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The Best Artist Guides for Mixing Colours

Katherine regularly reviews art books and has a very extensive art library (4 bookcases and lots of stacks waiting for the next one!)


How to produce colour - colour mixing and colour charts

You know the principles about mixing colours - but you'd like more help - preferably in pictures.

You want to know a lot more about which colours when mixed together produce another colour.

Lots of colour charts in fact - done by somebody else!

Below is that help! You can choose from all the best books about colour mixes and mixing colours

Also see The Best Art Books - Colour

Image (author's own): This is a chart of neutral colours created by mixing complementary coloured pencils

How to mix colours

The very best way of learning how to mix colours is to mix colours in a systematic way and create a colour chart.

You can mix colours using any media - dry media works just as well as paint. I'd always suggest you use the type of paper or support that you normally work on as the support has a major influence on how a colour reads.

There are a number of approaches to mixing colour. The two main ways are:


This is when the paint is actually mixed with a brush or palette knife (or pastel or pencil) into another colour to create a completely new colour. The mix is determined by the power of each brand/pigment and the relative percentages used eg 75:25 50:50. Such mixes are typically done away from the support.


This is when one colour is laid over and/or mixed with another colour. Such mixes are typically created on the support (e.g. when working "wet in wet" in watercolour where colours are allowed to mix in a less controlled fashion). The resulting effect in part depends on the nature of the ground/support, the relative strength of the underpaint and covering paint, the control exercised over the mixing and the extent to which a colour is opaque or transparent. When using dry media there is a potential for all mixes to be optical since all mixing MUST be done on the support.

Here are some examples.

APPROACH #1 The normal approach is to create a grid of squares with the same set of colours in the same order on the x and y axis.

  • create a column of paint for each of the colours - and let it dry
  • repeat the exercise and create a row of paint for each colour - and see what results when one colour is painted over another as a glaze

APPROACH #2 Repeat - but this time create a fresh mix for each square on the palette before bringing it to the chart. Complete one cube at a time. (This will use a lot of paint)

APPROACH #3 To test the possible mixes of two colours on the paper/support you need to have a column (or a row) with a lot of space in between. Have a pure square of the two colours to be mixed at either end and then either develop a continuous strip of colour or fill boxes in between the two colours (see a chart completed in this way below - I used different complementary colours to identify a range of coloured neutrals).

APPROACH #4 Certain artists like to puddle a colour and then drag some colour into a puddle of another colour to see how it mixes. This tends to be done in a haphazard way and works better for artists who have got very good brush control and know how wet the brush needs to be with paint and medium or water. It's fine as a method for testing paint while working but it lacks structure and data for a systematic review. I also very often find such experiments are not labelled with the paints which were mixed - and hence learning after the event can be limited. If you use this method don't forget to label the paints being mixed!


Alternatively file them in a folder and use them as a reference guide for colour mixing. You could try developing charts based on different colour groups.


  • You can create colour charts for different projects or environments
  • You can determine whether you want to test out different mixes of the same two colours and/or additions of white or black and/or dilutions and/or variations on which colour is the underpaint and which is the glaze.


  • you can spend a lot of money mixing paint to create charts of colours you may never use. Sometimes it's best to start with a guide from another source - and then focus in on the colours which you want to use.

An exercise in mixing neutrals from 12 complementary colours using coloured pencils

An exercise in mixing neutrals from 12 complementary colours using coloured pencils

An exercise in mixing neutrals from 12 complementary colours using coloured pencils

Image: Created by the author - READ my blog post Making A Mark - Complementary Colours and mixing neutral colours to find out more.

Colour Mixing - Tips and Techniques

Below are some links to places online where you can read some more about colour mixing.

The first one is a bit technical - but a lot of them are people talking and showing how they made their own colour charts

Why not take a look?

How to mix colours - a publishing perspective

Colour mixing is both one of the most enjoyable and one of the most frustrating activities known to artists.

  • Enjoyable when you're sat slowly creating a set of colour charts from your preferred palette.
  • Frustrating when you can't work out how on earth it's possible to mix a certain colour!

Good quality artist's paint and artist grade colours in other media are also not cheap and it can be very irritating mixing nice and expensive paint only to end up with mud!

Which is where the publishing industry came to the assistance of artists - from beginners to improvers.

Guides on mixing colour divide between:

  • more general books about colour - which have particularly good sections on mixing colour
  • specific guides on mixing colour - which generally comprise a lot of charts which demonstrate to the artist what happens when you mix one colour with another

Below you'll find both. Some books will be easy to find in art bookshops while others will be not so easy. However they're all available from Amazon.

In addition you'll also find tools and aids for mixing colour - colour wheels and colour charts

Top Recommendations for Watercolour Painting

Colour mixing for Watercolour Painters

One of the first challenges for watercolour painters when mixing colours is understanding the properties and qualities of the watercolour paints that they're using.

  • only transparent colours will produce a transparent glaze
  • only colours which have the capacity to granulate can create this interesting effect.

There are various art books which can help you begin to understand watercolours and what happens if you mix them. However all painters always need to remember that colours are not uniform as to pigmentation and composition and what one paint does in one brand is not the same as what another paint - of the same name - will necessarily do if used in precisely the same way.

Mastering the idiosyncrasies of the paints in your palette is one of the major challenges for any watercolour painter.

Colour charts for watercolour painters

This is being developed to include all the charts for different brands of artist-grade watercolour paint

Top Recommendations for Painters in Oils / Acrylics

  • Winsor & Newton - Colour for Artists Oil Colours
    For details on each colour such as series number, permanence rating, sizes available and other information click on the colours below. Alternatively, return to the Artists' Oil Colour Range Introduction page.

Colour Wheels & Charts

Different perspectives on how colour works in watercolour paint

The Handprint Website has a very useful comparison of the Stephen Quiller Colour Wheel and the Jim Kosanevc Colour Wheel

VIDEOS: Color Mixing with Stephen Quiller

Color Wheel - a guide to mixing color - by The Color Wheel Company

Color Mixing Recipes

Color Mixing Recipe Cards

The series of books which make up William H Powell's "Color Mixing Recipes" are very popular with artists wanting to"get their eye in" when it comes to mixing colours.

After all, while you don't mind working out colour mixes for yourself, paint is not cheap and it's also good to have a guide as to which colours will create that illusive colour that you want to mix.

For the most part, the books assume painters are working with oils or acrylics - although there is one book for watercolour painters

The Color recipe Cards focus on the three elements:

  • Hue - the natural colour of the pigment and how to use pure colours to mix other colours
  • Tone - how to lighten or darken colours by adding white or black
  • Intensity (Chroma) - how to enliven colours by mixing complementary colours across the color wheel

The books all use a colour mixing grid which assumes you are squeezing colour from a tube and shows you how to calculate the number of "parts" to a recipe. It's a notion which is a good way of getting artists started - so long as they're only using one brand of artist-grade paint. A problem arises if artists are mixing brands of paint which have different levels of pigment intensity and saturation - such as mixing student grade with artist-grade paints - or paints from different brands.

You can see his website - and portfolio of paintings on his website Personally I find them a little overhyped in colour terms - proving as always colour is in the eye of the beholder!

Colour Mixing Bibles - the last word?

What you need to understand about books called "bibles"

I'm not quite sure why "bible" entered the lexicon of words used to write about art. It's not the most obvious word to use. However I guess if you want a word which suggests that a book is a standard reference work, and/or accepted as both informative and authoritative I guess "bible" is as good a word to use as any.

However simply because the publishers choose to use the word about a book doesn't mean to say that it actually is authoritative and informative - and the "best" there is!

Which is a long winded way of saying regard this word "bible" as a marketing word to sell books and not as literally what any of these books are - because they're not. Some are better than others but all could be improved upon!

The main problem with colour mixing bibles devoted to charts relates to the quality of the printing.

Unless the printing is exceptionally good and the quality control even better than it's unlikely that the printed colour will be the same as the actual colour. Since many of these books are aimed at the leisure painter and the cheaper end of the market it's unlikely that a low priced book will be associated with high quality reproduction values. Which is not to say reproduction values are bad so much as it's not uncommon to find pages where all the mixes on the page look pretty similar!

The Watercolour Artist's Colour Mixing Bible

The Watercolor Mixing Directory is known as The Watercolour Artist's Colour Mixing Bible in the UK - and looks like this

The Watercolor Mixing Directory is known as The Watercolour Artist's Colour Mixing Bible in the UK - and looks like this

© 2013 Katherine Tyrrell

Comments and Feedback - Has this site helped you?

Andy on November 02, 2015:


I've just got a job as a fine finisher & really need help with colour mixing!! What book do I need please

Diana Grant from London on September 06, 2014:

I never realized colour mixing was so complicated, although I have been to a few art classes. So much information here, I'm going to Pin it, to use when needed

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