Robie is an artist who loves sharing what she has learned about art and painting in the hope that it might help other creatives.
Four Examples of Neutral Mixes From Orange and Blue
In this article, we’ll review four examples of how to mix a neutral color using just two colors: one belonging to the orange family and the other being a blue.
The time-lapse video below shows the following four mixes:
- Cadmium Orange + Ultramarine Blue
- Cadmium Orange + Cerulean Blue
- Vermillion + Ultramarine Blue
- Raw Sienna + Ultramarine blue
But before we get started, let’s look at how the science behind the color wheel. The knowledge of some color attributes can help us make better decisions.
How to Mix a Neutral Grey or a Neutral Brown
The secret to mixing a neutral color is to include a little bit of paint from each of the primary colors. If you combine in your mix some kind of blue, some kind of yellow, and a red, you are bound to get a neutral color.
The same way, if you want to dull down any color, you just need to add to it its complement. That ensures that all three primaries are somehow present.
How Do You Get Started Mixing Neutrals?
Not all neutrals are the same.
You may need a color that is warm, cool, dark, or light, depending on how you are going to use it.
Let's look at what questions you need to ask yourself before you start mixing.
What Temperature Do You Want?
Before you start mixing a neutral, ask yourself: is the color that you are trying to mix warm, or is it cool?
- If it’s warm you are trying to create a mix that belongs to one side of the color wheel where the yellow-orange hues are.
- If it’s cool you are working on the other side of the color wheel, where you find the blues and the greens.
If you are aiming for a cool color, then you’ll be predominantly featuring the blue in the mix, and the result will be a grey.
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If the color that you are aiming for is warm, then the yellow-orange will be predominating, and the result will be a dull brown.
What Value Do You Need?
Depending on what you are trying to paint, you need to figure out what value is your neutral going to be. Is it light, middle, or dark?
You can use a value scale to assess it, or just squint and figure out how light or dark you need to go.
Tip: If you need a dark value don’t start by mixing colors that are too light.
It Helps to Know Your Colors
Things can get tricky if you are not very familiar with the hues that you are mixing.
For example, cadmium red light has some yellow in it, so if you mix it with blue to get a bright violet, you’ll be very disappointed.
The same way, cadmium yellow deep has some red in it, so when mixed with blue, it cannot make a bright yellow-green.
Keep reading to learn about the secret color bias of the most popular colors.
The Word "Hue" in the Name of the Color
When it comes to artist’s paint, the word “hue” references the fact that the paint is a mix of colors, not a single pigment.
The video above shows a time-lapse of me mixing the four neutral combinations. I'll discuss each combination in more detail below.
Ex. 1: Cadmium Orange + Ultramarine Blue
The cad orange is a very warm color, halfway between yellow and red on the color wheel. When mixed with ultramarine blue, that also has some red in it, it makes a nice dark brown.
When you add titanium white to the mix, the white makes it chalkier and cooler, turning into a lighter neutral, but still leaning towards the warm side.
Ex. 2: Cadmium Orange + Cerulean Blue
Very similar results can be achieved mixing cad orange with cerulean blue.
This time though, the mix is slightly warmer and slightly lighter that the cad orange and U. Blue mix, but as you add white you can see how it can still serve as a very nice neutral.
Ex. 3: Vermillion + Ultramarine Blue
If you mix ultramarine blue with a redder orange, like vermillion, because this orange does not lean so much towards yellow, and is a little darker in value than cad orange, you get a much darker and cooler mix.
When mixed with titanium white, it reads like a beautiful grey.
Ex. 4: Raw Sienna + Ultramarine Blue
Raw Sienna is a dark, dull yellow-orange. Mixing Raw Sienna and Ultramarine blue, the resulting neutral is very similar to the one obtained mixing Vermillion and Ultramarine blue, but this time the mix leans towards a dark blue-green.
When white is added, it retains some of the blue nature all the way.
Color Bias and How They Affect Mixtures
Every color, even if it looks pure, possesses a color bias, which means the color has influences from a neighboring hue on the color wheel.
The color bias affects the results of mixes with other pigments and how the color looks when applied as a glaze.
Examples of color bias are in the table below.
Any blue containing a hint of red would not create a bright green when mixed with yellow but would be ideal to produce a purple or a lilac.
By contrast, blues biased towards green are cool blues and would be suitable for mixing pure greens, but would be unsuitable for mixing bright violets.
Some reds are biased towards yellow. These reds would be an inappropriate choice to mix with blue to produce a clean violet or purple, but their warm nature makes them ideal for mixing orange.
Some reds tilt naturally towards violet in their color bias, as they contain a little blue, and may not produce clean, dazzling oranges if mixed with a yellow.
Warm yellows (biased towards orange) would be a good choice to mix red for making pure orange.
Cool yellows are biased towards green. Any of these yellows would be great for mixing clean, bright greens.
Examples of Color Bias in Popular Colors
|Color||Color Bias||Relative Temperature|
Winsor blue (red shade)
Winsor blue (green shade)
Cadmium yellow deep
How to Mix a Dull Yellow-Orange to Paint a Rock
You may start from a yellow-orange paint out of the tube, like cadmium yellow deep. Looking at the color wheel, you know that the complement of yellow-orange is a violet. That means that you can add a bit of violet to dull it, and it will also darken it.
You can use dioxazine violet or try some ultramarine blue. Both have a red bias and are close to blue-violet.
Mix with a palette knife and assess.
It will be surely duller and darker than the starting color. If it becomes too green, add a bit of red, If it becomes too blue-violet, add a warm color, like more of the initial yellow-orange.
Keep mixing, keep comparing. If it moves too much toward blue, add some warm orangy color, if it becomes to yellowish, add a bit of blue-violet.
Tip: As you add colors to the mix, keep in mind the color bias from the table above and how they might affect the mix.
More Ways to Mix Neutrals
Of course, there are lots of more ways to mix neutral colors, this article just covers a few examples that involve orange and blue.
Try to experiment on your own using other colors.
The main rule is: every time you mix together all three of the primary hues, either as color, or as color bias, you are bound to get a dull mix, and tweaking the proportions you can make it really muddy. That's when you get a nice neutral.
© 2020 Robie Benve
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on April 02, 2020:
Thanks a lot Claudia! I've self-isolated myself even before our Governor gave the order, painting and writing make the days go faster and happier. I hope all is well with you too. Here is to a healthy and happy quarantine. :)
Robie Benve (author) from Ohio on April 02, 2020:
Thank Liz! I'm one of those people counting on creative activities to keep me sane during this lock down. I know it's not everywhere, but here in Ohio we are all staying home and trying to keep busy. Painting surely helps. I've been thinking of all those people that always say they would love to paint but don't have the time. The time is now. :)
Claudia Porter on April 02, 2020:
Very cool Robie - I love the subtle variations with the different blues and oranges. Stay safe and I hope you are well.
Liz Westwood from UK on April 02, 2020:
This is a fascinating article. I'm guessing that there will be quite a number of people taking up or returning to painting at the moment.