Color Mixing: A Primer / by Angela Bandurka

There are more than one way to mix your paints. Most of us just mix the two or more colors together on a palette, then apply it to the surface we're painting on and call it a day. But really, there are many different ways to mix your colors. The way you mix color becomes part of your style!

In the pear, below, I mixed Ultramarine Blue and Cadmium Yellow Deep to make green, using different methods of color mixing. The paint I used is Golden Heavy Body Acrylic, and I painted this example on a smooth hardboard (what you paint on and its texture is as important as the paint and technique itself!) Keep reading for explanations of each section:

Complete, Physical Mixing

Using my two colors, I mixed them together using a palette knife until the color was smooth and completely mixed. I painted it on with a flat brush.

You can also achieve complete mixes by painting one color on your surface, then, while it's wet, mixing in the second color completely. Can be tricky, so use caution.

Tools used: Blue and yellow paint, palette knife, palette, flat brush, primed hardboard.

Incomplete Mix

Using a palette knife, I picked up a little of each of my two colors and spread them on the surface, allowing each color to show without completely mixing together.

Tools used: Blue and yellow paint, palette knife, palette, primed hardboard.


I painted a layer of blue on the surface of my piece and allowed it dry. Then I used a brush loaded with the yellow, then wiped off a little bit, and proceeded to rub the yellow paint around on top of the blue layer. The texture of your surface will make a big difference in the appearance of this technique, so experiment with it!

Tools used: Blue and yellow paint, paper towel, flat brush, primed hardboard.


Using transparent layers can be a way to make your colors look very luminous. You have to be careful of the texture of your surface, as very porous surfaces will react differently than harder surfaces. I started with a layer of yellow paint, then glazed over it with the blue. The order that you layer your glazes will make a difference in the look here, as well. Again, experiment and try it out!

Tools used: Blue and yellow paint, glazing medium, palette, flat brush, primed hardboard.


I painted a layer of blue on the surface of my piece and allowed it dry. Then I painted a thick layer of yellow over it, and while it was still wet used the wooden handle of my brush to scratch lines through the yellow paint, showing some of the blue underneath through it.

Tools used: Blue and yellow paint, flat brush, primed hardboard.

Optical Mixing (Proximity)

Also can be called pointillism when dots are used - this technique can be achieved with lines and dashes or any shape side by side to create an optical mix (think of the impressionists!). In this example, I painted yellow dots and blue dots side by side with a wooden dowel. (I dipped the end of the dowel into a blob of paint, lifting it straight out of the paint and then pressing it down on the surface.)

This is the technique printers use to "mix" thousands of colors out of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black.

Tools used: Blue and yellow paint, wooden dowel, primed hardboard.

Dry Brushing

This is a technique I employ regularly, since acrylic paints tend to dry very quickly and I don't like to use mediums with them. Your surface texture will play a large role in this - so experiment. The more texture, the more pronounced the effect. Usually I'll opt for covering my canvas with a light molding paste before priming and painting, allowing me to create my own slightly uneven but subtle texture. Here I used a coarse molding paste applied to the surface with a palette knife, and after it dried overnight I painted a layer of blue paint and allowed it to dry as well. Then I loaded my brush with yellow paint and wiped off the excess (until the brush was nearly dry); and then, applying very little pressure, I spread the yellow over the blue as if the brush were a palette knife.

Tools used: Blue and yellow paint, coarse molding paste, palette knife, flat brush, primed hardboard.