Freebies, Tips & Tricks

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Using a Color Wheel When Mixing Acrylic Paints

Using a color wheel will help you learn to mix acrylic paints to get the colors you want. Color mixing adds detail and excitement to your artwork.

The primary colors are yellow, red, and blue. No combination of colors can create primary colors, but primaries mix in various combinations to form all other colors. You make secondary colors (green, orange, and purple/violet) by mixing two primary colors. If you want to go farther, you can create tertiary colors by mixing one primary and one secondary color to get yellow-orange, orange-red, red-violet, violet-blue, blue-green, or yellow-green.

Keep a color wheel handy to remember which colors mix to make other colors. Use the two colors on either side of the color you want to make to mix that color. Colors opposite on the wheel mix to make a gray or black. If you paint pure opposite colors next to each other, they will vibrate with energy.           

Tinting Acrylic Paint Colors

Lightening your acrylic paint colors with white paint is called tinting. Each color has a limit on just how much lighter you can make it. This is called tinting strength. Dark colors have a higher tinting strength because they’re darker to start with and so have more room to be made lighter.

You may want to tint a color in your painting for a highlight if the sun is touching it. Just add a bit of white paint to your color. Add it gradually to create a strip of paint choices that range from pure white to pure color.

How to Darken Acrylic Paint Colors by Shading

Adding black paint to a lighter acrylic paint color makes it turn darker. This is called shading. Keep in mind that black is strong; so a little paint goes a long way.

You will want to shade a color when you’re painting a shadow or fabric fold in a subject’s clothing, for example. Mix a strip of paint from pure black to the pure color to provide as many choices as possible, then choose the one that looks most natural.

How to Get More Natural Blacks with Acrylic Paints

In an artpiece, black can be over-powering and too dark. It may look like a hole in your painting. A good alternative to using true black paint is to create a color that’s near black by mixing complementary colors (opposites on the color wheel) together, like red and green, violet and yellow, or blue and orange. This creates a color that’s dark, but still adds tone and mood and consistency to your painting. Mixing dark colors together, like blue and brown or blue and green, has the same effect. Creating your own version of “black” adds more “oomph” to your art work than would using your black paint right out of the tube.

Tips for Using Acrylic Paints

Painting with acrylics is different from other mediums because of the paint’s density (thickness) and acrylic drying patterns. 

  • Acrylic paints dry fast. Protect brushes from drying with paint in them by placing them in water (if you’re taking a break) or cleaning them by rinsing them in water (especially when you’re all done).
  • All acrylic products are compatible.
  • Acrylic medium makes a great glue/decoupage for adhering papers for collage.
  • Some acrylic paints darken as they dry.
  • You can clean acrylic paint off of your hands with soap and water.
  • You can clean dried acrylic paintings with denatured alcohol.
  • Acrylic paint sticks to itself, so insert a clean sheet of paper between paintings (or better yet, avoid stacking them, altogether).
  • As you paint, keep a misting bottle of water nearby to help keep paint on your palette moist.
  • If you find your paint is too thick, you can thin acrylic paint with either water or acrylic medium.
  • Using a palette knife is usually the easiest way to mix acrylic paints.
  • Reusable glass and high-density plastic make good palettes because acrylic paint doesn’t cling to them, which makes cleanup easy.