Art Blog

Mixing Colors for Acrylic Painting

Blackberry Lily, 6 x 6 Inches, Acrylic on Canvas, the original was donated to Prints are available at

Acrylic painting is great for beginners or pros. Acrylic paints dry much more quickly than oils, so colors need to be mixed and used immediately to avoid waste. Mixing too much paint at one time can lead to big blobs of paint that dry before they can be used. Acrylics require a little planning, but they are less expensive than oils and easier to clean up, requiring only soap and water. If you want to plan a simple painting, see my article “Acrylic Painting for Beginners in Seven Steps.” Follow the steps below to mix your colors for one section at a time.

  • Choose your colors.

Keep it simple if you’re a beginner by choosing a small number of colors. The names on the paint tubes can be confusing. To paint a red flower against a green background, for example, you will need a red, which in the tubes can be a dark purply red (sometimes called crimson) a medium red (scarlet) or a red-orange (cadmium red light or vermilion). Other names may also be used, but usually the color on the tube is close. Choose the red that is closest to your subject. Though green can be mixed from blue and yellow, it is sometimes difficult to mix the shade you want, so you may want to buy viridian, which is a lovely dark green, and you can add yellow and white to it to lighten it. Ultramarine blue is a dark blue that I like to use instead of black to darken my greens or to mix a dark red-violet. Here’s a list of paints for a red flower painting:

Crimson (red)

Cadmium Red (red-orange)

Viridian (green)

Zinc White (generally flows better than Titanium White)

Ultramarine Blue

Cadmium Yellow Light or Lemon Yellow

  • Mix the background color.

The area behind the drawing is your background color. It may be blue for the sky or green for a close-up flower painting. For a green background, using a palette knife, mix some of your green color with a little white, and some with a little yellow, so you have three different shades of green, and quickly, paint the background.

Go ahead and paint the edges while you have your colors mixed. Then you won’t need to frame it if you prefer not to.
  • Choose the color for the next largest area that is behind the details.

For example, paint the main color of the flower petals red before adding spots, shadows, or stamen. Again, mix the red with a little yellow or white to lighten it, or add a tiny bit of the ultramarine blue for darker shadow areas.

  • Begin to add details.

Think about the center of interest where you want to have the most detail and contrast. Mix a tiny bit of blue into the red for shadow areas. Light and dark contrast will draw attention, so mix dark and light colors for the important section of the painting. Add yellow or white or both to lighten the red. Adding yellow leads to orange and adding white leads to pink.

  • Mix small amounts of colors for the final touches.

Evaluate what you have left to paint and mix small amounts of those colors. You may need a light green (add yellow) and a shadow green (add dark blue) to finish up the stems or leaves. You may be able to use a little yellow right out of the tube for pollen or spots of color on the petals. Go slowly at this point, using your detail brush, and stop when you are pleased.

I hope you enjoy your painting! For more help with acrylic painting follow this link.

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