Color Curriculum

Uncontrollable Color Mixing

By Carolyn Payzant

Originally appeared in The Botanical Artist – Volume 15, Issue 4


Some of you have asked, why does one color mix differently than another? I don’t have a technical reason but can lead you to think about mixing in a new way by considering the “drying shift”, “staining ability”, and “transparency” of each pigment on your palette. You are going to be asking what do these terms mean. But to get started and to allow you to visualize what I am talking about here is a list of my recommended colors and their attributes. 


I don’t need to go into a long detail on this topic as we all deal with transparency everyday. Just know, when you mix an opaque paint with an opaque or semi-opaque paint you may create mud. But you will create luscious colors by mixing a transparent or semi-transparent paint with any opaque or semi-opaque paint. 


If you mix a pigment that is highly staining (HS) with a pigment that is slightly staining (SS) the HS will always overpower the SS pigment. So always add the HS pigment to the SS pigment carefully and slowly. The answer here is always make a splotch and let it dry before adding more paint. 

Drying Shift 

Drying shift is the hidden trap when mixing. But first you need to know what it is. When you first lay a wash of color on your paper, it is bright, vibrant and glossy. As the paint dries it loses the luminosity of the water and in varying degrees its vibrancy and brightness. This is called drying shift. If you mix a pigment with a sizable drying shift with a pigment with a slight drying shift, please remember - the pigment with the sizeable drying shift will dry tending to fade into the woodwork. 

You can waste a lot paint trying to control these attributes while mixing that perfect color!