Know-how: Colour Mixing for Oils

This limited palette colour mixing tutorial will show you how to develop your confidence using only 5 hues
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Know-how: Colour Mixing for Oils

Developing colour mixing confidence takes time but it is an important step in learning your materials and developing your skills. This limited palette colour mixing tutorial will show you how to develop that confidence using only 5 hues. Happy painting!


  • Oil paints
  • Paintbrushes
  • Transparent acrylic sheet or glass palette
  • Odourless turpentine
  • Rag or paper towel
  • Reference image


How to mix colours for oil painting

Step 1: 

For this tutorial on colour mixing we chose to use a limited colour palette of only 5 colours. Using only these basic colours, you can mix nearly every hue you will ever need with the exception of extremely intense colours, fluorescents and metallics. More pre-mixed colours can be added to your palette as you chose but learning to mix colours with these basic hues will make it easier for you to achieve the colours you are looking for in your paintings with less paint wasted.

Prepare your surface by squeezing out a little bit of each of the following paint colours onto a glass or clear plastic palette.

Colours: Titanium white, Cadmium yellow, Alizarin crimson, Ultramarine blue, Burnt umber

Step 2: 

As a handy reminder you can paint a quick colour wheel on a piece of canvas paper or a corner of your palette. Use a brush stroke of each primary colour as the points of a triangle, with brown and white off to the side. Mix equal parts of the primary colours to paint a swatch of orange, purple and green if so desired.

Step 3: 

The rules for colour mixing are simple.

  • Blue and yellow = green,
  • Red and yellow = orange 
  • blue and red = purple

To make a colour less intense, add the colour from the opposite side of the colour wheel. To make a colour lighter add either yellow or white or both. To make it darker add either blue or brown or both.

Start playing with your paints. Mix a small amount of each colour on your palette and see what happens! This will help you to better understand how the colours affect one another.

There are many different shades of black that can enrich a painting. To mix a basic black, mix blue and brown together. To create a warm or cool black add either red or blue to your mix.
Value is the lightness or darkness of a colour. It is important when mixing your colours that you try and match the value of your colour first before worrying if it’s the right colour or not. Often mixing for value will lead you to the right colour.
Step 4:
To practice mixing colours, print out a colour image of your subject and place it under a pane of glass or a sheet of transparent plastic. Using the method described above, practice using your limited colour palette to achieve the right hue and value to match the colours in your subject by painting them directly onto the glass. The paint can easily be wiped away with a cloth until the correct colour is achieved.


  • Keep a sketchbook of colour mixing notes and recipes for colours you frequently use
  • Clean your brushes and palette with an odourless solvent after painting