosing the right materials, I think it will help guide you in making good decisions on purchasing materials.
What colors do I need?
Once you have decided how much water and how many drops of color from the squeeze bottles, it is time to mix the colors on your palette. A great way how to mix watercolor paint is by using a split primary chart. This will give you a basic range of colors to start with, and then you can add other colors as needed.
The exact six hues I use are:
Yellow ochre – warm yellow
Cadmium yellow lemon – cool yellow
Ultramarine blue – warm blue
Cerulean blue – cool blue
Alizarin crimson – cool red
Cadmium red light – warm red
Neutrals – Burnt sienna, raw umber and neutral tint
To make this chart, divide the color wheel into three sections: red, yellow, and blue. In each section, mix two colors that are next to each other on the wheel. This will give you six colors in total: three warm (red, yellow, and orange) and three cool (green, blue, and purple).
You can then use these six colors as a guide to creating any color imaginable. Just remember to start with light washes and build up darker tones slowly by adding more paint or water to your brush before applying it back onto the paper.
You may need to mix neutrals, or grays at some point
These are colors that don’t appear on the color mixing chart. Most watercolorists prefer to use complimentary which are two colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. For example, yellow and purple, or red and green.
However, know that mixing any other color into your paint, besides the one you are using that is, will desaturate the hue. Meaning it will create a neutral color that isn’t as intense.
Mixing the perfect green, violet and orange (secondary hues)
As the video explained in detail secondary hues are best mixed using split-primary palette. Below are the hues used to mix them in this tutorial. By the way, you can mix good secondaries using other hues so long as the temperatures are correct.
Mix the perfect green – cerulean blue (cool) with cadmium yellow lemon (cool)
For vibrant violet – ultramarine blue (warm) with Alizarin crimson (cool)
How to mix orange – Cadmium red light (warm) with Yellow ochre (warm)
Here are tips for how to mix gray
To mix a neutral gray, start by adding a small amount of red, blue, and yellow. By combining these three it will mix a gray. You may have to add, or shift, the bias of a hue to be redder, or blue for example. So, if the mix is too red try adding more blue paint, or yellow paint. Remember you only need a little bit to make changes.
What colors make brown?
Brown can be easily mixed using red and green. If you want a warmer brown, like bricks, use more red. For a cooler brown add more green.
Experiment with various red and green hues. For example, try using cadmium red with hookers green, or mix alizarin crimson with sap green.
If you prefer to buy browns, as opposed to mixing them, then try these common hues used by watercolorists which are yellow ochre, burnt sienna and raw umber. All three mix great with other hues, too.
Another common question is how to mix paint in a pan and tube?
Watercolor pans are like hard cakes. To use them you have to first soften them with water. Start by adding just enough water so that the cake begins to break down and becomes wet but still has some texture. Then you can pick up the paint with a brush for use. When finished, I suggest wiping off your brush and letting it dry so that the paint won’t cake on it over time.
Tubes are much easier to work with because they’re already liquid inconsistency but must still be re-wetted before using them just like pan paints.
To re-wet tubes start by squeezing a small amount of paint out onto your palette and adding water to it with your brush as needed.
As you can see color mixing is easy but does require some knowledge and experience. I’m positive you will have amazing results if you follow this how to mix watercolors guide shared in this article. Take each of these tips and practice one at a time and you will be mixing watercolor like a pro in no time flat.
Let’s recap with the easy steps on how to mix watercolor
Step one: Choose the right hues – Remember to use a six primary palette that consists of warm and cool primaries. This is the only way you will get perfect secondary and tertiary hues.
Step two: Paint consistency how much water to use? – This is perhaps the most important part of how to mix watercolor paints successfully! You want to make sure that you’re using enough water to mix with the paint so that it will be wet enough to move on your palette, but not too much where the paint becomes diluted and doesn’t have any pigment. A good way to test this is by dipping your brush into the paint then adding a drop of water onto the paper. If the color spreads quickly and easily across the paper, then it’s ready to be used. If the color doesn’t move or spread at all, then you’ll need to add more water until it does. Remember that how much water you add will also affect the value of your paint. The lighter the wash, the less water you’ll need. And vice versa for darker washes.
Step three: Create a color mixing chart – Get those paints and brushes out and start creating a color mixing chart. This is the only way to become a color ninja!
If you follow these steps I know you will have success. Color mixing is easy to learn how to do but you must practice. Don’t forget to share how your watercolors turn out in the comments below! I’d love to hear how this how to mix watercolor guide has helped improve your watercolor skills.
If you have any questions about how to mix colors with watercolor please feel free to contact me or leave them below. I’ll see you in the next tutorial, bye…