Mixing colour

Colour theory! Not just the “normal” one, but all of them: obscure, technical and obsolete. For a long while books after book arrived at Studio A from around the globe – mostly secondhand, cheap and old. Why not go back to the source, eh? I read everything that came in and, for that matter, did pretty much all the suggested exercises. Used a lot of paint for a while there…
If I were to boil down what I learned into a practical course it would be this:

Munsell Student Set

Munsell Student book

Values Can’t go past the Munsell Student Set for getting values nailed down and understanding hue, value and chroma. It comes with little colour chips (like tiny paint chips) that the intrepid gets to organise and stick down on the charts supplied. Worth the effort. Not a huge read (it come in a small ring binder) but it covers it and it works. The value chart you make is really small but it is enough, with some practice, to mix the greys to make a bigger chart – an exercise that is an absolute must. Frustrating first up but worth persevering.

If you can’t stretch to the book the Color Academy has a pretty good tutorial on Munsell. Then get a grey scale with a 1 to 10 range from somewhere and mix the string of greys. Then mix another colour in the same string of values (tones) by mixing and squinting til they read the same. Better still, don’t stop at one colour, do ten. Or, even better, make it twenty. You want to be able to do this without thinking about it. Plus – and this is important – it sensitizes your eye to see values in your subject.


Blue and Yellow Don't Make Green by Michael Wilcox

The second exercise is Michael Wilcox’s Blue and Yellow Don’t Make Green. Michael’s theory is much debated and I’m not going get into the fray because, to be honest, I can’t be bothered. What is of value here are his exercises. And yes, that means doing them – all of them – just reading is a waste of time. You’ll not only get your head and brush around warm, cool and knowing what to mix for what you’ll end up with a set of charts in own poison, be it oils, acrylic or watercolour, that are good to have around.
thousands of little squares… It worked. A friend at a plein air get together was fussing over having left a tube of something at home. A quick forage through her box yielded a couple of others that mixed and matched the colour on per painting perfectly. Problem solved (or Solvered for the locals. West Australian in-joke). She needs to do Blue and Yellow… Oh, and didn’t need the same colours used in the exercises either.

Making colour charts
Making colour charts

Colour mixing charts

All combined Munsell and Wilcox are probably going to chew through 6 or 7 tubes of paint, a bunch of small panels or a couple of pads of those hideous fake canvas sheets. I used panels – 3mm MDF cut to approx A5 primed with acrylic gesso. Made a template with a sheet of acetate – cardboard would do – to trace on the little boxes. For watercolour, just used fairly cheap watercolour paper from Artshed – make sure it’s white not cream. Other than that: determination. Both paint and patience will be paid back in the time saved mixing colour, ending up with a small palette for ever and getting mixes right first go. Oh, and losing the frustration with all that? Priceless.

Have fun (and it is fun),

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