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Decoding colors and understanding colors.

Updated on March 26, 2014

Surprisingly there is a little bit to know about colors. If your not completely familiar with all on color read on for a touch of theory, mixing ideas and combinations and a re fresher on art information that you probably learned and left in school.

Understanding Colors


Cannot be mixed from others (red, blue, yellow)

Avoid using pure colours in equal amounts.

Use one dominant colour and subdue the others.


Result from mixing the primary colours (green, orange, purple)


Result from mixing 1 primary colour and one secondary colour.


Browns and greys contain all three primary colours. They're created by mixing either all three primary colours or a primary and secondary colour (secondary colours of course being made from two primaries). By varying the proportions of the colours you're mixing, you create endless tertiary colours.

Using Black and White

White makes a color lighter but removes its vibrancy as the paper can no longer reflect back through the paint. Black create murkiness , however black is useful for the range of murky greens it can produce when mixed with yellows. Some colors such as indigo and Prussian Blue contain black.

Black and white are not generally used in watercolor – but this is not a hard and fast rule.

Can I use white to lighten a color?

Adding white to a color produces a tint of that color, makes a transparent color (such as ultramarine) opaque, and cools the color. Watercolor paints are mainly transparent, so to lighten, simply add more water to paint to let the white of the paper shine through.

What about black?

Black tends to dirty colours rather than simply darken them. Of the most common blacks, Mars black is the blackest and is very opaque, ivory black has a brown undertone, and lamp black a blue undertone.

Both Prussian Blue and Indigo contain black.

To make dark colours use Prussian Blue or Ultramarine with Alizarin Crimson (or a rose colour) + an earth colour (eg Ultramarine + Aliz Crimson + Burnt Umber). Alizarin Crimson and Hookers Green makes a rich dark.

Muddy colours result from mixing too many colours either on the palette or on the paper.

They also come from mixing colours which between them have red, blue, yellow.

The colour circle can be divided into warm and cool colours.

  • Warm colours are vivid and energetic, and tend to advance in space.
  • Cool colours give an impression of calm, and tend to retreat in space.

White, black and gray are considered to be neutral.

  • tints = add white (or water)
  • shades = add black
  • tones = add grey


• Yellow Ochre = Lemon + Violet

• Burn Sienna = Vermillion + Thalo Blue

• Pine Green = Viridian + a little Crimson

• Turquoise = Viridian + Pthalo Blue

• Olive = Sap Green + Burnt Sienna

• Leaf Green Dk = Hookers Grn+ Burnt Sienna

• Yellow Green = Cad Yellow + Pthalo Blue

• Raw Sienna —Good glaze . Complement is =Cobalt

• Burnt Umber = Burnt Sienna + Ultra blue

• 1 transparent colour is needed for good darks


• Red, yellow and orange darken through to Burnt Sienna to Sepia

• Phthalo Blue, Cobalt Blue & Ultramarine Blue darken to the same dark blue

• The cooler a colour /the warmer its complement

• The warmer a colour /the cooler its complement

• Aurealin is Cobalt yellow

• Pthalo Blue (Thalo) = Winsor Blue

• Indigo has lamp black added

• To liven a colour add warm analogous colour

• To subdue a colour add cool analogous colour

Of course there is so much more to know about colour but if you are just starting out you should be a little more clear on the fundamentals of color that you can now apply to your artwork with confidence. Thanks for reading.

Check out my other hubs on painting and art.

Art how to paint - Using Color.

Art - Watercolor painting - creating texture effects

Paint with watercolor, budding artist tips. Art answers to a few random questions.

How to paint and draw - perspective.

Paint in watercolor - REGAINING and RETAINING WHITES. How to paint edges with watercolor - Art beginners tips and techniques.

Art -Presentation, Framing and Finishing to a gallery accepted standard.


How to paint and draw using a Two-point perspective.

Paint watercolor tips. Art how to

Art How to paint En Plein Air (painting outdoors)

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Art how to on Watercolor painting - Technique - washes.

Paint How to mix colors

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D I Y Framing - an easy how to on framing to save you $$$

Some great online art supply directories are: (I am in no way affiliated with or receive any type of payment from these companies)

If you enjoyed my hub please check out my other hubs, comment, share and email the link to friends and checkout the items printed in blue for my recommendations and links.


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