How to Match Colours With Oil Paints (Video)

Something I’ve been planning to do for a long time now, is to put together a short online course covering the basics of getting started with oil painting.

This is something I wish I’d had access to when I was starting out, so I figure other people might find it useful too.

I’m making pretty slow progress, but I have drafted a few lessons, and started to plan a few videos.

I’ve also recorded one video, and thought it might be useful to share it here first and get some feedback. Continue reading

How to mix greys

On the subject of mixing colours rather than using tube colours, one colour I haven’t yet used from a tube is grey.

Payne’s Grey is a fairly popular pigment, but I’ve always found it more effective to mix my own greys, so here I’m going to show you some common ways of mixing different greys.

Black and White


(Ivory Black + Titanium White)

Too obvious! This is the way we all learn about as children. Black and white makes grey. It’s true, but the grey you get will always be the same, with no variation in hue, and if overused it can get pretty dull.

Two Complementary Colours


(Cadmium Red + Viridian + White)


(Ultramarine Blue + Cadmium Orange + White)


(Cadmium Yellow + Violet)

This is a much more interesting way of mixing greys.

When you add any colour to its complement, you desaturate that colour, effectively ‘greying it down’. So you can mix any two complements together to the point where neither one dominates, and you have a grey. I mixed them all with white in the examples above so you can see the hue more clearly.

As you can see, each grey has subtle shifts in hue, and the beauty of this method is that it’s really easy to make a grey warmer or cooler, just by adding more of the warm or cool colour out of the pair.

For example, with red/green, to make the grey warmer you add red, to make it cooler you add green.

Orange: warmer – Blue: cooler

Yellow: warmer – Violet: cooler

All three primaries


(Cadmium Red + Ultramarine Blue + Cadmium Yellow)

If you think about it, this is really just the same as adding two complementaries, because any two of the primaries mixed together, makes the complement of the third:

Red + Blue makes Violet, which is the complement of Yellow

Blue + Yellow makes Green, which is the complement of Red

Yellow + Red makes Orange, which is the complement of Blue

The same theory applies to the secondary colours. You could get a grey by mixing Orange, Violet and Green.

So throw away your Payne’s Grey, and keep the Black and White under wraps, and see what beautiful greys you can get in your paintings by mixing colours!

To mix or not to mix?

Another nice benefit of getting involved in the WetCanvas forums, as I mentioned yesterday, is it gives me ideas for new blog posts!

I spotted a post earlier today discussing whether it was ok to use greens and purples/violets straight from the tube, or better to mix them from primary colours.

To explain why this is even a question worth asking, we need to consider at the colour wheel.

The three primary colours are Red, Blue and Yellow.

The secondary colours are Orange, Violet and Green.

In theory, it should be possible to mix any secondary colour from a combination of the three primary colours:

  • Red + Yellow = Orange
  • Yellow + Blue = Green
  • Blue + Red = Violet

However, in practice, there are certain colours, such as bright greens and violets that can’t be mixed from the three primaries, so if you’re painting, say, a bright purple flower, then you may need to use a purple tube colour to make sure you can get a bright enough colour. If you try to get the purple by mixing blue and red, it’s likely to end up too dark, and then if you try to lighten it with white, you’ll reduce the saturation, leaving your purple looking chalky and washed out.

So this is one argument for using secondary tube colours, although it’s rare that you’d need them when painting a landscape. Even if there are bright green trees or purple flowers in your scene, they will very rarely be as bright as the colour that comes out of the paint tube.

The other reason it can be useful to have these tube colours is for mixing with other colours. A cobalt violet can do a nice job of greying down a cadmium yellow, for example, or you can add viridian (green) to cadmium red to reduce the saturation.

So while it may be rare for you to need these colours as they appear out of the tube, they can be used to great effect when combined with other pigments.

As for me, I do have tubes of Viridian, Sap Green, Pthalo Green, and Cobalt Violet. Up to now I’ve never had a use for the violet, but I occasionally use the greens if I find them useful. Pthalo is great for a tropical green sea (knocked back with a bit of red of course!) and Sap Green can be handy for grass/trees at times. But in general, if I can mix a colour easily from the primaries, I find that it usually results in a more harmonised colour scheme.

Final Painting – Finishing off

Ok, for better or worse, here’s the finished painting of the Golden Gate Bridge:

IMG_5893 copy

Here’s a side-by-side with the previous stage, so I can describe the changes:

IMG_5884IMG_5893 copy

So first of all, I still wasn’t quite happy with the sky, so I worked on that some more, making it even brighter, and emphasising the warm glow of the sunrise.

Once that was fixed to my satisfaction, I finished detailing the bridge, adding the final highlights on the left of the bridge itself, and an indication of the vertical cables against the sky on the right. For those I just used a slightly darker version of the sky colour, as they shouldn’t stand out at all. They’re just an indication of what is there, and your brain does the rest.

I then worked on the detail of the mid-ground landscape. Looking at it now, I think I may have gone a bit too detailed and it’s ended up looking a bit messy. That’s something I need to work on – simplify everything!

I added some reflections I had missed in the water, below the rocks on the left, each piece of land jutting out, and below the far bridge tower.

Finally I added some detail in the foreground, with the bush on the right, and some warmer areas where the light is hitting the ground closest to us.

I’ve signed it, and I’m calling it finished for now, unless I spot anything that needs fixing in the next few days.

Overall, I’m reasonably pleased with how this turned out. I know the notan and value studies I did initially helped a lot with getting the final painting right, so that’s something I’ll be trying to do a lot more of in future.

Let me know what you think, and if you have any more questions about the process, just leave a comment below.

Final Painting – Blocking in

I decided to stop procrastinating and get on with doing a proper painting from my Golden Gate Bridge study.

Again, I started with a canvas I had toned after a failed painting attempt earlier in the week.

I wanted the drawing to be as accurate as possible, so rather than sketching it in with paint, I decided to use a pencil to sketch in the shapes, so I could be more precise:


Then I blocked in the entire painting, using my previous colour study as a guide. This made it much easier to mix the colours I needed and quickly check that I had the value relationships right from the start.


The final stage of the block-in is to go around the painting using a dry brush to soften certain edges. In general you don’t want any sharp edges in the far distance, and edges of shapes with a similar value can often be softened, especially in the darks.

You may not see much difference between this image and the previous one, but there are quite a few less sharp edges, giving the painting more of a feeling of depth.


I can already see certain areas that I’ll need to adjust in the next stage. The drawing isn’t quite right on the closer bridge tower, so I’ll need to work on that. Also the dark accents on the pieces of land jutting out into the water, shouldn’t be as dark as the shadow on the closest rock, so I’ll need to lighten those up a bit.

The rest of the painting will involve adding detail and colour variation, to unify the parts of the painting into a pleasing whole.

Painting a Colour Study

Ok, continuing where I left off, it’s time to paint a quick colour study, which I’ll use as a guide when doing the final painting.

I’m painting this on 5″ x 5″ oil painting paper, which is great for doing studies.

To begin with I block in the sky. With landscapes, the sky (or specifically the sun) is usually the main light source, so it can help to paint it first and then you can make sure everything else makes sense in relation to the light source.

The sky is warmer and lighter on the left, closest to the sun, and gets cooler and darker to the left.


Next I block in most of the other major shapes in the scene. I’m trying to make the color of the land in the light a bit warmer than it appears in the photo. Because the photo was taken facing the sun, the shadow areas were slightly darker than they should have been so I need to bump them up a bit.


Next I finish blocking in the whole scene, and sketch in the bridge towers.


In the final stage, I create a glow coming over the land in the distance, by softening the edge between the land and the lightest part of the sky.

I also merge the distant tower into the colour of the land, to enhance the sense of ‘atmospheric perspective’ – how objects in the distance appear cooler, lighter and with softer edges than objects in the foreground.

The thing to avoid here is painting the bridge too bright. I know the local colour of the bridge is quite a bright red-orange, but I need to keep it quite dark and muted to fit with the overall colour scheme and to work with the light source. The closer tower is pretty much just a silhouette as the sun is behind it, so I’ve kept the red there pretty dark and greyish.


There are things I’ll probably tweak in the final painting, but this gives me a good basis to work from.

I’ll hopefully get chance to start the final piece in the next few days.

Exploring Colour – Earth Tones

Before I get going with today’s post, I’d like to address a concern one of my readers shared with me about the animated images I’ve been including in my recent posts.

As you may know, I’m currently taking part in a 30-day blogging challenge, and as part of the challenge rules, we get ‘bonus points’ (i.e. nothing) for including an animated gif in each post. It’s just a bit of fun to liven up the challenge.

The reader in question was concerned that these were in fact videos, that were constantly using up bandwidth, as long as the email was on her phone, computer or iPad, and that in turn was causing her batteries to drain faster than usual.

I’d like to assure you all that these are not video clips, they are animated gifs, a type of image consisting of a number of frames that are shown on a loop.

This kind of image is only slightly larger in filesize than a regular, non-animated image, and once it is loaded it doesn’t continue to use your bandwidth, and certainly doesn’t have any effect on the battery life of your devices.

Having said that, I am certainly not in this to annoy my readers, so in an effort to avoid any further concern or annoyance, I will stop adding these gifs to my posts and stick to static images from now on!

Anyway, hey I’m about to hit my 250 word count target. Maybe I’ll just leave it here for today!

Just kidding 🙂

Earth Tones

Earth tones are muted colours such as browns, tans, and warm greys. A lot of these are pretty dark colours, and when you squeeze them from the tube it can be difficult to tell them apart, and so it’s hard to know what they will look like in your paintings.

The easiest way to compare dark colours is to mix them with white, so I’ve taken 4 earth tones – Raw Umber, Burnt Umber, Burnt Sienna and Asphaltum – and mixed each of them with white so we can compare them easily:


On the left is the tube colour. As you can see they all look pretty similar, except the Burnt Sienna, which is noticably lighter and more red than the others.

When you mix them with white you can see the characteristics of each pigment:

  • Raw Umber is a fairly neutral greyish brown
  • Burnt Umber is much warmer, but still quite muted
  • Burnt Sienna is a much more saturated orangey brown
  • Asphaltum leans more towards a yellowish grey

So the colours, which seem so similar in their original state, actually vary widely in their appearance, when mixed with white (or other colours).

I was once recommended to use Asphaltum as a substitute for Burnt Umber. As you can see, they are two very different colours, so that was probably not the best advice!

Let’s take a look at the different greys you can get from mixing each of those colours with Ultramarine Blue (and white):



The possibilities with colour are endless, and I encourage you to do experiments with colour like the one above. If you’re not sure of the difference between two kinds of blue, mix them with white and see what you get. Try mixing them with their complemetary colours, or any other colours, and make notes on your findings.

The only way to get experience with colour is to get mixing!