How to mix blues in painting

Colour mixing blue accurately can seem tricky as there are many types of blues to be found. Does the artist purchase lots of blue pigments for the different blues that can be perceived, or can lots of blues be mixed with a few basic pigments? Thankfully, there is a simple solution.

Different Types of Blues

One does not have to look far to see many different blues that on first impressions can seem bewildering. There is the violet-blue of a summer sky; powder-blue of the cornflower; arctic-blue of snowdrifts; silver-blue of cutlery; turquoise blue of a winter sky at sunset and iridescent-blue of moonlit clouds. The list is endless. When it comes to colour mixing blue, where is the best place to start?

Categories of Blue Pigments

Like any other colour, there is only four ways a blue can go when one looks at the colour wheel, which is violet, green, light or dark. The rest is just down to purity of the blue. When it comes to the aforementioned colour wheel, blue can either be warm or cool. This is known as ‘colour temperature’. This is why many artists have at least 2 blue pigments within their colour selection: a warm blue and a cool blue. The warm blue will have a violet cast. A common choice for this blue is ultramarine. Ultramarine is rather translucent in nature but is an ideal colour inclusion for summer skies, warm lake reflections or blue markings on crockery. Ultramarine is also useful for painting bluish casts found in snow.

Painting Violet Colours

Adding a little permanent rose to ultramarine will further tilt this blue to violet. With a little white, this will result in the ideal colour found near the horizon of clear, sunny skies. This bluish-violet can also be used for certain flowers such as wisteria, pansies or petunias.

Cool Blues in Art

The cool blue will have a greenish cast. A common choice for this is pthalo blue, cerulean, monestrial or manganese. Pthalo blue is an ideal counterpart for mixing cool, wintry skies, denim or irises. Having a greenish cast, these blues are also a good blue counterpart for obtaining crisps greens. The addition of a little viridian will tilt this blue further into green, ideal for bluish foliage or pine trees in mist.

How to Darken Blue

So with the colour temperature of the blue defined, the next consideration is tone. Of course, blue can always be lightened by the introduction of white. But darkening blue is not so simple. Adding black will create dirty greys. Adding blue’s complementary colour is a better option. Any colour in the red spectrum can be used for deepening blues. Cadmium red will darken blue almost to black, ideal for the bases of storm clouds or for the shadows of slate.

How to Paint Deep Blues

Objects perceived to be blue often possess other colours. Blue fruit such as blueberries and grapes for instance contain a fair amount of violet and earth colours. Earth colours are vital for tempering blues if the object is not shocking blue. Burnt umber is great for tempering pthalo blue if painting someone’s eyes. This earth colour has a cool cast, retaining much of the blue’s quality. Mixing pthalo blue with a little burnt umber makes Prussian blue or indigo unnecessary.

Burnt sienna mixed with ultramarine results in lovely silvery hues that can be found in mist or summer shadows cast over tarmac roads.

Essential Blues for the Artist’s Palette

As can be seen, the artist does not need lots of blue pigments to obtain a multitude of blues. French ultramarine and pthalo blue form the two blue counterpoints: warm and cool. Other blues the artist may find useful are cerulean, cobalt and manganese. Monestrial is a lovely rich, greenish blue but is no longer widely available. Permanent rose and cadmium red will darken blue; burnt umber burnt sienna will temper blue for smoky effects if mixed with white or almost black.
 
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