Exercise: Opaque colour mixing

Choose at least three of the washes you’ve painted (including the single colour ones) and attempt to recreate exactly the same colour, shade and tone of each of these in turn. This time you’ll be mixing colours by adding in white making the paints opaque.

I used acrylics for the exercise and immediately discovered that I have to work very fast to achieve any blending. I didn’t work fast enough and had to go back later when the paint was dry to  make improvements which were only partially successful.


Alizarin crimson opaque

graded wash-alz-crim

Transparent wash

My first attempt to recreate the a single colour alizarin crimson wash by mixing with white was reasonably successful.








Alizarin Crimson and violet mixed with white acrylic


Original transparent wash

My second attempt at recreating a two colour wash using alizarin crimson and violet was extremely difficult, if not impossible. This made me realise that the colours when mixed with white paint behave very differently  compared to being diluted with water and mixed. I could not  reproduce the same colours or tones. I kept ending up with pastel pink  and even slightly brown colours rather than the vibrant colours of the original. I tend to think that I’m good at mixing colours so I was surprised at how difficult I found this task. I concluded that it was not possible to recreate my two-colour wash exactly.

Cerulean blue and light olive mixed with white acrylic

Cerulean blue and light olive mixed with white acrylic


Original wash

Finally I had a go at recreating a cerulean blue / light olive graded wash by painting the cerulean first and letting it dry and then adding the olive.  I found that the olive and white paint is not transparent so I had to resort to swishing light strokes of the paint over the background colour which did at least allow the colour to show through. Then I resorted to adding water to dilute the green. The results speak for themselves…total failure!


Think about ways in which both methods could work together…

Transparent washes could create good backgrounds – applied at the outset – for solid objects in a still life such as china jugs or vases.

Transparent white might perhaps be suitable for highlights enabling opaque colours below to show through if that is the desired effect. Perhaps for highlights on skin?

Learning points

  • This exercise has taught me a lot and made me aware of the value of these experimental exercises.
  • I feel I’ve got a lot more to learn on this topic and I need to think about it more and also get out and about and look at acrylic paintings close up to understand where opaque and transparent techniques are used. Looking at pictures in books isn’t going to do it.

Definition of opaque (in art terms) from painting.about.com
A paint color is said to be opaque when it hides what’s underneath it, when you can’t see any or much of what’s beneath the color. Some pigments are extremely opaque, such as titanium white and cadmium red; other pigments are semi-opaque, such as zinc white. Opaque does not mean white.



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