How to Keep Your Colors Pure and Clean

One of the most common things I hear from beginning painters is that there colors are muddy. Hopefully,  these tips will help you keep clean colors.

Be Organized and Clean


Make sure that you work with clean brushes. Don’t leave residue from other colors. Use one brush for light colors and one for darks.

Your Palette

You should get into the habit of laying out your palette of colors in the same order and place them at the edge of the palette to leave plenty of room for mixing. If you squeeze out the paint in long lines instead of puddles, it is easier to take paint from the end of the line, leaving the rest of the paint clean.

Use a palette knife to dip into the paint instead of a brush. Then wipe your palette knife clean.

Continually wipe your palette clean so that you keep your mixing area clean. Alcohol works well to clean the palette. Remove any dried paint. I will scrape with a razor (I use a glass palette) away any dried paint around each pile of color to keep colors separated from the next.

Disposable palettes definitely will help to keep a clean mixing area. Don’t be stingy and not throw it away when it becomes over used. That is the beauty of them, you can throw them away after each painting session.

Clean Saturated Colors

I’ve heard people say that you shouldn’t mix more than three colors together at a time. I don’t go along with this school of thought. Often I will have mixed a gray or used my left over paint from the day before. If I need to adjust the temperature or color of the gray, I will add another color to it. Once you know your colors well, you can do this.

Do you paint straight from the tube if you want pure, bright color. But don’t overdo it. You can create chaos in your painting with too much saturated colors.

Use Like Values

When mixing one color into another keep the values the same or very similar. When you mix a darker value color into a lighter color or vise versa, they don’t mix well and can create muddy colors.

Use Color to Lighten or Darken

Before adding white or black to darken or lighten a color, always first try using a color. Use cad yellow light to lighten, then add white. Too much white will make the color chalky. Too much black and it can be dulled and gray. In fact, I don’t recommend that anyone starts with black until they know how to use their colors. Black can be very over powering.

I hope this has helped you with mixing and keeping clean colors.

Comments for this post

  1. Sheila February 15, 2013, 7:04 pm

    Love this post~ it comes from someone I admire as a Master of color. Thank you!~

  2. Carolyn Blankenship February 17, 2013, 8:56 am

    I enjoy reading your blog. I usually have nothing to add to the information you give; however, I did want to add my appreciation. As an elderly lady who has worked all my life, now retired on a limited income, I appreciate the information you so freely share. Thank you so much.

    1. admin February 17, 2013, 9:18 pm

      You are very welcome Carolyn, I’m so glad it is helpful to you. I just wish I had more time to get more posts on the blog. Right now two a week is all I can manage.

  3. Francine February 19, 2013, 2:00 pm

    You are my favorite artist. I love your pictures, especially your skies. So beautiful. I hope that I will be able to arrange a workshop with you in the near future. Since I live in Manhattan, and don’t drive, it can become a problem. If you have any workshops that can be taken, without the need of a car, please let me know.
    Thank you for your lovely paintings.


    1. admin February 19, 2013, 11:18 pm

      I would like to have something online Francine, but at this time I have too many things going on. Thank you.

  4. georgia mansur February 21, 2013, 4:04 am

    Hi Becky, thanks for the great post~ I also like using the practice of going up the colour wheel to lighten colours and keep them clean, rather than adding white, which sometimes dulls and makes a chalky look. I think mixing your own ‘black’ or darks is more interesting and rich ~ black out of the tube can really deaden the vibrancy of colours. Another thing to keep in mind is that modern or synthetic colours are often very powerful whilst maintaining a clean transparent glow (great for glazing!) and mineral or earth tones naturally have more opacity and will dirty the mix but sometimes we want that to happen to kill off some of the chroma. Your paintings are always inspiring and your sense of colour is impeccable ~ rock on my friend! x

    1. admin February 21, 2013, 4:47 am

      thanks for stopping by Georgia, appreciate it. And you are so right about the synthetic and organic colors. Hope you will be able to make it to the convention. Talk to you later. Becky

  5. Ronnie Offen March 20, 2013, 7:28 am

    Hi, Becky–I’m thoroughly enjoying reading your blogs, but there is one problem. Every time I open a new one, a “Daily Painters Art Gallery” rectangle appears and obscures part of your writing. I am not able to remove it, and it’s very frustrating.
    Thanks for all the info.

    1. admin March 21, 2013, 7:02 am

      thanks Ronnie, I’ll look at that.


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