Mix It Up: Learn to Mix Any Color With Acrylic Paint

Court McCracken, Make art and cultivate creativity!

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4 Lessons (21m)
    • 1. Trailer

    • 2. Preparing the painting surface

    • 3. How to mix acrylic paint

    • 4. Keep painting & completing your painting

11 students are watching this class

Project Description

Create an abstract painting to use as a color chart for future paintings!

Beginning your Painting

  1. Gather proper materials

    Before beginning, you will want to prepare by gathering all the necessary materials. Some of these you may already have, but I have included a detailed materials list in the additional resources section of this unit with links for purchase or for use as a visual reference and guide as you gather your materials. 


  2. Use your ruler and pencil to guide you in tearing the paper in to four 11 x 15 inch pieces

    After you have gathered all necessary materials, the first thing we will do it tear our paper in four pieces.

    The white Rives BFK paper comes in a 22x30 size and that would be a large surface on which to begin our color mixing adventure, so we will tear into four equal pieces. 

    To begin, mark the half-way point on the long edge (the 30inch side) of the paper. It will be horizontally oriented as you do this. Mark the half way point at the bottom and top of the paper. 

    You always need a minimum of two points to make certain when you line your ruler up it is a straight line across the page.

    You can feel free to draw that line or simply line your ruler up against those two points. 

    Once you have your ruler in place, showing the half way point across the middle of the paper, you will take hold with your dominant hand of the paper.  If right handed, along the top edge of the paper just left of the upper righthand corner of the paper, while holding the ruler firmly with your left hand.


    You will then want to pull against the pressure of the ruler (firmly and decisively, but not too fast, watch for this part in the video) about an inch or two of the paper at a time. You will lower your hand and then pull up again against the pressure of the ruler another inch or two of paper, allowing it to rip a straight edge. Rock your arm by lowering it again and pulling again. Repeat this motion until you have gotten close to the other edge. The last mostion will be the most decisive and quick, with the most pressure on the ruler, holding the rest of the paper down.

    You have just created two, equally sized pieces of paper! 

    You will now repeat this process with these pieces of paper, dividing them in half along the 22 inch edge, creating a total of four sheets of high quality Rives BFK paper, measuring 11X15 inches each! 

    ***If you are feeling super ambitious, don't let me stop you if you want to make a larger piece by using half of the paper or the whole paper but I like to do what I can to stay motivated and keep painting, so starting small using just 1/4 of this large paper is great. You can paint three more paintings or have three more mixing experiements after this one! 

  3. Taping the paper down

    Now you will select one of your four equally sized sheets of Rives BFK paper to tape down to your painting board. 

    I like to eyeball about half way the distance of the tape to cover the paper. But many people really prefer to measure it out. 

    FIrst you want to start by using taping your four corners down, covering very little of the paper, just enough to get it into place. 


    If you are using half inch masking tape, use your ruler and pencil to draw a quarter inch edge around all four sides of your paper. 

    You will then use short pieces of tape (about 2-3 inches in length) to cover up that white edge and adhere firmly the paper to the painting board surface.

    As you are taping the paper down, make certain the you rub the tape firmly into the surface of the paper and the painting board. This is called burnishing and ensures a seal that the paint wont leak through when you paint out to the edges.

    Do this around all four edges of the paper.

    This serves two purposes: 1) it keeps the paper from curling when you begin gessoing it and painting on it and 2) when you pull the tape off (slowly and more easily with the shorter 2-3inch pieces) it leaves a really nice clean white edge to our painted paper, giving it a more finished appearance. 

  4. Gesso your paper

    Now, we are ready to prime our paper by adding a nice layer of gesso. 

    If you have a new jar of gesso, take your gesso brush and pull some gesso onto your pallette.

    You wont need too much for this size of paper project. 

    Dip your brush in your cup of water to get it moist and mix that water in with the gesso, using a circular motion with your brush.

    ***if you have a jar of gesso that is not brand new but has some space in it for mixing, you can simply dip your gesso brush in water and go straight into the jar to pull the gesso out, I actually use a separate jar that is empty and mix the amount of gesso and water together in there that I prefer, as opposed to on the pallette, but either way is OK***

    Then you will need to lightly smooth the gesso across the surface of your paper using your gesso brush. 

    Make certain to cover the entire surface of the paper as evenly as possible, all the way to the edges. It is OK to brush over the tape for the sake of priming the paper all the way to the edges. And, yes, paint will begin to get on your painting board and that is OK too! 

    The paper will slightly bubble during this process as it begins to absorb the moisture from the water and the gesso. That is expected and totally OK. 

    Now wait for it to dry!

  5. Lightly sand your dried gessoed paper

    Once your gessoed surface has dried (depending on elevation and weather this could take 20 or 30 minutes or maybe even two hours if you live in a super tropical area) you will need to sand it down. 

    To know if it is fully dried simply touch the surface with your fingers lightly in multiple places to make certain it is dried all over and not still tacky and moist.

    Now take your sand paper and lightly sand across the entire surface, edge to edge. 

    You now have prepared your very own painting surface!

  6. Create your grid

    For the project I complete in the video, I divided my painting surface into four equal quadrants (measure across the half-way point in each direction of the paper, horizontally and vertically, drawing a line). 

    Then each quadrant is divided into 16 equal sqares. 


    This is an easy way to begin, when our focus is primarily on color mixing and using this as a structure with which to explore our paint and color mixes. But if you are super bored with the equally sized squares, I have included some ideas on variation as well. 

How to Mix Color

  1. Explore the Color Wheel

    Check out that color wheel!


    Observe where the colors lie on the color wheel. 

    Colors opposite each other are complimentary colors. 

    When you mix complimentary colors together, they give you a "true grey" by "mixing each other down". 

    Complimentary colors also look amazing when you place them next to each other. They create a conversation as they talk to each other back and forth. Our eyes and brain love to enjoy these beautiful color mixes.

    The three main complimentary color sets are made up of a primary and a second color. 

    Primary colors are RED, YELLOW, & BLUE. Secondary, colors are GREEN (made of yellow & blue), ORANGE (made of red & yellow), and VIOLET (made of red & blue).

    The three main complimentary color sets are:




    Colors lying next to each other on the color wheel are called analagous colors, such as BLUE & BLUE-GREEN. They are neighbors and are very similar to each other. They also can create a wide variety of depth and interest when placed next to each other or when used throughout your painting. 

  2. Set up your pallette

    We will begin by setting up our pallet. 

    Take your RED, BLUE, YELLOW, & WHITE and place a small blob of paint of each on your pallette.

    I prefer to place them along the outside edges of the pallette so that I can use the middle space as my mixing area. 


  3. Start Mixing Something Simple

    The first mix I would encourage you to do, is what is known as a tint.

    A tint is a mix that is just a color (like blue) and some white. 

    This is my favorite one to start with is blue.

    As you go across your color grid, simply add more white, creating a changing ratio of blue/white.

    At first you wlll want to do a square of just blue. 


    The next square over, add about 10% of white to the mixture.

    The next square over, imagine it is 80% blue and 20% white.




    You are creating an intuitive, balanced mixture. I like to think of it as a recipe like this...How much blue and how much white? Here is a drawing I like to do to show how this intuitive mixing works. 


    When mixing the paint, do not forget to touch your brush lightly into the water cup.

  4. Change the color

    The first mix we did was a tint, blue and white. This simply created a lighter value of the hue, blue. 

    Now, we will change the color by mixing two primaries, Yellow and Blue to create green. 


    As we move across our square, we will alter the recipe.

    At first it will be a lot of blue with a little bit of yellow. Moving across, add more and more yellow to the mixture. Each square will be an increasingly more Yellow-Green. 


    This is a great way to begin. 

  5. Now Mix Three Paints Together

    You can be very methodical with your painting grid if you like, creating a very specific chart.

    You can now choose to mix blue, white, and yellow. Explore the balance of different paint "recipes".


    What do you get when you have a lot of blue, a little yellow, and a little white? 


    Change your recipes subtlely at first, increasing only one element at a time...maybe more white this time. Maybe the next time more yellow.


    What different personalities and types of color can you get by simply varying these three paints?


Creating Subtle Color Changes

  1. Completing the first quardrant

    If you chose to go with the design of my example, dividing up the paper into four quadrants and exploring different color mixes within each quadrant. You should go ahead and complete that first blue/yellow/white mixing exploration. 

    You can choose to explore the same mixes I do in the videos or another of your own!


  2. Paint in the other quadrants


    Go ahead and explore new mixes in the other quadrants! 

    Here are the other mixes I explored:




  3. Peel the tape off of your finished painting

    After your painting dries, you will want to carefully and slowly remove the pieces of tape. In the video I mention that you want to keep your fingers as close to the surface of the paper as possible.


    You will pull slowly and away from the painted paper. As you pull up about an inch of tape, place your fingers back down near the surface.


    Repeat until you have pulled all of the tape off and removed the painted paper from the masonite board.

    You now will have a clean edge on your painted paper that makes you feel like a million bucks!

  4. Creating variations

    You are also free to create variations on this project.

    The most important part of this project is to get you mixinng it up! 

    You can't learn to paint unless you paint! The more you mix and paint, the more you will improve!

    Take a look at some of these variations and explore other colors.


    A different type of grid!


    I varied the spacing, so that it was not so even and a bit more like color bands.


    I explored two analagous colors of varying values next to each other.


    I then decided to play with yellow next to violet (it's complimentary color) and moved it into a light orange. 


    Completed color exploration, drying on the board.


    And hanging on the wall!

    Yes, each and every one of these colors was mixed using only the four tubes of paint I recommend for this project and dabbing the brush in the water.

    Color is truly amazing and having a deeper understanding of it will lead you onward in your many painting endeavors!

    Here are a few variations by others.




    Good luck and keep painting!

Additional Resources

  • Here are the links to purchase the necessary materials:

  • The three properties of color are: 




    Hue is the color.What color is it? Is it blue?

    Value is the lightness or darkness of the color. How much white is in it? Is it mixed down with a complimentary color creating a true grey? Using black is like turning the dimmer switch on your color, less light, less color. 

    Intensity is how much color is in the color. How much blue is in that blue? Is it electric blue or is it a stormy blue? How intense is the hue you are looking at? 

  • Properties of acrylic paint

    One of the key things you have learned in this skillshare class is that acrylic paint must be mixed using water. Water helps the paint to flow. It is a water-based medium and the colors will not thoroughly or properly mix without a touch of water. 

    That is why keeping a spray bottle nearby when working to lightly mist your painters pallette is a wise idea. It keeps the paint open and workable (acrylic paint dries quickly, usually within 15 minutes if it is thinned out) while you are exploring paint. 

    You will also notice a huge difference opacity and translucency.

    Can you see the paper through the paint? It must be quite transclucent. That could have to do with the pigments that some paints are made from. Certain pigments have more translucent properties. 

    Usually when you add white to colors, the white will opacify or make less see-through, the paint. 

    Opacity and translucency will also have to a lot to do with how much water is in your mixture. 

    Many painters use many many thin layers of translucent paint to build up the surface of their painting, doing what is called visually mixing their colors.

    Visual mixing is when you aren't actually mixing the two colors on the palllette, but instead are layering a green overtop of a yellow straight onto the painted surface.

    This can be done "wet-into-wet" or after the first layer as dried already. These are other properties of how paint works with itself, as well as how color works!

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