Watercolor Basics: How to Neutralize Color with Three Colors – CMY color palette

Let’s press on with our explorations in my FREE watercolor lessons and look at how we can mix meaningful and original neutral colors with our three color CMY palette. I love bright and intense color, but it’s the subtlety that we can add to our painting that really helps these bright colors pop. Let’s look at how our basic three colors give us a huge and nuanced range of mixing possibilities.

In this lesson, we’ll learn how to get subtle and expressive colors in lightfast and fade-resistant archival mixtures – starting with just THREE specific colors and then tweaking the basic recipes of mixing. Let’s take a look here:

The approach to color mixing that I personally favor is the modern CMY color theory. This is based on color applications from the print industry. You may recognize it from design or from shelling out money for printer cartridges! It has some limitations, but I prefer it to the “split primary” approach which requires six tubes of paint. Even expanding this palette requires a total of five tubes rather than six, but we’ll start here with three:

C is for blue, or cyan in this case.

M is for Magenta – our preference over the more limited “primary red”

Y is for yellow (obvious enough)

and K is for black – this comes from “Key” – the black block in a block printing arrangement.

You will notice that, like many watercolor enthusiasts I don’t have a black here – today we’ll be mixing blacks, neutrals, browns and grays – infinitely useful “glue” in our palettes!

Hope this is useful!

Is there something frustrating you in your watercolor life? I’m happy to put YOUR question to the front of the line, let me know below – and happy painting!

Leave a Reply