How to Mix Cream Colors When Painting

A few simple tips will help achieve the perfect shade

Mixing oil paints on a palette
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It can be a challenge to mix the right blend of colors to get a cream color. Before attempting it, it's important to know a little color theory. Applying the tips here will enable you to mix it like the pros do.

Definition of Cream Color

Cream is an off-white color that tends toward a yellow hue. Its name comes from the color of cream produced from cow's milk. A shade of cream would be a cream color mixed with black, or its equivalent, making it a darker value or tone. Some other names associated with off-white colors like cream are beige, ecru, and ivory.

Color Theory

Before attempting to mix colors, you need a firm understanding of color (and mixing) theory, which can be summed up in a few important points:

  • You can create any color from the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. The primary colors form the basis for color theory or color mixing, which states that you can create a vast array of hues, as well as a tertiary (third) color by using the primary colors in the correct proportions.
  • Be aware of simultaneous contrast, which refers to the way you perceive the effect of two adjacent colors on each other. Your cream color will look different depending on what other color or colors you pair with it.
  • Add dark to light. It takes only a little of a dark color to change a light color, but it takes considerably more of a light color to change a dark one. For example, always add blue to white to darken it, rather than trying to lighten the blue by adding white. This is a vital point to keep in mind when you are mixing colors to achieve cream.

Also, stick to single-pigment paints. Check that the two colors you are mixing are each made from one pigment only, so that you’re mixing only two pigments. This is especially important when you're trying to mix two (or more) colors to make cream. Also, don't overmix. Rather than mixing two colors together completely on your palette, if you stop a little before they are totally combined, you'll get a far better result.

Cream Recipes

With a bit of basic color theory under your belt, you're ready to mix colors to make cream. As you probably have guessed from the color theory points, there are actually a variety of ways that you can create a cream color.

  • You can mix a brown with white, such as raw sienna or burnt sienna, and then add raw or burnt umber. Add a little brown to white, rather than white to some brown, as noted above. If this doesn't give you a cream you like, add a tiny bit of yellow and/or red (or orange) to warm up the mixture.
  • Mix yellow ocher, Naples yellow, or raw sienna with titanium white in varying amounts.
  • If you're going to be using a lot of cream, buy a tube of titanium buff (also called unbleached titanium) to use as the starting point, and then add extra white to this to get various lighter creams.
  • Mix different values of gray and add color to it until you get the desired result. Try ivory black, which is a slightly warmer black than Mars black and lamp black, mixed with titanium white to create a gray tone. Then add yellow ocher or yellow oxide and raw sienna or burnt sienna in varying amounts until you get the desired color. The yellow ocher, yellow oxide, and raw sienna are more of a yellow hue, while the burnt sienna is more of a red hue. 
  • Start with paints that are designated as "flesh" colors. They come in a variety of hues and can be supplemented with titanium white, yellow ocher, burnt sienna, and burnt umber to produce varying hues and shades of cream.

Remember when mixing two colors that the darker paint will quickly overwhelm the lighter paint. Add the darker color slowly to the lighter color so that you don't end up with more paint than you need.

Tips and Tricks

Additionally, keep a few other points in mind as you create just the right shade of cream that you want.

  • Do not try to create a shade of ivory by merely adding black to something that is a yellowish hue. Black mixed with yellow will give you an earthy green color.
  • Do not add blue, as blue and yellow combine to create green.
  • Burnt umber is an earth tone that is good to use to darken a cream color.

You can also add a bit of violet or purple to create varying shades of cream. The red in the purple adds the third primary color to the mixture and keeps it from becoming green.