How to Neutralize Colors

Jun 19, 2020

One of the biggest lightbulb moments in my early days of painting was learning how to mix colors to get black and, by extension, gray.

My go-to pair for this trick is Ultramarine Blue (UM) and Burnt Umber (BU). By skewing toward the blue or the brown, I can get either a cool or warm black that mixes to lighter values with the addition of white.

If you’d like to learn just how neutralizing color works, a recent post on the Golden Paint company blog has all the answers to your questions. Not only do they explain how to make grays from all sorts of color pairs but they also explain color subtraction and how to tone down a color without changing its identity.

The key to this kind of color mixing is to use pairs that are exact complements. With most artist’s paints, the color in the tube is a mixture of more than one pigment so your mixtures may not turn out exactly as you’d expect. If possible, it’s great to do a mixing chart to nail down your best pairs.


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I publish Painterly, a monthly newsletter for bird-loving artists who want to learn more about birds and grow their artistic skills and their businesses.

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