Colours the Artist Cannot Do Without

This site is dedicated to the use of colour in art. Having completed countless projects in oils and acrylics as well as written books and articles on this subject, I have discovered various ways in which colour can be manipulated. A wealth of articles can be found by scrolling down the navibar on the left, or view my external sites above.

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Best Pigments for Painting

An array of pigments is not necessary to mix any colour needed. In fact, this site focuses upon a mere ten pigments, although others will be referred to. Note, this site is dedicated to the use of opaque painting mediums (not watercolour) which are oils, acrylics and alkyds.

Common problems with colour mixing are looked at and the problem decoded via a deeper understanding of how colours behave. Learn interesting facts about colour, such as how given colours of light when mixed together gives the opposite result to when the same colours are mixed in pigment.

Unexpected Colour Behaviour

Learn also how colours appear vastly differently when placed in different contexts and how they can impact upon the resultant mood of any painting. Learn also by merely applying various art techniques, the colour will appear different. Indeed, colour does not always behave as one might expect.

Awkward Colours

Problematic colours are faced head-on, such as skin tones, greens and garish colours. Each colour is looked at in depth and demystified. Not every blue object is blue, and not every green object is green. This is the difference between local colour and apparent colour and which is explored in more detail in a separate article here. The realms of idealised notions of colour are debunked and a new way of viewing colour encouraged. Viewing colours as though never seen before is the key to creating successful art.

Essential Pigments for Art

But before mixing colours, every artist must have the primary colours within the palette. Without these primary colours, not every colour can be mixed. But the primary colour is not any red, yellow and blue, but a particular pigment of each that closely resembles the primary colours. In other words, the pigment that closely resembles the printing colours of ink, which are magenta, yellow and cyan.

Unfortunately, artist pigments are not always similarly labeled on the tubes, which can cause confusion. In fact some artist paints labeled ‘magenta’ is not the same colour as magenta of printing ink, but a dirty rose colour. True magenta must be sought out by gleaning colour charts available from art shops and making comparisons with magenta of printing ink. The same may be applied to the other primary colours, cyan and yellow.

Red is not a primary colour but a secondary colour; orange is not a secondary colour, but a tertiary colour. This colour terminology is explained in further detail on the basics of the colour wheel. Take a look at true magenta, and it is a bright rose colour. Cyan is a sharp, cold blue, and primary yellow is clean and bright. No colour bias must be evident.

My Art Blog and other Art Sites

Link to my blog offering troubleshooting advice on oil painting.

My other sites can be accessed from here, including oil painting demonstrations, a guide to teaching art and all about art materials. You can also find out about my art books.

My Video Clip Explaining Color Theory

What is Colour Bias?

Colour bias is the tendency of any colour to ‘lean’ towards its neighbouring colour on the colour wheel. A true yellow must not be slightly greenish or slightly orange, but merely yellow. Primary yellow, being situated between these colours on the colour wheel must lie precisely between these points without such bias. In terms of pigment, any colour will possess impurities, no matter how small. Blue can contain a little violet, as in ultramarine. Red can contain a little blue or brown, as in the case of alizarin crimson. Again, cyan and magenta (the true primary red and blue) must lie precisely between their neighbouring colours on the colour wheel in order to be a primary colour.

Pure Colours in Art

Mainstream artist pigment manufacturers use the word ‘process’ to denote a primary colour, such as ‘process red,’ or ‘process yellow.’ I have found other pigments that closely approximate the primary colours. Monestrial blue is a blue closely approximating cyan, but is no longer highly available. Pthalo blue is close to the mark, although it is deeper in hue. I also use permanent rose and cadmium yellow (pale) as my primary colours when using oils.

Essential Colours for Painting

Some artists have got by with a mere three colours and white for mixing colours. In theory, any colour can be mixed with just these three primary colours. However, some pigments have certain properties such as tinting strength and consistency that cannot be matched. Viridian green, for instance has extraordinary tinting strength; burnt sienna possesses a warm toasty hue, ideal for flesh hues. For this reason, other colours will come in handy along with the primary colours (pthalo blue, cadmium yellow (pale) and permanent rose). I use ultramarine, cadmium red, lemon yellow, burnt sienna, burnt umber, viridian and of course, titanium white.

Great Colours for Oil Painting

Further colours can come in useful such as alizarin crimson, cerulean, Prussian blue and Indian yellow. With practice, preferences can be found. Rather than purchase a selection pack of paints which will often contain useless colours and a missing primary colour, purchase the tubes separately. Oils and acrylics are available in different-sized tubes. 100ml will last years, although the smaller 37ml will suffice for small paintings. A large tube of white will be necessary.

Articles on Painting

The main oil painting techniques

Types of gessoes for painting

How to darken the colour of snow