Many learners are quite surprised when I tell them that you can get by with just three paint colours. These paints, the primary colours are red, blue and yellow and in theory you can mix any colour from them. Is it true? Can you have too many paint colours?
The Importance of Colour Mixing
When you are learning to paint it is important to learn how colours are created. You can only really gain a knowledge of colours by mixing them and for this you need to just work with the primaries. I recommend that all beginners work with primary colours and mix all the colours themselves.
Black Is Not Always Black
Black is a very powerful colour, the darkest colour in the palette so it should be used sparingly. Once everything is darkened it is very hard to get back to bright and lighter colours. I have heard of art teachers who ‘ban’ black paint in their art lessons because they feel strongly that it is overused.
Once we really study a subject what we first see as dark areas or black is often not really black. It can be dark brown, purple or green or a mixture of darker colours. There is a skill in identifying colours for what they are but as a rule black is rarely black. There is no real black in nature.
Colour also works in context so a colour like dark green will appear darker if it surrounded by lighter tones.
I don’t think that there is anything wrong in using black in small quantities but it is important to realise that there are other options. Before you next reach for the black paint, try mixing these very dark colours and experiment with mixing them with tiny amounts of the primary colours.
Indigo blue, Ultramarine blue, Prussian blue, Burnt umber, Burnt sienna, Cadmium Red, Alizarin Crimson, Phthalo green.
Can You Have Too Many Colours?
I think you can have more than the primaries but it is surprising how few you do need once you know how to colour mix. The danger is reaching for the ‘flesh tone’ when you need it rather than mixing your own.
Painting can’t be treated like painting by numbers, some colours can be created by layering paint of different colours. Mixing is where the mastery is in colour so don’t get lazy with flesh coloured paint. If you currently can’t mix a flesh tone (and there isn’t just one flesh tone) then experiment!