Oil Painting Tips – How To Keep Your Colors Pure

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One of the biggest hurdles for beginner oil painters is learning how to keep colors pure. How many times have you started an oil painting only to quit from frustration because things just didn’t look right. Your colors were muddy or they just lacked brilliance. This is a very common problem for artists just starting out with oil paints. Hopefully the oil painting tips in this article will help relieve some of your frustration and enable you to finally enjoy painting.


I know for some of us, it can be very difficult to maintain a clean and organized painting environment. Sometimes we can get very caught up in our work and things can get sloppy. The last thing you want is to become a sloppy painter as your work will suffer. Break the habit early and try your hardest to develop clean and organized painting habits.

Your Palette

First, you should get into the habit of laying out your colors the same way every time you paint. This is just good practice and keeps the painting process flowing nicely. Arrange your colors along the edges of your palette leaving a lot of room in the center for mixing.

Don’t be afraid to squeeze out a good amount of paint, especially your whites. You will be more productive if you aren’t continuously stopping to squeeze out more paint.

Make certain to include all of the colors you think you will need to complete that session of painting. Again, this will make you more productive.

When adding paint to the palette, I have found that squeezing the paint out in long lines, as opposed to puddles, keeps my colors cleaner. When you have puddles of paint, they tend to get soiled by other colors when mixing. With a long line of paint, you can just take paint from the end as needed and not dirty the rest. Keep some rags or paper towels handy for wiping your palette knife clean.

It’s a good idea to continuously wipe your palette clean during the painting process. There is nothing more frustrating then trying to remove dried up oil paint. Keep some alcohol handy so that you can keep the mixing area of your palette clean.

If you don’t want to fuss around with a regular palette, why not try a disposable one? They are basically paper with a plastic coating that prevents the paper from absorbing the oil. The beauty of the disposable palette, is that you can simply throw it in the trash when you are done. Using a disposable palette will definitely help keep your colors clean as you will be starting with a clean surface every time you start a new painting session.

When mixing your colors, use your palette knife and not your brush. A palette knife can be wiped completely clean so there is no chance of your colors becoming contaminated. Your brush is made for painting and not mixing and you can shorten the life span of your brush if you are continually mixing with it.


I like to have a handful of clean brushes near by when I am painting. This way, I do not need to stop and clean my brushes when I am working with a different color and there is less risk of the wrong colors getting into the mix.


When a color is squeezed straight from the tube, it is said to be high in saturation or brilliance. This is because it hasn’t been mixed with any other colors. The more colors you mix together, the duller they will become. It has been said that one should not mix more than three colors together and this a very good rule to follow. If you mix more than three colors together you are kind of defeating the purpose.

Why is this so? Let’s say that you are going to mix a brown. You decide to use red, yellow and blue to create your brown. You then decide to mix in a bit of orange. As you know, red mixed with yellow will create orange. So there is no need to add the additional color.

No one ever said it is a sin to use color straight from the tube. If you are painting something that calls for brighter color, why not use paint straight from the tube without mixing. Sometimes we get so accustomed to mixing color, that we neglect the pure color that is right in front of us. When using pure color though, try not to over do it. Too many bright colors can create havoc in a painting. Try and add bright colors against a duller surrounding so that your bright colors really stand out.


What is it that most of us do when we want to change the value of a color? To lighten a color, we usually add white and to darken a color we use black. You should always look for the opportunity to use color to change the value instead of black and white. Adding white or black to color will diminish its brilliance, unless that is the effect you are shooting for. A great example of this is using Yellow Ochre. If you want to brighten and lighten this color, instead of adding white, try adding a little Cadmium Yellow Light.

I hope this article has given you a little more insight into keeping your colors pure. Remember to practice oil painting as often as possible and never give up, no matter how frustrated you get!


5 Comments on "Oil Painting Tips – How To Keep Your Colors Pure"

  1. alicia8522 on Tue, 4th Aug 2009 8:25 am 

    Thanks for the tips. You have written a great article, and I have become a big fan of yours. I will definitely recommend your blog to my friends.

  2. ruslan on Sat, 15th Aug 2009 7:17 am 

    gr8 guidance! Though m not a beginner 2 oil painting, I feel that some of the tips mentioned could b a new beginning 4 me.

  3. Kindrie Grove on Tue, 6th Apr 2010 3:14 pm 

    This is a great post with some very good advice.

    As an artist and art instructor, I have found that helping beginner oil painters break the habit of over touching, or worrying their painting is also very helpful for keeping colour from becoming muddy and dull. Try a simple exercise of limiting yourself to three touches of a loaded brush to your painting. Then move back to your palette to pick up more paint or clean your brush.

    It might be hard at first, but the clarity of your colour will definitely improve.
    .-= Kindrie Grove´s last blog ..Early Stage Painting Blues? =-.

  4. Megan Cherveny on Thu, 17th Jun 2010 7:12 pm 

    As opposed to adding black to achieve darker colors, try adding your dark blues or browns to maintain a hue that is more natural and not greyed out. You can also try stretching your colors to lighter and darker hues without obtaining mud by adding small amounts of a much lighter or darker color – for example, use a tiny (very tiny) amount of violet to bring your lemon yellow to a mustard yellow.

    The author mentioned keeping a clean workspace. As part of this, be cognizant of remnant color in your brush or that your brush picks up if you are painting over wet paint. If you have a lot of problems with this (I did), get yourself an arsenal of cheap brushes and force yourself to allow a couple days drying time before coming back to work in lighter and darker shadows in the barely wet paint on you canvas.

    Last point: learn the difference mixing with between titanium and zinc white because they give totally different results.

  5. steve on Mon, 30th Jan 2012 11:44 am 

    Bearing in mind that I use oil paint for my art, you can add mauve to Cadmium Yellow Light to darken it to the color Yellow Ochre, and by adding more mauve it then becomes the color Raw Sienna and once again by adding more mauve you get the color Raw Umber. BTW (you get mauve by either buy the color or mixing the colors Ultramarine with Alizarin Crimson)

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