Tutorial:Triads in Oil Paint

Here is a mixing and painting demonstration for our first triad class.

We are exploring the possibilities of the primary triad: Red, Yellow, Blue.

There are many many tubes of paint and selections of each color to choose from for this triad.

Naturally, in painting, you will discover what works for you by trying different combinations out, which takes time, so have fun with it and think “research and development”.

Another way to decide which paints to use is to refer to the material/physical properties of the paint.

  • Is it transparent, semi-transparent or opaque? Similar qualities might make better mixers although there are always exceptions (we are not making rocket fuel, after all).
  • What is the tinting strength? When mixing a strong tint into a weak tint use a tiny speck at first, otherwise the stronger tint will totally take over, (think about what happens when you mix Phthalo blue into anything).
  • Lastly, consider the prismatic richness (rainbow intensity) of the paint, is it dull/earthy (yellow ochre) or bright and bold (cadmium yellow)? Paints with similar qualities might mix better than a mishmash of bright and dull (but this does not mean you cannot enhance a color with a brighter one if it feels right to you…color conveys mood/emotion aka. feeling).

In class we talked about a few different primary triads.


  • Earthy: Venetian red, yellow ochre and cerulean blue.
  • Traditional: Cadmium red, cadmium yellow or gamboge, and ultramarine blue.
  • High Key: Magenta, hansa yellow and cyan.

Our reference book is Confident Color by Nita Leland

We spent some time mixing the palette:

  • Place three generous piles of paint on the outer edge of your palette.
  • Scoop a portion of each one into a separate pile and mix them together to make a “mother” pile.
  • You want to mix something that does not lean towards any of the three colors, a neutral “gray-like” color.
  • Test the neutrality by mixing a small bit with white.
  • Once you have a good pile, divide it into three and align each of the three under a pure color (unmixed) pile.
  • Mix a bit of each corresponding primary into each pile. This will make a colored shade of each primary.
  • Take a bit off and add white to make a tone.
  • Take a bit off of the pure pile and mix white into it to make a tint.
  • Save a bit of the original “mother” to make a grayscale to use for areas of absolute “rest” in your painting. (the cones do not register”gray”, this allows them to relax, which makes you relax,  when your eye looks at gray).

See below for all of the mixtures.


and placing them into a pie chart for the record:


We toned the canvas with the color that reflected the temperature of the light source:

Blue for LED.

Pink for Daylight Balance Fluorescent/LED.

Yellow for incandescent (ordinary lightbulb and candlelight).

Here is an example for Blue:

See here the difference the light makes on the yellow and red still life compared to the blue.


Here is an example of halogen, which is warm (yellow), emphasized by the yellow subject matter and blue accent.

  • In this example I work darkest dark first and each color at a time, blue first; shade, tone, tint.
  • Then red not in any particular order, then yellow; shade, tone, tint.
  • Then, I repeat the process if I’ve left something out… This way, if there is a neutral color I can’t identify at first, I can leave it until the next pass…
  • Usually, I can figure it out after some practice identifying more obvious colors first…have faith!

If you make your drawing with a paintbrush, it will prevent you from over-detail. I use a long filbert, called an Egbert, it holds enough paint for drawing. Get loose! Remember, you want a general map and you can always wipe out what does not work.

Now, try some different triads or try different dominant colors or repeat what you’ve already figured out…just paint.

Okay, now no excuses for not doing your homework!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s