Acrylic Painting – Color Palette Basics

Today I am going to be talking about choosing your palette of colors, color mixing, and how I choose to apply my acrylics to my painting surface of choice.

I don’t have a very extensive array of acrylic paints, but I think it is a lot of fun mixing colors. I think the color wheel is a good tool and starting off place for me (as well as for most artists, whether a beginner or professional), and experimentation is great fun and as artistic expression. I also read a lot of books and talk to a lot of artists to get hints and suggestions about everything from all directions. I think that is helpful to us all and I highly recommend it!

For starters, as a “color basis 101”, I have been told to use black very sparingly, and I do. If I do use anything close to that, if is “Payne’s Gray”, but usually I like to mix complimentary colors for the darker areas and try to put lots of colors in my shadows. This really adds a lot of interest and beauty to your painting. Besides, if you are a true observer of nature you will notice that shadows are not black at all, but are made up of multiple and varied colors, values, and hues. Try to be a great observer!

I choose to paint with a pretty limited palette and mix my paints to achieve the effects that I want to achieve. This accomplishes several things. This will save you money (if that is a concern of yours) by limiting the number of tubes of paint you are required to purchase. This will teach you a lot about mixing paint to achieve the colors you require ( by referring to the color wheel). I feel that your colors are much more stunning and true to life by painting this way than using colors straight from the tube, anyway. I never use any colors directly from the tube anymore. And, by mixing your own colors, you will have a continuity through out your painting that can only be achieved in this way.

When working with a painting that will have a large amount of green in it, I like to first start out by placing a wash of red over the entire canvas (surface). Red being the complement of green “greys” down the green making it a more natural color in the end. This is a great tip to use when painting landscapes, etc. that will require a lot of greens, but that you don’t want to have a harsh, or “kelly” green look to them. Another thing that I would definitely suggest is to mix your own greens (using blues and yellows) instead of a tube green – unless you go to a sap green or one of the already “greyed down” greens. Even those greens I mix with something else, I as said, previously.

I almost always like to do a wash on the surface before starting the painting as this does give a nice sense of cohesion to the painting. I have been told by a lot of artists that they feel the same way. Many times this is a complimentary color that will come shining through the subsequent layers of paint.

I usually start at the back of the painting and work toward the foreground saving the greater detail and stronger colors for the main subject and the aforementioned foreground area. When painting masses, such as muscles on an animal for example, these are usually darker areas and I start with these first when starting the subject. Then I work in many, many layers until finally reaching the lighter areas and highlights. My paintings always consist of multiple layers of glazes and/or washes – many times in the double digits – in order to achieve the effect that I wish to achieve.

Most importantly when working with colors, as with any aspect of painting, is to have fun with it! I think that if you do that it really comes through in your work. For examples of my acrylic paintings please visit I hope you can see that I have a passion about my work and that the “fun” I spoke of is coming through in my own pieces!