Our Color Mixing System

Many 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 or French 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! HUGS, Mikki Senkarik

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42 Responses to “Our Color Mixing System”

  1. Olga Packard Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your palette. It makes complete sense! I read every one of your posts and often wondered what your palette was. You are so inspirational! Please keep the posts coming.

  2. Mary Marriner Says:

    Thank you, Mikki!! What wonderful information! I am so used to pastels…but I am beginning to use some oils and this will help!

  3. KarenJewel (@KarenJewel) Says:

    I am looking forward to using y’all’s guidelines in playing with my acrylic colors. Thank you! i am pretty new to your work, but I have noticed that each piece has some touch of red in it. I look forward to looking for that touch of red! 🙂

  4. Star Loney Says:

    Hey, I’ll use it in my acrylics. Thanks Much!

  5. renuka Says:

    Thank you Mikki!

  6. Margene Parker Says:

    thank you for this info I am going to start using this,looks great.

  7. Ann Hardy Says:

    The nice thing, Mikki, is that painting with this palette (just a bit limited with the UB and AC mud) will keep the painting harmonious. Thanks,

  8. Antonio Says:

    Thank you it made my life easier

  9. Sylvia Cooley Says:

    As always, I learn something new from your posts. The double primary palette makes sense. I did the color charts that Richard Schmid recommended; now, I will incorporate your palette. You and Jack are such an inspiration to me. Thanks, Sylvia

  10. Anja Says:

    Beautiful! I like your greece paintings. Have been in Rhodos a few times. Is there any chance you can make a video and put it on YouTube? I, as a beginner, like to learn about painting Greece. Greetings from Holland. Anja

  11. ambreen Says:

    I love your work,its simply beautiful.I was trying to follow your blog but was not able to sign in, I dont know why? please help me thanks,from Pakistan.

  12. Lori Woodward Says:

    Love this Mikki. Fewer colors to buy and lots of variety.

  13. mariasotorobbins Says:

    This is so helpful, Mikki. I’m reading the Mystery of Making It and this post was so helpful to use in conjunction with Chapter 15 (Color) of the book.
    By the way, I’m so enjoying the book and it is giving me so many ideas! Jack is brilliant!

  14. Lynn Gupton Says:

    Love, love, love your work and your wonderfully detailed tutorials! Thank you for sharing your talent and for being such a fabulous source of inspiration!

  15. Anita Johnson Says:

    Why do you make the mud instead of using Dioxazine Pruple? I always wonder about this. Anita Johnson

  16. mahsa Says:

    mikki i had a question , can we buy (liquin) from the oil color store with this name?
    and when we must use it in the painting?
    thank you so much mikki.

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      I though all of my readers would like to know the answer to this question. Liquin is a Winson Newton product and any art store should carry it. I use it to thin my oil paint to make a wash to sketch up the initial plan on canvas. A touch can also be added to oil paint to make it dry faster. I just dip the tip of my painting knife in the Liquin and then mix it into the oils. You don’t need much. Thank you for following my blog. Hugs, Mikki

  17. wenceslao ciuro Says:

    very nice!, please explain how to make realistic and varied greens for landscape painting! thanks!

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Wenceslao,

      I’ve shown how we mix our basic greens in this post. Taking our color mixing system we use the theory that cool colors go back and warm colors come forward. With this in mind make your greens in the distance more blue. Make them warmer by adding more yellow as you get closer to the foreground. Start looking at the landscape when you go outside to observe how nature looks. Practice mixing greens and make notes of the color combinations you use to get them. I’m not sure where you live, you might be covered in snow right now! But the warm/cool theory even applies in snow. Start analyzing landscapes when ever you can. HAPPY PAINTING! Mikki

  18. Charlotte Light Says:

    I have been having a color problem that seems to be very complicated even for color experts. I paint seascapes and sometimes like to paint sunset seascapes. I know the rule is for this
    things in the distance to be bluer, less intense and lighter. The problem arrises in a sunset where the the atmosphere is not blue. Should things fade with the atmosphere and be more red in the distance and not blue? Should the foreground not be warm,but cool since it farther away from the light? I am trying to formulate a rule for atmospheric distantance when the sky is not blue, but sunset.

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Charlotte,
      This is an excellent question. Water is usually darker in the distance because it’s deeper. The sunset sky does influence the color of the water and makes it warmer. The sun setting on the horizon line of the ocean makes a warm glow directly underneath it. If the light is just right the golden sun reflects all the way to the wet sand at the water’s edge. The water in the foreground reflects the blue dome of the sky overhead. The best thing to do is observe and make notes anytime you are on the beach at sunset. AHHHHH….. wouldn’t we all like to spend every sunset at the beach? Have you even seen the green flash at sunset?
      Thank you for following my blog, Mikki

  19. wafaa Says:

    hello Mikki
    I’m very glad I fell upon your website an saw you paintings. I liked them very much and got benifet of you color mixing system. I very much wish to see you paint . Are there any videos or tutorials of yours that I can watch??
    Thank you very much with my best regards.
    Wafaa

  20. Azita Says:

    I love your painting , just wondering how I can make magenta?

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Azita,
      Magenta is one of the colors we’ve just not been able to mix. All attempts have failed at producing a crisp, clean color. So this is one of those “Special” colors on our palette that we buy and use directly out of the tube. Others are Dioxazine Purple, Cobalt Blue, Permanent Rose and Viridian Green. Hope this is helpful. Mikki

  21. Azita Says:

    Many thanks!

  22. Paulo Sérgio Nunes Rosa Says:

    Olá Mikki
    Fico feliz por sua pintura, pois acho espetacular.
    Gostaria que você pintasse rosas, ok? Obrigado!!!

    • Paulo Sergio Nunes Rosa Says:

      hello Mikki
      I’m glad his painting, because I think spectacular.
      I would like you to paint roses, okay? Thank you!!!

  23. Holland Franks Says:

    Is it possible to convert the above article to a PDF? Having this information at finger tip would be helpful.

  24. Bill Gavin Says:

    Hi Mikki,
    You can make a PDF from the Print window. On a MAC Control P brings up the print window and there is a button on the bottom to save the page as PDF.
    I enjoy all your posts!

  25. vanesa Says:

    Hola Mikki,
    Estoy muy feliz y agradecida por toda la informacion y explicacion que nos estas dando,yo hago mi primeros pasos en la pintura y eso me ayuda enormemente!
    Gracias Mikki,todo lo mejor para ti!!!!

  26. savvy Says:

    So far, very good. Just don’t participate in Facebook. Can I still ask a question?
    Re the color palette: can one set it up in reverse, so that the white is on the left side and all are sequenced in reverse order from the way yours is shown? Or is there a scientific reason
    for putting the colors the way you show them? Thanks in advance. Savvy

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Hi Savvy,
      The palette is set up this way so the White is on the opposite end from the paint thinner. That way if any thinner drips off of my brushes it goes into the dark colors. The palette is laid out from the dark colors on the left to the lighter ones on the right. My White stays nice and clean, far away from any dirty paint thinner. Hope this helps, Mikki

  27. lizmcqueensart Says:

    Probably the best article I have ever seen on mixing colours. Thank you.

  28. brendaforeman Says:

    Mikki, I taught painting with this palette from 1976 on. Just did not call it double primary palette. I can feel your love for Jack in all you blog about.

  29. Saartjie van den Bergh Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this Mikki! You are a star!!

  30. kelvin zangata Says:

    the teachings are amazing thank you!!!

  31. LARÚ LEVERONI CHINCHILLA Says:

    DESDE PANAMÁ.,REP. DE PANAMÁ. MUCHAS GRACIAS POR COMPARTIR SUS EXPERIENCIAS. DIOS LO BENDIGA.

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