Color Mixing Theory

As fun and enjoyable as it sounds, mixing colors for your painting can be critical because it is more than just applying paint to the canvas. It is an important part of painting which also defines the emotion of your painting piece! Choosing the right colors for your painting will not only make it visually appealing but also bring out its true meaning. Color mixing theory defines the relationship between certain color combinations and the psychological impact they hold.

To an artist, the expression of their work and how others perceive their work holds great significance. So, the fundamentals of color theory should not be ignored by you when you decide to do some painting work.   

Before moving on with the fundamental elements of Color Mixing Theory, let’s dive into the history of color theory.

History of Color Mixing Theory

Some of the general principles of color theory were defined by Leone Battista Alberti and Leonardo da Vinci in their writings and notebooks.

The first color wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in the early 17th century. It was the arrangement of VIBGYOR colors on a rotating disk. And soon it became the pivotal tool for artists to explain the relationship between colors.

There are 3 primary colors; red, blue and yellow. These in turn make purple, green and orange which are called secondary colors. The secondary colors then mix up to make tertiary colors. That is why it is necessary that you at least have the primary colors available at the time of painting. This way you can mix up colors and generate your own shades.

Fundamental Terms in Color Theory

In order to fully understand the color theory, you must be aware of the basic color theory terms that are as follows:


Hue refers to the origin of the color that we can see. The most dominant of all the colors that you see on the color wheel (primary, secondary and tertiary colors).

For example, the hue of Crimson is red. The hue of Olive is green and the hue of lavender is purple.


Tint refers to any hue or mixture of colors to which white has been added. The tinted colors are paler than the original color. One example of tints can be pastel colors.


Tone refers to any hue or mixture of colors to which pure grey has been added. Therefore toned colors are dull than the original color.


Shade refers to any hue or mixture of colors to which black has been added. Consequently, shades are darker than the original color.


Saturation is a measure of how original or pure the color is. The saturation of a color can be reduced by adding color on the opposite side of the color wheel or by adding gray. By saturating a color, we kill it and if we de-saturate a color wheel it will look like a grayscale with different tones of gray.

Color Temperatures: Warm & Cool

The color wheel can be divided into two types; warm and cool. If you place warm and cool colors next to each other, you will see a strong contrast between them. On the other hand, if you place warm and warm or cool and cool colors next to each other, you will see a harmonious effect.

Generally, warm colors reflect light, energy and activity. Alternatively, cool colors have calm, secure and soothing impact.

So, before starting your painting you should determine whether you want to give it a warm, cool or neutral feel. When we say neutral, it means an equal balance of warm and cool colors.

The Most Common Color Combinations

Color combinations help you achieve the mood for your painting. If used correctly, they also make your work easier. Let’s dive straight into some of the well-known color combinations that artists have been using since ages:


Complementary colors are situated opposite to each other in the color wheel and they bring out a contrasting effect. However, if used in abundance they may be too hard on the eyes because of their vibrancy.

The key to using a complementary color scheme is to select a dominant color and an accent color. Dominant one will comprise most part of your painting while the accent color will be used sparingly.


Analogous colors are situated next to each other in the color wheel and they bring out harmonious effect. The analogous color schemes are commonly used in water color paintings and paintings that portray nature. Artists Vincent Van Gogh and Claude Monet’s used analogous color schemes in their work.

The key to using an analogous color scheme is to select one color as the dominant one, the second one as secondary and the third as an accent color.


Triadic colors are any 3 colors situated evenly around the color wheel. The triadic color schemes are vibrant hence, it is important to see that they do not overwhelm the viewers.

The key to using a triadic color scheme is using one as dominant color and two as accent colors.


Split-complementary is the variation of complementary color scheme. Apart from the dominant color, there are two complementary adjacent colors in this scheme.

It is easier to balance this color scheme as there are two complementary colors involved which leads to low contrast than complementary color scheme. Split-complementary scheme is best for use if you are a beginner.

We hope you find this helpful. Color Mixing theory is an interesting concept for all the artists. The best way to practice color theory is to buy a color wheel or make yourself one using your own paints.

Also try using a limited color palette so that you need to make new colors yourself. This will enable your mind as to how the colors relate to each other. As a result, you would be able to create better color combinations for your paintings!

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