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Practical Color Mixing 1: Value

OK, let’s recap. In my first post on color, I con­cluded that the stan­dard three-primary color wheel is not use­ful for learn­ing about using and mix­ing color. In the sec­ond post, I briefly reviewed the Mun­sell color sys­tem as a means for describ­ing color and for iden­ti­fy­ing visual com­ple­ments. In the third post, I talked about the dif­fi­culty of devel­op­ing a sim­ple sys­tem that could ade­quately pro­vide a method for artists to mix color.

Get­ting the Value Right

Over­all Value Range

On the dark side as well, the black­est black on your palette reflects a lot more light than a really dark shadow does. So there are times when you need to com­press the lights in order to show a full range of con­trasts in the shad­ows. Of the paint­ing media, by the way, oil paint has the widest value range, par­tic­u­larly in terms of really dark darks. So it’s eas­ier to cre­ate believ­able three-dimensional form with oil paint, and that’s one rea­son why it’s so popular.

Light and Shadow


White and Black

Con­trol­ling Value

So, if we need to be care­ful with white for light­en­ing and if black is of lim­ited use in mak­ing col­ors darker, how do we man­age value? Carefully.

It is also the case that, for many cooler col­ors like blues and vio­lets, mix­ing with a small amount of white will increase the chroma. For exam­ple, in oil paint, ultra­ma­rine blue with a bit of white added is more chro­matic than plain ultra­ma­rine. But adding a lot of white decreases the chroma. Warmer col­ors are tend to be at their max­i­mum chroma straight out of the tube.

The eas­i­est over­all mix­ing sit­u­a­tion is when you are try­ing to reduce chroma at the same time you are adjust­ing value. If the color has a mix­ing com­ple­ment, then, typ­i­cally, that color will reduce value and chroma at the same time.

Mix the Value First

greyscale set from Stu­dio Prod­ucts

Posted in art technique, color.

Tagged with , .

4 Responses

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  1. Rose Bard says

    David your weblog is being one of my favorites. Thanks for tak­ing the time to write this. I will need to reread it again. I have such hard time to work with col­ors, espe­cialy to try to make them look nat­ural. :) So I am look­ing for­ward to con­cen­trate on val­ues more for now as I am still a beg­giner painter.

  2. Rose Bard says

    David thanks for tak­ing the time to keep this blog updated. I have so much trou­ble to work with col­ors. I see now that as a beg­giner I should have not lost the sight of the value. Although since learn­ing about think­ing in value, hue and chroma, still havent suceed in the later two. Got go back later to read it all. Ty again. :)

  3. David says


    You’re wel­come. Color is dif­fi­cult, but the time I have taken in learn­ing about it has been quite valu­able for me. Real­ize that the time you spend learn­ing about color will be paid back to you as you waste less time with frus­trat­ing paint mixtures.

  4. Rose Bard says

    Sorry David for post­ing twice. I thought the first post didnt go through and didnt want to leave with­out leav­ing a com­ment to show I appre­ci­ate the blog very much.

    I read it all again and it is an amaz­ing les­son. I know you have sug­gested to study the Mus­sel book but I dont have acess to it right now and I won­der if there is another to try to learn about color online. I am still try­ing to catch up with your blog, but there is so much to read. If so, thanks in advance for point­ing it out.

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