Friday, June 26, 2015

Mixing Primary Colors from Secondary Colors

When I first heard about this idea, of mixing primary colors, I said, "Really?"  I'd always been taught that the very nature of a primary color meant that it can't be mixed.   But you can, by using secondary colors.

By mixing the primaries from secondaries, what you get is a set of greyed-down primaries.  This is because two adjacent secondaries contains a bit of the primary that sits between them on the color wheel:

  • Orange and violet (which have red between them) yield a muted red
  • Violet and green (which have blue between them) yield a muted blue
  • Green and orange (which have yellow between them) yield a muted yellow

Also, depending on what pigments you use, you will get reds, blues and yellows that may be shifted a bit in temperature or hue.

I tried two different experiments.  First, I used Permanent Orange, Dioxazine Violet and Phthalo Green.  I liked the results, but found the Phthalo Green to be a little overwhelming.  Here's a little test palette, followed by a 6x6 landscape I painted with it.  I first toned the white canvas with Transparent Earth Red for a warm background; then I followed with mostly my mixed primaries; and finished by adding a few touches of my original, unmixed secondaries.

DV = Dioxazine Violet
PO = Permanent Orange
PG = Phthalo Green
At the top are my muted red, yellow and blue

Ragged Point 6x6 oil/canvas - SOLD!

So, for my second experiment, I used Viridian, which is a little less powerful than the Phthalo.Here's the palette for this one.  It's similar to the first, but the red seems a little cleaner and the blue, a little less intense.  Adding white, of course, both cools and mutes the color even more.

"MV" should be "DV" for Dioxazine Violet
V = Viridian
PO = Permanent Orange
At the top are my muted red, yellow and blue
Is this a useful exercise?  I think the natural landscape is made up more of secondary colors than the primaries.  Looking out my window at my woods this morning, I see a huge amount of green in the trees, a certain amount of an orange in the "browns" in piles of litter, and the little sky I see seems more violet than blue.  I don't really sense much red, yellow and blue out there—maybe just touches.  So, if I were to paint this scene, maybe starting with a palette of secondaries would be a good idea.

It'd be worthwhile testing this with a variety of secondaries.  Have any of you done this, and if so, what palette do you like?

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