Project: Transparent and Opaque – Exercise: Opaque Colour Mixing


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, though, you’ll be mixing colours by adding in white, making the paints opaque.

Overall, an interesting exercise, not to mention, mind bending and frustrating!  The single washes (along the top row), were not too bad, the simple addition of white instead of thinners to lighten the tones, worked fairly well, although, white also had to be added in a very small quantity to the darkest tone too.  Otherwise, particularly with the Sap Green and Deep Violet, it was too transparent a pigment. An observation, now that the swatches are completely dry, is that, although I painted very carefully, it does look haphazard and not smooth in the slightest.


Opaque colour mixing - acrylic on acrylic paper. Attempt at replicating previous exercises washes in tone, shade and colour with opaque mixes.

Opaque colour mixing – acrylic on acrylic paper.
Attempt at replicating previous exercises washes in tone, shade and colour with opaque mixes.

With the two colour examples, I couldn’t just turn the paper round and proceed in the same way as in the previous transparent exercise.  With the addition of the white the base colour would just have been covered over.  Therefore, I also had to mix some of the base colour in the middle of the sheet to maintain the shade created by the transparent washes.

Comparison of Both Methods

To make the comparison more valid, I used acrylic on acrylic paper for the opaque colour mixing. Therefore, an interesting observation would be that the transparent washes were more inclined to be lifted off the paper when worked over when wet, the opaque, however, seem to adhere to the support better with the addition of the white.  The single Sap Green example is a good illustration of this as the brush marks are less obvious as more white is added.

The Alzarin Crimson, the more resistant to transparent washes, again was a little harder work than the other two (Sap Green and Deep Violet).  I can only think that this is because it is a stronger pigment, it did blend with white but took more mixing to become a consistent colour, yet when this was done, it did smooth out better than the green or violet.

Of course the main difference is that, with the transparent wash, the base colour is visible beneath the top. With the opaque, as the base colour is obliterated, the blended colour in the middle of the transparent washes has to be physically mixed with both pigments and white in the correct ratios to replicate this. More effort is required, and I think I only just managed this in the middle bottom row sample.  However, I then struggled to produce a smooth transition of tone.

Another difference, which goes back to the issue of paint lifting off with the transparent washes, is that taking a clean damp brush to the opaque graduated tones, helps the transition from one to the next – as long as the acrylic hasn’t dried, this did not work with the washes.

Think about ways in which both methods could work together:

  • Transparent washes in a lit background where opaque mixes would be applied to objects against the light.
  • Working tonally in a monochrome way and then use transparent washes to build colour glazes.
  • Working abstractedly, opaque solid shapes and glazes of colour to enhance mood and atmosphere.
  • Transparent washes may help to enhance aerial perspective where the middle to foreground may increase in opacity.


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