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Mixing Colour Part I

The previous article we hadn't even dished up any paint. This time we are actually going to put some paint out. There is a couple of things that we need to look at:

Let’s set ourselves up so that the process of moving paint around is as easy as possible. We've touched on looking at setting ourselves up so that we can stay in “the zone”. We are going to stay in that theme, but we are going to look at it in greater detail. We'll look at our working space and our table. This time we are actually going to look at where we put our paint; how that helps us with the process of mixing colours.

Let's start with the palette. I mentioned that big is good, and that having a back up palette/s is a good thing. This is something that needs to be taken into consideration when working with acrylics - it can make or break the process. Most of us have some form of pot or tub in which to wash our brushes. Have a look at yours. How big is it? In this case, size does matter. (Sorry gentlemen).

Imagine for a moment that you're engrossed in a particularly intricate part of your painting. You're completely in the zone. Paint is flying off your brush; you're not thinking what you are doing. You need a ?ash of a particular colour. You still need to use the brush that you’re using now. You put it into your paint pot to quickly clean it. You drag your brush out, stick it in the colour and........MUD!!!!!!!!

A large pot allows you to clean out your brushes repeatedly, without the colours tainting the water. It is very frustrating having to go back and clean out your pot every 5 minutes; but nowhere near as frustrating as Fixing the mess you just made. My advice is, if you can comfortably carry a 44 gallon drum, that is possibly a good place to start. Seriously though, I use a 4L bucket; one that is deep enough to hold plenty of water, but not so deep that I belt my hands on the sides. It is vital when being particular about mixing colours, that you can control every possible tint or hue that may alter the colour you are striving for.

You need to eliminate contaminants to your colour. A small pot will pollute quickly and will taint your paintings. The more water you have in your pot, the more dilute the muddy water will be, therefore the less likely it will be to taint.

Whenever I run an art class, the students all love to play a game. They love to roll their eyes every time I say “pretend someone else is paying for the paint”. DO NOT PLACE A PEA SIZED DROP OF PIGMENT ONTO YOUR TINY PAPER PLATE PALETTE. Again, size does matter in this case. Placing tiny amounts of paint onto an inadequate sized palette is guaranteed to have me do that thing where twitch uncontrollably, mutter and mumble in a corner, prior to breaking something (usually the palette). Dish out more paint than you think you need. Almost certainly you will still find yourself dishing out more, eventually. For me the process of painting on its own is enjoyable; but let's face it, completing a painting that I'm proud of is a big part of the buzz. I believe you can't do that if you are constantly struggling between your creative and your logical brain.

Dishing up more paint than you think you need, and in fact mixing more colour than you think you need, will stop that jarring sensation where you are brought back into reality because you've run out of a colour. Having lots of paint out is a bit like going into an exam fully prepared & having the answers at your fingertips. (TIP: When I use acrylics, I waste much less paint because I use the Atelier Interactive range. Being able to reactivate and re-work the paint gives you time and opportunity that you may not otherwise have got). Of course, working with oils, it is slightly less important because a little paint can go a lot further. And of course, the slow drying time means your concerns about conservation are less immediate. You can wake up tomorrow morning and push the oils around again. I've devised a system which allows me to keep my acrylics moist and accessible for days. This of course makes it easier to justify dishing out large amounts of paint.

Almost time to mix colour. I dish out paints in a particular order; and for most colours, use a cool and warm version. For example, with the Atelier Interactive series, I use Ultramarine Blue and Pthalo Blue. Warm and cool. I use Cadmium Yellow Medium, and Cadmium Yellow Light (warm and cool). Cadmium Red and Alizarin (warm and cool). I will have each of these colours side by side. For my less experienced students, I will often mark on the palette in chalk, lines extending down from each colour. (This works well for very simple pieces). I encourage them to mix all the cool red colours, in the cool red column. All the colours that tend towards a warm red are in the warm red column. Etc, etc. Having a big palette makes this strategy easier.

Managing your palette is vital. You either need to organise it well, or have an excellent memory. Marking out your palette with chalk lines can possibly seem a little pedantic - but it does teach you to keep all of your colours in precise places. One of the benefits of this, is that if you do happen to mix a new colour over the top of something such that the paint is reactivated, it is not so far from the colour you are attempting to create, that it pollutes it entirely. I'm probably not the person to say this, but mixing colours requires some organisation; and using some of the strategies that I've mentioned go some way to doing that.

Next issue we are going to go further into detail of mixing colour and managing the process using the chalk lines.