Project 1 – Exercise 2: Primary and secondary color mixing

Before starting this exercise on my prepared middle grey supports I wanted to look up what primary and secondary colour really means:

Looking up definitions in Oxford Art Online:

Primary colour: ‘One of the three chromatic colours—red, yellow, and blue—from which all other colours may be mixed, with the assistance of black and white.

Secondary colour: ‘The three colours which are produced by mixing pairs of the three primary colours: thus green (blue and yellow), orange (red and yellow), violet (red and blue).’


Identify my primary colors and identify the most intense ones

Goal: to obtain pure and intense yellow, red and blue with no traces of other primary colour. Do I have to mix my colours in order to get those pure primary ones?

I was interested in comparing my primary colors not only within one vehicle but also across. Therefore I made this exercise with acrylic, gouache, and oil paint side-by-side. I also applied the same time tints below the pure colors in order to see difference resp. to better evaluate a hue shift.


I used the following yellow colors::

1. Cadmium Yellow light (Lukas Cryl past)
2. Primary Yellow (Lukas Cryl past)
3. Cadmium Yellow Light (Amsterdam Expert)

4. Lemon Yellow (Lascaux Resonance)
5. Golden Yellow (Lascaux Resonance)

6. Cadmium Yellow light (van Gogh)
7. Cadmium Yellow Medium (van Gogh)
8. Azo Yellow lemon (van Gogh)

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - yellows

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – yellows

Perceived differences:

Hue: Golden yellow (Gou) as the most orange one, Cd yellows (Acr, Oil) do have an orange hue, the lemon colors show a greenish hue (Acr, Gou, Oil)

Chroma: the Cd colors are the most intense ones (Acr, Oil), the lemon colors are the least (Gou, Oil)

Tone: Cd yellow are darker, pima yellow (Acr) and the lemon colors are lighter in tone

Changing positions:

Golden yellow (Gou) became less orange when positioned next to Cd yellows. Lemon light (Gou) became more greenish when positioned between Cd lights. Placing the lemon yellows together made them less greenish as when positioned next to a more orange Cd yellow.



I used the following red colors::

1. Cadmium Red light (Lukas Cryl past)
2. Cadmium Red medium Yellow (Amsterdam Expert)
3. Alizarin crimson Light (Lukas Cryl past)

4. Vermillion (Lascaux Resonance)
5. Carmine Red (Lascaux Resonance)

6. Cadmium Red light (van Gogh)
7. Cadmium Red Medium (van Gogh)
8. Alizarin crimson (van Gogh)

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - reds

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – reds

Perceived differences:

Hue: Cd lights (Acr, Oil) do have an orange hue, Alizarin crimson (Acr) the most blueish hue especially as a tint. I felt that Alizarin crimson (Oil) on the other hand has a more orange hue as a tint. The Cd med (Acr, Oil) do are the purest reds. Carmine (Gou) holds the hue as a tint.

Chroma: the Cd light colors are the most intense ones (Acr, Oil), with Cd med following. The Alizarin crimson (Acr, Oil) and Carmine (Gou) the least intense.

Tone: Alizarin crimson (Acr, Oil) are the darkest colors, Cd light (Acr, Oil) are the lightest, and the Cd med (Acr, Oil) in at middle tonal value.

Changing positions:

Placing Cd reds light next to the dark Alizarin Crimson made them lighter and more intense. Placing similar Cd lights next to each other made them more dull as when placed next to a red with a different hue.


I used the following blue colors::

1. Cerulean Blue (Lukas Cryl past)
2. Ultramarine Blue deep (Lukas Cryl past)
3. Cobalt Blue (Amsterdam Expert)
4. Prussian Blue (Lukas Cryl past)
5. Indigo (Lukas Cryl past)

6. Ultramarine Blue (Lascaux Resonance)
7. Prussian Blue  (Lascaux Resonance)

6. Cerulean Blue (van Gogh)
7. Ultramarine Blue (van Gogh)
8. Phtalo Blue (van Gogh)
9. Prussian Blue(van Gogh)

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - blues

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – blues

Perceived differences:

Hue: Cerulean (Acr) has a strong greenish hue, cerulean (Oil) has it less. Indigo (Acr) as a tint turns into rather greyish. Ultramarine (Acr, Gou, Oil) do show a reddish hue, prussian blue (Acr, Gou, Oil) do show slightly a greenish hue, in Gou less.

Chroma: Most intense were Cobalt (Acr) and ultramarine (Gou, Oil). I was a bit disappointed by the lower intensity of ultramarine (Acr).

Tone: Indigo (Acr) and prussian blues (Acr, Gou, Oil) are the darkest colors. Ultramarine (Gou) and Cerulean blue (Acr, Oil) are the lightest ones. Cobalt (Acr) sitting in the middle.

Changing positions:

Similar perception as with the other colors: juxtaposition of light and dark hues makes them even darker resp. lighter. Placing all ultramarine together make them less reddish and the bus is becoming more intense. On the other hand the cerulean blues seems to become more dull when placed side-by-side.

Deciding on my primary colors

Was this task to be supposed easy? Referring to above definition means that I can mix all other colors from those three primaries (yellow, red, blue) and at least the three secondary colors orange, violet, and orange. In the course material is already mentioned that mixing violet with red and blue would rather lead to brownish, greyish hues. So how would I know if I have truly primary colors??

Looking up further I found that the subtractive color wheel may consist of cyan, magenta, and yellow (used for commercial printing) or of warm blue, warm red, and cool yellow (what is introduced in art schools) (Wilson, 2015 – p.82).

Another angle is described in (Sideway, 2002 – p.15) by mentioning of perfect primaries:
‘the more two primary colors have a bias toward one another, the more intense the secondary and 
tertiary hues mixed from those colors.’  So that means a violet is better mixed out of alizarin crimson and ultramarine than Cd red and cerulean blue.

At the end I decided for the following primaries:

– Yellow = Primary yellow + a bit Cd yellow light
– Red = Cd Red med + a bit Alizarin Crimson
– Blue = Ultramarine + Cerulean (first I as not sure, so I tried ultramarine + cobalt as well)

– Yellow = Lemon Yellow
– Red = Vermillion + Carmine
– Blue = Ultramarine

– Yellow = Azo Yellow lemon + Cd yellow light
– Red = Cd Red medium
– Blue = Ultramarine + Cerulean (I tried ultramarine + Phtalo as well)

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - my primary colors

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – my primary colors

Making a scale of two primary colours

For the sake of simplicity and to have more time for making (drying time) I decided to continue with oils only.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - secondary colors in oil

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – secondary colors in oil

The range from yellow to red produced a good scale of various yellow-orange, orange, orange-red.

From yellow to blue the green in the middle part have a kind of olive hue, at the yellow end a bit muddy for my feeling, and at the blue end nice dark greens.

The scale from red to blue is the darkest scale and produced quite interesting hues. At the red end it seemed that the red became less and less saturated and more brownish. At the blue end (perhaps with too big incrementals) the brownish hue turned into a slight dark violet and a darker muddy blue. Form here I can see that the shift from red to blue is quite critical. I will see how the scale will look like with the following test (similar tonal value).


Mixing a violet hue

First I looked up the pure violet from the tube and tints and tried to reproduce it with alizarin crimson and phtalo blue. The resulting hue is more on the greyish-greenish side, what means that phtalo blue by itself has a greenish hue. Rechecking my firstly blue color tests I can see that that the tint of petal blue (with white) tends more to green than the pure color.

In a second attempt I considered the information given by Sideway, 2002 (p. 15) and mixed a violet out of a  blueish red (alizarin crimson) and a reddish blue (ultramarine). For this I wanted to a wider scale (9 steps) to understand better hue differences in this – I now understand – critical area of the color wheel. After this done I made tints of the nine steps and was surprised how discriminative it became. The first steps still rather on the pink side, the lest steps on the blue side. So the violet is rather a small areas between step 4 and step 6. Perhaps I could have done smaller incrementals. Lesson learned.

Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - violet

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – violet

Making a scale of two primary colours with constant tonal value

The goal is to make a scale of primary and mixing secondary while mainting a constant tonal value by mixing with white (tints). I tried to make the scales not too large (considering a significant amount of paint needed, especially to mix down the tonal values with white) and to reduce them to 9 steps.


Stefan513593 - Project 1 - Exercise 2 - secondary colors with same tonal value

Stefan513593 – Project 1 – Exercise 2 – secondary colors with same tonal value


  • Yellow-Red:  I’ve noticed that the pure yellow is a bit darker than the incremental with a bit of red. Therefore I already added a bit white to it as my starting point. The yellow-orange hues are more saturated than the reds in the scale. Comparing with the ‘denatured’ image  (photoshop) I am not sure how the tonal values are perceived. The yellows are still darker?
  • Yellow-Blue: Somehow I made a mistake and the starting yellow is too dark (forget to mix with white?), the second one too light. The greens became duller at the yellow-green side. Surprisingly the green-blue hues at the other hand became more differentiated in hue. Overall I think the incrementals from step 4 to 5 and from 7 to 8 are bit steep. Somehow I had more difficulties with painting a constant tonal values across the scale than with the yellow-red scale.
  • Red-Blue: Quite challenging. I took the photo after it was dry, seemed the the color darkened while drying. I found if quite challenging to evaluate the tonal value at very dark hues. Therefore I decided to repeat this scale with a lower tonal value similar to the two other scales. This went smoother besides some differences where the hue changed more (middle section). Overall there is a too big incremental from step 7 to 8.

Overall, the images taken with my camera and adjustments done in photoshop (desaturation) are not given the same image as I did perceive while making and while looking at the original picture!

Quite an intense exercise. I learned quit a lot about my colors, hues, and tonal values. At the end I was quite exhausted.

At the end the space around me (I used milk card boxes as palette)



  • Colors do have always a certain hue either toward to one side or the other. Mixed secondaries are depending on which primaries I use.
  • Violet is a critical hue, note easy to mix with primary. Much better with colors that already have a bias towards each other (alizarin and ultramarine).
  • If found it quite challenging to obtain a constant tonal value across different hues. More difficult when hues are quite dark.
  • Especially in the scale from red to blue there are some unique hues. I felt the shift from brownish red to blue with a slight violet in between hard to control.
  • To obtain an objective b&W or desaturated image with a camera and iPhone app modifications and photoshop is quite difficult. I found that the results are not so trustworthy and at times are misleading to what my eye perceives. I am not sure why this is, but I find it an interesting aspect to follow up on.
  • Making tints with white of pure especially dark hues is much more discriminative when mixing.  Initially perceived small hues difference turn out to be huge hues differences when tonal value is lighter.
  • According to Chevreul a juxtaposition of near hues will exaggerate the difference by a perception of a visual hue of the complementary colors (see my research – click here)

Next time:

  • Follow up on the topic of eye perception versus camera / photoshop images especially related to tonal value
  • Be more careful when painting constant tonal values.


  • Oxford Art Online: Available from: [accessed 22 April 2016]
  • Sideway, Ian (2002) ‘Color mixing bible‘, New York: Watson-Guptill
  • Wilson, Kate (2015) ‘Drawing and painting – Materials and Techniques for Contemporary Artists‘ London: Thames & Hudson


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