Mixing neutrals

Mixing neutrals

I want to share with you what I think of as being the secret sauce of color mixing: the neutral colors.

If you’ve been using more intense, saturated, rich color in your paintings, especially if you’re using optical color, like I’ve talked about so much, I want to make sure that you’re thinking about not just more intense colors, but that full range of intensity.

If you’ve got super-intense color, also include the neutrals in order to have that kind of contrast that’s really going to engage the viewer and compel them to look at your painting, which is what we all want.


If you were with me a couple of weeks ago, I did a quick demo on how you can use Indian yellow to create super rich yellows, all the way from cool lemon yellow to a really warm, dark cadmium, deep yellow. Or the equivalent thereof, because as y’all know, I don’t use cadmiums in the studio anymore. Well, I want to show you how you can use that same color, Indian yellow and yellow ochre, to create gorgeous fall neutral colors.

So we’re going to take Indian, yellow, yellow ochre, and violet, specifically dioxazine violet. Those two are a complimentary pair and we’re going to use those to create incredibly gorgeous, rich fall neutrals that you can use in your paintings. So let’s dive right in. 

Here, we’ve got the three colors that I want to work with in this demo. I want to show you what happens with a really super intense violet, Egyptian violet in Williamsburg, the same color in Gamblin is dioxazine purple, which is the actual pigment name. It is the compliment for yellow. And for yellow, we’ve got Indian yellow, and I’m also going to show you what happens when you modify that violet with a little bit of yellow ochre as well because yellow ochre is also a compliment color. It’s a slightly duller and cooler yellow.  

I want you to see how both of them look and how you can make some really rich, slightly muted colors as well as some neutrals. There’s a whole range from the super intense to the very neutral and that range is something a lot of people forget to use really efficiently.

We’re going to look at that right now. Our colors that we’re using again today are Egyptian violet from Williamsburg,  yellow ochre from Williamsburg, Indian yellow from Williamsburg and flake white replacement, which is to titanium white from Gamblin. 

These are the ones that I’d already mixed. 

They’re Indian yellow and white. That’s all that’s in there right now. And so I’ve got three different values. And we’re going to explore what happens to those as we add different amounts of violet to them. And then we’re going to explore violet and yellow ochre. Let’s dive in.  

Notice how dark that Egyptian violet is. It is so dark that it is almost black. A very transparent pigment, which means that as you spread out the mass tone, you can actually begin seeing the hue and you can see how violet it is. It does not take very much of that color to tint anything at all. 

One small tube will last a really long time. Let’s take just this much. You see how little is on that knife. Just that much. And see what happens to this pile of Indian yellow and white.

One of the reasons I’ve got those two piles there is so that you can see the impact of the violet and how quickly that very small amount neutralizes the yellow.  

We’ve got a really nice rich, warm brown right there. Take just a little tiny bit here. See how little I’m going very small. I’m trying to give it the same amount. So this has less of the Indian yellow in it. It’s going to go more violet, if we’re adding that same amount. And remember, there’s a little bit more white in here. So we’re getting a really nice lighter opaque tan here. 

Now, if we add about that same amount to that last pile down there, which has even more white it’s going to be even more purple because there’s less of the yellow effecting it. So, it gets much more brown as it goes down here. Then we get a light purple. That’s not quite as hyperintense as it would be mixed with just the violet and the white.  

So, on this next one, I’m going to add just a tiny, the tiniest little bit so it barely modifies that yellow and it ends up being much warmer. So, now we’re getting some great dull yellow oranges. 

Remember this last pile has the least amount of Indian yellow in it. It’s mainly white.

So this pile is going to look a little bit more violet.

Just to give you an idea of what the violet looks like when it has a little bit of white in it. Doesn’t take much. So I’ve got that much on the knife. You could see how super intense the dioxazine violet is. Massively intense.  That’s why it’s such a useful pigment. Because a little bit of it goes a really long way.  

Now, if I take some yellow ochre this time, and this is one of my favorite neutrals and purples. I use this a lot giving away my secrets here. So I’m going to take just a tiny little bit of violet here. It didn’t take much at all to begin to affect that yellow ochre because yellow ochre doesn’t have much tinting strength at all. It’s still relatively warm though. Let’s get a little bit more in this pile. So, it’s been darkening and going a whole lot more violet. 

This is why I tell people you can’t just say it’s gonna be half purple and half yellow, because if one has more tinting strength than the other half of one and half of the other is not going to give you a neutralized color, this is pretty close to being neutral, but it takes very little violet to impact that ocher. 

I’m going to try and get a little bit more of the violet in here, and at this point, that amount of violet makes the yellow ochre, basically just a carrier for violet. It becomes a very earthy purple and significantly darker than this one, you can tell when I put them side by side. But a very distinct purple. 

So that’s a look at just a few of my favorite colors and how I use them to mix a really wonderful range of neutral colors.  

I hope you enjoyed that. And it’s given you some ideas about how you can begin to incorporate more rich, neutral colors into your paintings. Don’t you just love the colors that you get when you add violet to those two pairs of yellows. I just absolutely swoon over yellow ochre and dioxazine violet.

Once you see it, you’ll start noticing it in a lot of my paintings. If this has been helpful for you, I would love to have you join me on my painting journey.


2021 webinar invitation

How to Use Value, Color, and Composition to Make Compelling Paintings

You're invited to a special free workshop I’m hosting where I'll share how you can leverage composition, value, and color to make compelling paintings. If you missed this earlier now's the time to save your seat.  You can learn more here and find a time that fits your schedule.

Grab My Special PDF Guide

"7 Keys to Using Color"


You have Successfully Subscribed!