What colours do you need to start painting
so many colours available, which ones should you buy when
you first start painting with acrylics? While we all know
it’s possible to mix a rainbow of
colours from just
three primary colours (blue, red, and yellow), most of us
don’t, preferring the ease of being able to squeeze
a particular colour out of a tube. And some colours are
simply brighter or darker than anything you can mix. The
colours listed here make up a good basic palette of acrylic
colours and from it you should be able to mix all the colours
Get both Alizarin crimson and cadmium red medium (you also
get a cadmium red light and dark). Alizarin crimson is a
bluish, cool red which is relatively transparent which makes
it ideal for glazing. Cadmium red medium is a yellowish,
warm red and relatively opaque.
Phthalo blue is an intense, extremely versatile blue. It
goes very dark when combined with burnt umber and, because
of its high tinting strength, only a little need be mixed
with white to create a lighter blues. (Also called phthalocyanine
blue, monestial blue, and thalo blue.)
Start with a tube of cadmium yellow medium. You can easily
create a lighter yellow by adding white to this, though
if you find you’re doing this regularly, consider
buying a tube of cadmium yellow light too. Remember that
if you want to darken yellow to try adding its complementary
colour, purple, rather than black, which tends to produce
an olive green rather than deeper yellow.
Titanium white is an opaque, bright
white with a strong tinting power (meaning a little goes
a long way). Some manufacturers also sell a “mixing
white”, which is usually the cheapest and, as the
name suggests, formulated to blend well with other colours.
Mars black is a relatively opaque colour and should be added
to other colours in small quantities until you’ve
got used its strength. Another option is ivory black, but
only if you’re not squeamish about it being made from
charred bones (it was originally created from ivory).
Burnt umber is a warm chocolate brown that’s extremely
versatile and likely to provide itself indispensable. It’s
great for darkening the tone of other colours. Raw umber
is very similar, but slightly lighter and cooler.
Greens can be hard to mix consistently unless you’re
meticulous to note the colours and proportions you used.
Phthalo green is a bright bluish green. Mix it with cadmium
yellow medium to get a variety of shades of greens.
Cadmium orange is just a mixture of cadmium yellow and red,
but if you’re mixing an orange often, you’ll
save yourself some time having it ready-made in a tube.
It’s worth buying a very dark purple as you can waste
a lot of paint trying to mix one.
Other Useful Colours
a versatile, transparent dark blue-grey
made from a mixture of blue and black, often with some red.
Yellow or golden ochre
a glorious, golden, yellowish brown.
Titanium buff or raw titanium
a deep cream useful for mixing
with burnt umber to create skin tones.