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Hopefully those of you who didn't read the last article will make some sense of this, and hopefully those of you who read the last article are still willing to read this one! This sounds very obvious, but it needs to be said. We mentioned in the last article the way I set up my palette, so that my acrylic paints stay usable. It's really important that you are able to keep your paint workable; so that your paint is in good condition when you are about to use it. Hopefully you will have an efficient strategy to keep your paint workable and in good condition from when you last used it. If not, I've designed a great system which works really well; which I'll go into a bit later. For some of you that won't be an issue, as you'll only dish out your paints when you need them. But it is important to make sure your paint is in a “fit state” to mix together. There are few things worse than having chunks of semi dried paint and globs popping up in your lovely smooth sky.

Whenever I run workshops, one of the first things I do is get the students, advanced or beginners, to do a simple gradation of colour from Pthalo Blue to White, for example. A gradation is simply a smooth blending of colour; in which the transition point between colours should be indiscernible. I have my students do this gradation over small and large areas. This exercise is designed to develop the skills and “touch” needed to pull colours together smoothly and adeptly. It is amazing how many accomplished painters can't do this quickly and effectively. Out in the real world there are very few gradations of colour which are a perfect transition.

However, mastering the skill is an incredibly valuable exercise. Once my students have developed this skill to a reasonable level, I then introduce other colours. For example Pthalo Blue + Cadmium Yellow Light + White. It is one thing to go from white to blue; it is another thing entirely to shift through three or four shades and hues smoothly.

Blending Colour:

It is incredible how painting subtle shifts in hue in skycapes, or the gradation of colour in a figure, becomes so much easier when you can blend colours efficiently.

Most of us do our “training” on one of our paintings. The pressure's on. That's why it's a great idea to practice some skills on something that means nothing to you. Practice makes perfect. You'll improve much faster, than if you wait for a painting to present you with that opportunity to practice that skill.

I recommend, whatever your skill level, doing this exercise occasionally prior to starting a painting:

You will need:

• Your large palette
 • Your large water pot
 • Canvas (or preferred primed surface)
 • Your favourite colour (we have used Pthalo blue)
 • White

We want to do a gradation of colour, from a pure version of your favourite colour, to white (no water added). It's a great idea to use the chalk columns on your palette to do this, especially for beginners.

Start with your pure colour at the top of the column, adding white as you go down. Apply these increments to your canvas from your pure colour at the top, through to your pure white at the bottom.

There is a trap here. If you want pure white, you will need pure white! That means your brush will need to be cleaned thoroughly, before you add any white. Any remaining colour in your brush will taint your white.

THIS IS IMPORTANT: Most people don't stop to take all of the colour out of their brush at critical times, before adding another pigment. This is why we so often end up with “mud”. When you become confident that your gradation is smooth over a large-ish area, compress it into a small one; then do it over a huge one. Gradations over varying size will test your skill!

So far I've spoken about blending colour, rather than mixing colour. The two things are closely related however; especially when you set up your palette using the chalk line strategy we mentioned in the last issue. Using this chalk line strategy, will help keep the colours that you mix, clean and uncontaminated. It is also a great visual reference for those who are not comfortable at recreating colours at a whim (I would think most of us). Let's go into this in detail.

Mixing Colour:

In this article we will not be focussing on colour theory. All we are interested in, is the actual physical process of mixing colours together; and how best to do this. Let's go back to the gradation exercise to explore this further.

As I am generally asked about the way I paint water, we are going to use these colours as the foundation for this exercise.

You will need (note, these are Atelier Interactive colours, you may use a cool blue or cool yellow instead):

• Your large palette
 • Your large water pot
 • Canvas (or preferred primed surface)
 • Large paintbrush (size 10 or 12)
 • Pthalo Blue
 • Cadmium Yellow Light
 • White

Grab your very large palette (which is close to your very large and stable water pot), draw some vertical chalk lines, and dish out these three colours, as per photograph.

Now with a large-ish paintbrush (size 10 or 12), in the column directly beneath the blue, drop a dollop of blue. STOP. Get another dollop. I'm betting you didn't put enough out! Mix up heaps of paint. Now add some cadmium yellow and some white, and mix the colours together, staying in your blue column.

For this exercise, I want you to mix the colours completely so that there are no flecks of the pure colour remaining. The colours need to be mixed together completely. When you have a beautiful sea-type turquoise colour, paint it across the top of your canvas.

If at this point, you are finding that the holes are showing through in your canvas and you are having to “scrub” the paint on, you didn't mix up enough paint! Go to the corner, do some push ups, and come back. Dish up some more paint and mix again.

For those of you who are not doing push ups, grab another dollop of Pthalo Blue (much smaller dollop) and a dollop of the Cadmium Yellow Light (more than last time), and add a bit more white. (A bit is a technical term; somewhere between a lot, and not much). This colour should be mixed just below the previous colour. The colour you have created now should appear warmer, and paler. Add it to your canvas, blending back into to the previously applied colour. See photograph.

The push up crew are back with us now, and won't make that mistake again (will they!!).

 Note - don't do too many push ups so that you can't pick up your paintbrush.

Continuing down within your chalk lines, repeat the process adding more Cadmium Yellow and more white, so that your colour appears warmer and paler again. Paint this colour as before, blending down into your other colours. Continue adding more white and Cadmium Yellow Light until you reach the bottom of the canvas. You should have a smooth, lovely ocean-like gradation of colour. When you feel comfortable with this, pick a different gradation of colours, say for a sunset, and repeat the process. Remember, these are just exercises. For practical examples on painting gradations, you may like to have a look at our Youtube channel: Our website also has lots of tutorials and information you may like to check out,

You may ask yourself what this whole process has to do with mixing colours. The first thing is this - knowing where all of your colour is on your palette, minimises the possibility of your brush touching and collecting a colour you didn't want. We've all been there and done that. The second thing is that by managing your palette in this way, you have a visual history which eliminates confusion and allows easy reference to colours used along the way. The added benefit is that you can often, in the case of products such as oil paints, or the Atelier Interactive range which will stay mobile, go back and use paint without having to remix colours.

Next article, we'll be looking at mixing colour, when should we add white to a pigment, and when should we add pigment to a white. Until then, chuck some paint around!