Choosing Your Colors In Any Art Medium

To say “Oh, just buy these colors and you won’t have trouble” is not how artists work. There are dozens and dozens of colors available, and the ones I personally use, may not be available next week! Secondly, artists do not tend to choose colors based on practicality, they choose colors that make their hearts sing! And you know what I’m talking about as an artist yourself! 

Buy colors that make you want to paint. 

And once you have done that, here are some pointers to help guide you through your color mixing problems.

In a perfect color world:

Yellow and blue make green. 

Blue and Red make purple.

Red and Yellow make orange.

Mixing variants of green, purple and orange makes your darker earth browns.

Many people do not know that.

Now, reality will set in once you have actually played with your pigments.

Warm Colors vs Cool Colors

This is a simple concept that has been made difficult over the years. Warm colors lean toward the warmer spectrum of colors, such as red, yellow and orange. Cool colors tend to lean more toward blues, greens and violets. 

Most pigments lean toward one or the other and will be more like the crayon terms such as red-violet and blue-violet. 

Simple enough? 

Blues that lean toward red tend to make purples, violets and dark greens. 

Blues that lean toward yellow make bright greens and dull purples. 

Yellows that lean toward red will make brighter oranges and dark greens.

Yellows that lean toward green will make brighter greens and dark oranges.

Reds that lean toward yellow will make better oranges and dull purples.

Reds that lean toward violets will make better purples and violets.

If you have one of each category, you will have no trouble mixing a full spectrum of color. If you have enough for only a few, please see the limited palette post.

Secondly, if you purchase your favorite green, then choose a yellow that leans towards orange, and you can forgo a yellow that leans towards green. If you purchase a violet, say Dioxazine or Managese Violet, then you can forgo the red-violet purchase. For example, if you purchase Dioxazine Violet, then you wouldn’t need Quinacridone of any red to violet shade. If you purchase Phthalocyani9ne Green of either yellow or blue shades, (PG7 or PG36) then you will not need a blue-green (such as Phthalocyanine Blue (Green Shade) that leans toward green to make bright greens. 


Azo Yellow

Cadmium Yellow

Cadmium Yellow Deep

Hansa Yellow Medium

Hansa Yellow Deep

Cadmium Yellow Light is the only near neutral color that will make bright greens, and bright oranges.


Hansa Yellow Light


Cadmium Red Light, Medium or Deep

Naphthol Red Light, Medium or Deep


Any Quinacridone from Red to Violet

However – Quinacridone Red can get away with being your only red!


Cobalt Blue

Ultramarine Blue

French Ultramarine

Phthalocyanine Blue (Red Shade)

Indanthrone blue is the only one that mixes brilliant violets, and  bright greens. CAUTION -as a hue (mixed with white) it will make grays. Make sure your yellows and reds are much lighter by default. Good color choices are Cadmium Yellow Light, and Quinacridone Red. 


Phthalocyanine blue (Green Shade) 

Cerulean Blue (caution – this pigment has a low pigment load, and always makes dull greens)

Prussian – caution! Thin washes and glazes tend to fade!