2. A piece of white poster board at least 12″x12″
For example, to lighten green try using yellow first instead of white. To lighten red, trying using yellow first instead of white. This will get you used to moving up and down the color wheel. So when you are painting say a lemon, you will know to add a touch of red to the shadow color, instead of black.
Think about how much is truly black in nature. Shadows are not simply black nor a darker version of the color of the object. They contain the complementary color of the object.
Take, for example, the shadow on a yellow object. If you mix black and yellow, you get an unattractive olive green. Instead of using this for the shadow, use a deep purple. Purple being the complementary color of yellow, both will look more vibrant. If you can’t figure out what colors are in the shadows, simplify what you’re looking at by placing your hand or a piece of white paper next to the bit you’re having trouble with, then look again.
Haven’t Painters Always Used Black?
At various times in their careers, the Impressionists didn’t use black at all. Take Monet’s paintings of Rouen Cathedral in the morning full sunlight, in dull weather, and in blue and gold to see what a genius can do with shadows (he did 20 paintings of the cathedral at different times of the day). It’s not true to say the Impressionists never ever used black, but they certainly popularized the idea.
Or if you can’t see yourself working without black, then consider mixing up a chromatic black rather than using a straight-from-the-tube black. It also has the advantage not ‘killing’ a color it’s mixed with to the same extent.
How to Mix Chromatic BlackWatch this video from Windsor and NewtonThe more common way of creating a chromatic black is by mixing ultramarine blue with an earth color, but I teach my students a different mixture that gives an even richer, deeper ‘black’. It’s done by by mixing equal parts of Prussian blue, alizarin crimson, and an earth color (my favorite is burnt sienna, but burnt umber, raw sienna, and raw umber work as well).
When this chromatic black is added to white you get some of the most beautiful grays imaginable. If these grays are too blue for you, simply add a little more of the earth color to the original mixture, which will make the grays look more gray.
Create a Color ChartI have a chart I made that shows what each chromatic black and the resulting grays looks like. For example:
- Prussian + Alizarin + Burnt Sienna = Chromatic Black (+ white = gray)
- Prussian + Alizarin + Burnt Umber = Chromatic Black (+ white = gray)
- Prussian + Alizarin + Raw Umber = Chromatic Black (+ white = gray)
Varying the amount of white added to these mixes creates several values of gray.
An expanded version of my chart includes mixtures using Indian red, Venetian red, and Van Dyke brown. You get a different set of grays depending on which ‘brown’ you mix in with the Prussian and Alizarin.
Use Chromatic Black to Darken Other ColorsMixing small amounts of your chromatic black into your colors will darken them without ‘killing’ the color like regular black would do. I tell my students that Prussian blue and alizarin crimson are ‘magic colors’. In my experience, most painting teachers don’t include these colors on their lists of required colors, but once students discover all the possibilities of using these colors they never go back.
Color Mixing Tip No 1: Add Dark to Light
It takes only a little of a dark color to change a light color, but it takes considerably more of a light color to change a dark one. So, for example, always add blue to white to darken it, rather than trying to lighten the blue by adding white.
Color Mixing Tip No 2: Add Opaque to Transparent
The same applies when mixing an opaque color and a transparent one. Add a little of the opaque color to the transparent one, rather than the other way round. The opaque color has a far greater strength or influence than a transparent color.
Color Mixing Tip No 3: Stick to Single Pigments
For the brightest, most intense results, check that the two colors you are mixing are each made from one pigment only, so you’re mixing only two pigments. Artist’s quality paints normally list the pigment(s) in a color on the tube’s label.
Color Mixing Tip No 4: Mixing the Perfect Browns and Greys
Mix ‘ideal’ browns and grays that harmonize with a painting by creating them from complementary colors (red/green; yellow/purple; blue/orange) in the palette you’ve used in that painting, rather than colors you haven’t used. Varying the proportions of each color will create quite a range.
Color Mixing Tip No 5: Don’t Overmix
If, when you mix two colors together on a palette, you don’t mix and mix until they’re totally, utterly, definitely combined, but stop a little bit beforehand, you get a far more interesting result when you put the mixed color down on paper or canvas. The result is a color that’s intriguing, varies slightly across the area you’ve applied it, not flat and consistent.