How to Mix Watercolors

How to Mix Watercolors

Learn how to mix harmonious color palettes for your watercolor paintings.

A great watercolor painting looks amazing because of its colors. But that doesn’t mean we have to stock up on a plethora of watercolor paints right away. The most important thing is to know how to mix them.

In this article, we’ll start with the basics. I then will give you some beginner exercises and examples to show you how to mix colors. Once you understand how to do it, your watercolor paintings will look much better!

Basics of Mixing Watercolors

When we paint with watercolors, it’s important to understand how to mix the colors together. This way, we can make different shades and hues to get an even wider range of colors. It helps us to create the exact color we need for our painting. And the right colors can add depth and dimension to a watercolor painting.

Color Theory

Before we go into more detail about mixing colors, I recommend you get familiar with color theory and the concept of the color wheel.

When mixing watercolors, it is important to consider mixing ratios and color saturation. Depending on how much water you add, the saturation can change. If you add more water, the color will be lighter and more transparent. Less water will result in a stronger color with higher saturation.

Mixing Watercolors with Water

Color temperatures and color contrasts are also important aspects of mixing watercolors. They refer to the warmth or coolness of a color. For example, yellow and red are warm colors, while blue and green are cooler colors. By the way, if we mix a little yellow or red with green, we can make the new green warmer.

Using color contrasts is a way to make our paintings more interesting. One type of contrast is called “complementary contrast” which means we use colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. Try mixing these colors together sometime! You’ll be amazed at the colors that result.

Mixing watercolors: Complementary Colors

Use a Mixing Palette

You need a palette on which you can mix the colors. For example, the inside of the lid of your watercolor box, a plate (preferably white), or a painting palette is suitable. Do not use a wooden palette for watercolor painting. It will dry out the watercolors too quickly. It is important that the palette is large enough to provide space for the different color mixtures.

Guide on Mixing Watercolor Paints

Mixing watercolor paints can be challenging, especially considering there are no clear rules. There is no one way you need to mix watercolors. It depends much more on your preferences and what you want to achieve with the color mixing.

Different Mixing Techniques

One way is to mix the colors on the palette and apply the new color to the paper. Another way is to apply the individual colors one after the other in layers on the paper. The latter is called glazing and is one of the watercolor techniques.

Mixing Watercolor Paints: Glaze

Mixing Watercolors for Beginners

For beginners, mixing watercolors can seem overwhelming at first. Yet, it is important not to put too much pressure on yourself and to practice with patience.

Try this exercise (it can be helpful for advanced artists as well):

  1. Take the three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue, and apply them to a ring at equal distances from each other.
  2. Now mix two of each of the primary colors together and apply this new color in between. Make sure to mix the colors in equal parts.
  3. Mix two of the base colors together again, but try to mix them in a ratio of 1:3. Apply this color right next to the color that contributed the larger part.

Mixing Watercolors: Exercise for Beginners

In this exercise, you create your own color wheel and get to know your watercolors better. You also familiarize yourself with different mixing ratios. Isn’t it amazing how many colors you could mix with only the three basic colors?

This exercise becomes especially exciting when you repeat it with other shades of red, yellow, and blue. For example, you could use a warmer yellow, a colder red, and a greenish blue.

When we mix colors together like this, they always look good when we use them in a painting. But if throw a pre-made color from a tube into the mix, it might look weird or out of place in the painting.

Mixing Watercolors for Different Motifs

When you’re painting with watercolors, think about which colors you want to use. Can you mix the colors you already have to get the ones you need? Adding water to a color can make it lighter or darker. It’s also important to think about the mood you want to create in your painting with the colors you choose.

But be careful not to mix too many colors together or your painting might look weird. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to stick to the three basic colors. As you get better, you can add more colors to your collection and mix them together.

Watercolor Paints for Mixing a Skin Tones

Mixing skin tones.

Mixing Watercolor Paints: Skin Tones

Watercolor Paints for Hazelnut Eye Color

Watercolors for Hazelnut Eyes.

Mix Watercolor Paints: Hazelnut Eyes

Watercolor Colors for a Forest

Colors for a foggy forest.

Watercolor Paints for Hazelnut Eye Color

If you’re not sure which colors to use in your painting, it’s a good idea to try them out on a separate piece of paper first. This way, you can see how they look together and make sure they match. It’s always better to be sure before you start painting on your real project!

Questions about Mixing Watercolors

Can I mix watercolors from different manufacturers and brands?

Yes, you can mix watercolors from different brands. But pay attention to the pigment density of the respective colors. High-quality brands are usually strong-pigmented, while cheaper alternatives are rather weak-pigmented. This creates a different weighting when mixing. You have to use more of the weak-pigmented paint to achieve a 1:1 ratio.

How can I mix colors for shadows with watercolor?

You might think of applying the color darker or more intense, but I would suggest other ways:

  1. Try using the complementary color of the surface for shadows. This will make the shadow more colorful, but also neutralize the color at the same time.
  2. Make a specific color the shadow color of your image. This means that for all shadows in your image you use, for example, a purple, no matter what color the surface is. The important thing here is to place the color for the shadow on surfaces that are already colored. Don’t leave the areas for the shadows white, and then apply the shadow color in its pure form.

How can I mix watercolors to achieve a specific color temperature?

Let’s take a look at Goethe’s color wheel: As you can see, yellow, orange, and red are warm colors. Green, blue, and violet, are cool colors.

But as we know, we can also encounter a warm green or a cold red in nature.

The trick is to add one of the other temperatures to your color, but only a little bit.

Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Color Wheel, 1810

Johann Wolfgang Goethe: Color Wheel, 1810

How can I mix realistic skin tones with watercolors?

Take a look at my tutorial on mixing skin tones with watercolor. There I explain how I mix different realistic skin tones with only three color tones.