Birgit O’Connor’s Color-Mixing Chart


By Birgit O’Connor

One of Birgit O'Connor's color-mixing charts

A systematic way to test color combinations before mixing them on your paper is to make a color chart (I’ve provided a link to a template for a blank one below). By creating color charts, you can teach yourself basic color theory. Better still, when you’re in the midst of a painting and encounter a problem, you can consult a color chart to help you decide what to do.

Imagine that you’re painting the stem of a flower and that, just under the flower, the color shifts. If you’ve got a color chart to consult, you’ll have a good idea how to match that change in color. If you’re painting a landscape, you don’t want the grass to be one, unvaried green because the effect would be flat and uninteresting. You want to create variety in your greens, and consulting your color chart will inform you of choices you may not have thought of on your own: for instance, violet mixed with Hooker’s green or indigo mixed with raw sienna.

To make your color chart, use a half or quarter sheet of watercolor paper so you can post the completed chart in your studio. If you’re working in a cramped space, use 8½x11 sheets and keep them in a folder. Start by making a grid of 1- or ½-inch squares. You’ll want to be able to paint at least 8 to 10 squares of color, with grid lines between them, along the top and down the side of the paper.

Click here for a PDF of a blank color chart you can use for testing color combinations.

Read my full article in the July/August 2011 issue of The Artist’s Magazine. For a downloadable issue, click here.

To see my online article about painting white flowers in watercolor, click here.

Birgit O’Connor, a frequent contributor to Watercolor Artist and The Artist’s Magazine, lives in Bolinas, California. She’s the author of Watercolor In Motion (2008) and Watercolor Essentials (2009), both available at She has produced a wide variety of instructional videos, available on her website at

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