A Color You Never Thought Of

Oil painting of woman


The other day a student was working on an abstract and said, “I wish I had a new color; a color I haven’t seen.”

Some days, reds, yellows, blues and all the secondaries are just, well, limiting. One of the great “secrets” of good painters lies in their mud – the greys – the mixed up, left-over paint that can transform a painting into the sublime.

We find out pretty early on in painting, that all color is relative. Fire-Engine-Red only looks bright if the colors around it are less intense.  Bright colors read brighter when paired with duller more “greyed-out” colors. Just like light colors read lighter when paired with darker values, all basic painting 101 concepts.

But just how much have you experimented with those greys, dull blues and greens, and neutrals with no names? To make your “clean” colors sing, you need a great chorus of greys to support them.

We routinely mix complements to create grey colors, blue and orange, yellow and violet, etc. I encourage you to start grabbing colors from your palette that you would never normally put together and mix away. Don’t fall off your artist’s stool, but try mixing in black as well. I’d attempt to give you suggestions, but the surprise is in the discovery of colors that “you haven’t seen” or, at least, can’t imagine or predict. You can really get excited, by mixing these combinations directly on your canvas in thick, slurpy paint.  I can pretty much promise you that you will begin to come up colors that you can’t imagine or have never thought of. These greys often produce an ethereal quality to a painting that predictable colors just can’t do on their own.

S.C. Yuan was a master of greys as is Bill Rushton. Yuan would call his mud, “liquid gold.” At the end of a painting session, scrape your palette and keep that left over paint – your mud. Think about “controlling your muds.” I tend to keep my reds out of other colors so that I end up with blue-green muds and violet muds or specifially red muds, avoiding the “poi-mud” (a pinky/purple/dead skin-color that looks like the Hawaiian food, poi) which I am not fond of.  But, hey, it could be great for someone else!

Your challenge for your next painting session: Create a color (at least one) that you have “never thought of.”  Have fun!!





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10 Responses to A Color You Never Thought Of

  1. Trisha Adams says:


    Two things! First, you can put a “blog subscription” widget on your blog. Go to your dashboard. Click on “widgets” on the left-hand side. “Blog subscription” is an available widget. They are listed alphabetically. Drag the widget over to the right-hand column. At least that’s the way it is on my WordPress blog.

    Secondly, I just LOVE S.C. Yuan. I got a book of his work from the K. Nathan Gallery. Totally inspirational!

    Take care,

    Trisha Adams

  2. Jana Botkin says:

    Nope, I was wrong – it only took me to a list view of all the posts. My blog has a heading that says “FEED ON” and under it a subheading that says Posts RSS. This might be some tool that my blog guru installed for me that allows people to subscribe. (or it might not! Can I subscribe to my own blog to find out??) Melinda, if you go to your dashboard and go exploring, you might find it. Guess I only know enough to mislead people. . . I’m sorry!

    • Jana, you are so sweet! Thank you for trying. I will get this figured out soon. I’m teaching a workshop for the next three days, plus hosting my webinar on Tuesday, so I’m a bit crunched for time. As soon as I know I’ll post something. I’m a Mac person, and WordPress is a bit PC, but I’ll figure it out! Thanks again!!!! I appreciate any tips.

  3. Janis Commentz says:

    Thanks for your post and inspiration. As a teacher by most seasons, and artist by summer–I am in need of motivation! Our Morongo Basin Life Drawing League (which I facilitate year-round) will be on the local tours and we are eager for advice.

  4. Jana Botkin says:

    I think your poi-mud would set off a light spring green – lemon yellow + a tiny touch of Phthalo + white – it would SING!

    My mud is always a horrid pale army green – reminds me of partially dried river slime at the end of September. . . guess that would make an orangey-red look awesome.

    Just found your blog – love the way you express your thoughts and looking forward to more posts. Welcome to Blogland!

    • Jana, I’ll trade my poi for your army green! ;-) Add a touch of that lemon yellow, and, possibly, a bunch of white to your green and you might get something special. Then, maybe some ultramarine….This is starting to sound like a recipe! I’m getting hungry. Thanks so much for your comments. I truly appreciate hearing from you. Keep on posting!

  5. I love this, Melinda. My sister Shannon sent it to me. How can I sign up for your blog?

    • Hi Jill,
      I am brand-spankin’-new to WordPress and do not totally understand it. I’m having a “tutorial” next week. I should have a subscribe button soon (hopefully). Also I’m trying to get my Facebook share buttons to work. I post about once a week on Wednesdays or Thursdays. Keep checking. And thanks so much for your comment. I appreciate the feedback!!

      • Jana Botkin says:

        Jill and Melinda,
        If you look on the right hand side of the blog under the heading “Meta”, you can click on “Entries RSS”. This means each time Melinda posts, you will get notification. See if that works for you!

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