How We Mix our Colors

Let me tell you about our palette. Some of you are familiar with our color mixing system but we have a lot of new readers who would like to know more about it. Jack and I use a mixing system he developed called a Double Primary Palette. This is not a gimmick just for conversation. It’s actually based on the scientific fact that our eyes have RODS to see black and white; CONES that register color. CONES are receptors that only “see” the three primary colors; Red, Yellow and Blue. All Umbers, Siennas, Ochres, even Blacks are mixed from these three primary colors inside the brain. Since paint manufacturers don’t make pure primary colors, our system incorporates warm and cool BLUES, warm and cool REDS, warm and cool YELLOWS, hence the name Double Primary Palette. The marvelous thing about this system is it’s impossible to mix dirty colors. Mixing these colors causes an emotional response in the brain, triggering a visual vibration as the three primaries are translated into a full range of hues.

Above the paint is laid out on my glass palette. These base colors are used in all of my paintings and are ALWAYS put on the palette in the same order. Just like in typing where the keys are always in the same place. From left to right they are:

  • Liquin (an alkyd based product that makes the oil paint dry faster)
  • MUD (Ultramarine Blue + Alizarin Crimson)
  • Ultramarine Blue (Warm Blue. This blue is warmer because it contains a little red.)
  • Pthalo Blue (Cool Blue. The yellow in this blue takes it toward the green side of the color wheel, therefore it’s cooler.)
  • Alizarin Crimson (Cool Red)
  • Cadmium Red Light (Warm Red)
  • Cadmium Orange
  • Cadmium Yellow Medium (Warm Yellow)
  • Hansa Lemon Yellow (Cool Yellow)
  • White

If you’ve been reading my blog for very long you know I use a lot of  MUD in my paintings. It’s the base of many of my mixtures. Here you can see the combination of Ultramarine Blue + Alizarin Crimson makes a deep purple. When Jack developed this Double Primary mixing system he called the deep purple mixture made from Ultramarine Blue + Alizarin Crimson: MUD. He has a theory about life, if you throw enough MUD against the wall some of it will stick. Or in other words, if you try a lot of ideas some of them will be successful. He used tons of paint developing this palette. Many of the mixtures he tried weren’t successful, but the MUD works!

The Orange can be mixed from Cadmium Red Light + Cadmium Yellow Medium. For convenience we use a tube of Cadmium Orange just so we don’t have to take the time to mix it.

Horses were my main subjects when I began painting over twenty years ago. As Jack taught me to paint my main concern was how could I paint horses using Red, Yellow and Blue? MUD and Orange provided the answer. They are the basis of all the Browns. Using just the two makes a rich brown. Adding Ultramarine Blue + White to the Brown produces the umbers used to paint Flying High shown below. The Blacks were mixed with Alizarin Crimson + Pthalo Blue. To see any of these images larger just click on the picture.

The addition of Cadmium Red Light to the MUD + Cadmium Orange mix makes a beautiful Burnt Sienna perfect for a blood bay horse. Now I use the mix for terra-cotta pots and tile floors!

Yellow Ochre is easy to make. All the colors mixed with this system have a vibrancy not found in pre-mixed tube paint which has fillers and binders.

Because my main gallery is in Santa Fe, southwestern adobe buildings are found in many of my pieces. The recipe for the base adobe color is shown above. A bit of MUD is added for the shadows, more White for the highlights.

As children we learned Blue + Yellow makes Green. The Double Primary Palette takes it a step farther. Pthalo Blue has a touch of yellow in it, Hansa Lemon Yellow has a tiny bit of blue. When the two are mixed the result is a pure, intense Green.

To mute a color the complimentary hue is added. The complement of Green is Red. Here is one of the wonderful subtleties of this system. Ultramarine Blue has a touch of red in it which makes it warm. Cadmium Yellow Medium also has a little red. So when the two are mixed a warm, muted Green results because of the red in both the blue and yellow.

For those of you who are artists take a little time and just play with mixing. You will be surprised at the broad spectrum of color you can achieve with our Double Primary Palette. Have FUN! Tomorrow we will start painting on the Portofino commission. Hope you’ll visit the studio and follow along. HUGS, Mikki Senkarik

13 Responses to “How We Mix our Colors”

  1. Catherine Bast Says:

    Thanks Mikki for the information about the beautiful colors you use.
    Most times I see a blue tape around the painting support you are using – could you explain how you set up your canvas.
    Thanks again – I am really enjoying your generosity in explaining your paintings – Cathy

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Hi Catherine,
      I use a contempo or gallery wrap canvas. The outer 3 inches and sides are painted with a heavy body white acrylic we purchase in England. This makes our Senkarik White Signature Frame. The blue tape covers the frame while I’m painting so I don’t get it messed up as I work. Hope this answers your question. Thank you for following my blog and have a wonderful day. Hugs, Mikki

  2. Catherine Bast Says:

    Hi Mikki,
    What a brilliant idea. The heavy body white acrylic must be similar to using molding paste. Do you have to retouch the white when you remove the blue tape?
    Have a wonderful evening – God Bless you – Cathy

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Cathy, When the blue tape is removed the painting is ready to hang. No touch up is required on the white frame. Please feel free to ask any other questions you may have. Hugs, Mikki

  3. Gonny v.d. Horn-Rijsdijk Says:

    Thank you again for explaining the color mixing…I tried it and was so surprised It realy is a great help!!!
    53 colors green now…..
    Hugs Gonny from Holland

  4. Kelvin zangata Says:

    Thanks very much for this information,but please how can easily understand value,chroma, desaturation?
    And is there a way in which you can reduce too much linseed oil in the paint cause the paints I bought they are too oily.
    Thanks and your response will be highly appreciated.

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Hi Kelvin,

      Great questions. “Value” is the lightness or darkness of a color. “Chroma” is a Greek word for color. “Desaturation” refers to a duller version of a color, you can add white to a color to “Desaturate” it. This would be the same as making a color less “Intense” or “Bright”.

      Many times when you open a fresh tube of paint the linseed oil has risen to the top. You can hold a paper towel over the open tube and lightly squeeze it to remove some of the extra oil. Or, if it comes out on your palette, just dab the extra linseed oil up with some tissue. Hope this helps. Thank you for following my blog! HAPPY PAINTING, Mikki

      • Kelvin zangata Says:

        Thanks for this information am really humbled,iam trying to learn by painting from life but judging the color of the subject is really a problem to me making transition of color from light into dark also is making me feel bad leading me to think as if am a bad painter how to desaturate a color with the perfect value and please help to understand the secret if value am being midlead with my sight , do you have any site I can share my works with you so that you see what I mean?.
        By the way your color studies you shared on your blog, how to mix different colors is fantastic it really helped learn to make my own colors without much struggle thanks and your response will highly appreciated stay blessed.

  5. fatima Says:

    ur work is so blessed…nvr seen anything like dat b4..thanks for sharing colour techniques…if i used same techniques in acrylic ..wud it reproduce the same effect as in ur paintings?

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Hi Fatima,
      Thank you for your kind comments. The color mixing system will work somewhat with acrylics. But they are very difficult to mix, oils are much better. Also acrylics darken as they dry so you don’t end up with the color you actually mixed. If at all possible I’d suggest you make the switch to oils. I appreciate you following my blog! HAPPY PAINTING, Mikki

      • Fatima Says:

        Thanks a lot for your detailed reply …it was very can i share my work wid u?im an acrylic painter

  6. Nina Says:


    I am new to oil painting. Been looking around for a good color mixing guide and this is the BEST I have seen. Detailed, great examples, all the bases covered. thanks a ton 🙂

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