How to Blend Paint Colors

Mixing oil paints on a palette
Mixing oil paints on a palette. Frank Cezus/Getty Images
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What Do Blended Colors Look Like?

Blending Paint Colors
Top: The two separate colors (Sennelier oil paints: Turner's yellow PY93 and Tuscan earth PY119). Below: The colors blended together. Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

If the terms "blended" and "blending" make you think of a "blender", that kitchen appliance a lot of people have alongside a kettle and toaster, then you're a bit off track when it comes to blending colors as you're not aiming to have the colors mixed up together completely.

Rather, with paint, blending colors means creating an area between two colors where they gradually mix, so you get a gentle transition from one color to the other. How large this area is, depends entirely on what you're painting. It can be a narrow, relatively quick transition, or a slow and wide one. What suits the subject.

As with painting color charts, it's time well spent to do some sample blending in a sketchbook. Both for practice and later reference. Blending colors is something that gets easier the more you do it, and it won't be long before you can do it without consciously thinking about it. So let's make the first move...

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Make the First Move

Blending Paint Colors
Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Once you've got the two colors you wish to blend down onto your painting, you want to move the brush a little way from one color to the other and back again. In a zigzag motion, like you're painting a Z.

You may have a moment's panic when you first start blending. That "oh, no, what have I done, I've messed up the colors" panic. Particularly if you're blending a dark or strong color with a light color. Don't worry, it'll momentarily look worse before it gets better.

Tip: Take a moment to wipe off any paint from your brush before you start blending. Or start with a clean, dry brush. That way you're not adding any extra paint to this spot in your painting with the brush, you're simply using the brush to move around the paint that is already there. Or, in artspeak, blending.

Once you've made the first move, you then keep at it...

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Gently Does It

Tips on Blending Paint Colors
Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Don't be over enthusiastic to get the two colors blended. Gently does it. Back and forth, up and down. Use both sides of the brush, don't turn it around. Simply stop and pull the brush back the other way, the hairs will follow.

Avoid going sideways, at least initially. You want there to be more of one color on one side than the other, you don't want the colors mixed equally across the whole area. So, in this example, the aim is for there to be more yellow on the left of the blended area and more brown on the right. It may seem obvious to you, but if your blending isn't working well, check which direction you're moving your brush.

Next, what to do if you've blended too far.

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If You've Blended Too Far

Blending Paint Colors
Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

Disaster! You've blended one color too far into the other. Everything is ruined! No, not really, what you need to do if this happens is to pick up a little fresh paint in the color that's at risk of being lost. (In this instance the yellow.) Then work back into the blended area from the outside (the area where the color is unblended).

Tip: Pick up less fresh color than you think you'll need. Usually, it doesn't take much to restore the balance, and it's easy to pick up a bit more if you need it.

Whatever you do, don't despair. You can always do it again and again. And with a little practice, you'll get beautifully blended colors.

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Perfectly Blended Paint Colors

Blending Paint Colors
Photo ©2010 Marion Boddy-Evans. Licensed to About.com, Inc.

As oil paints dry slowly, you've plenty of time to get your colors beautifully blended. With acrylics, however, you need to work quickly before the paint dries (unless you're using a slower-drying form of acrylics or have added an extender medium). If the paint dries before you've got it blended to your satisfaction, add some fresh paint on top of what you've already done and tried again. With practice in whatever paint you're using, you'll be able to get perfectly blended colors without thinking too hard about it (if at all).

It may not feel like it when you first try, but you'll quickly get a feel for it. Remove the stress while you learn how to blend by practicing in a painting sketchbook rather than in a "real painting".

Tip: If you wish to remove any brush marks in the paint, use a dry, soft brush to gently tickle the surface.