Our Color Mixing System Revisited

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 taught me to paint using 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 or 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. When Jack developed this Double Primary mixing system he called the deep purple mixture made from 2 parts Ultramarine Blue + 1 part Alizarin Crimson: MUD. He had 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 1 part Cadmium Red Light + 2 parts 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. Please don’t use Cadmium Orange HUE, it does not make good color mixes. It has a tendency to go toward the pink tones.

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 made of MUD + Cadmium Orange 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.

It’s perfect for painting a blood bay horse and hereford cows.

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!

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With Colorful Smiles and Hugs,

Mikki Senkarik signature JPEG




9 Responses to “Our Color Mixing System Revisited”

  1. uraniaperez Says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing your color mixing system. I really like palette You use so now i can start playing with the mixings. Fun!!

    Gracias or Thanks. Urania

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. Tessa Du Preez Says:

    Thank you very much for your email. Regards

  3. Pete Says:

    Hi Mikki, thanks for the education, how to create different colors is very interesting.

  4. Texas Says:

    This article on Jack’s palette is SO HELPFUL!! Thank you for sharing.
    You make everything loom so easy!!

  5. nanseesart Says:

    That was very helpful. I printed it out, so I could study it later. Thank you for sharing your expertise with us.

  6. ddstarn Says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your explanation of your color mixing system!!! I’m a recent member to your blog. This is so helpful!!
    Love your paintings!!

  7. LouAnn Lubben Says:

    Mikki I love your system for painting. Ive been doing some pencils but will return to painting and I really study your work. Thank you. LouAnn

  8. shazia butt Says:

    hi Mikki, Do you have a painting course? I would like to enrol for that.

    • Mikki Senkarik Says:

      Hi Shazia. Thank you for your confidence in my painting and wanting to take a course from me. However, I’m not able to teach classes. I’m very blessed as an artist, I’m super busy keeping up with gallery commitments and commissions. This is one reason I write my blog, it allows me to help artists all over the world and still be able to paint all I need to. Please feel free to ask questions. I really appreciate you following my blog. HAPPY PAINTING, Mikki

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