In this post I walk you through how to mix your own vivid orange using different red and yellow paints. The purpose of this exercise is to deepen your understanding of color mixing, color bias and the limitations of our paints.

What Colors Make Orange?

Color Bias – Warm and Cool Yellows and Reds

What You Need for This Exercise

Mixing Different Oranges

Key Takeaways and Other Tips for Using Orange in Painting

Additional Readings

Joaquín Sorolla, Mending Sails, 1904 Joaquín Sorolla, Mending Sails, 1904

What Colors Make Orange?

Let’s take a step back to color mixing 101.

Orange is a secondary color. To mix orange, you need to combine yellow and red (primary colors).

If you want to mix a vivid orange, then you need to use a yellow and red which do not contain any traces of blue. Remember, when you mix three primary colors together, you get a tertiary color.

You also need to give consideration to the saturation of the yellow and red you use (you cannot mix a vivid orange by mixing a dull yellow with a dull red).

Paul Gauguin, Still Life With Oranges, 1881 Paul Gauguin, Still Life With Oranges, 1881

Color Bias – Warm and Cool Yellows and Reds

There are all kinds of yellows and reds you could use to mix orange. Some yellows lean towards red (warm yellows) and some lean towards blue (cool yellows). Some reds lean towards yellow (warm reds) and some lean towards blue (cool reds).

To mix a vivid orange, you need to mix a warm yellow with a warm red; that is, they both lean towards orange on the color wheel (shown below).

How to Mix Vivid Orange - Warm Yellow Warm Red

Mixing a cool yellow with a cool red, will most likely result in a relatively dull orange. That is because there would be a small amount of blue in the mix.

How to Mix Vivid Orange - Warm Yellow Warm Red

If you want to learn more about the bias of certain colors, then you should take a look at this color wheel.

What You Need for This Exercise

For this color mixing exercise, you simply need the following:

  • Palette for mixing your colors;
  • Palette knife for mixing (or you could use a brush);
  • All the different yellows you have; and
  • All the different reds you have.

You could do your mixing on your palette (like I did), or you could paint the colors onto a canvas board or another surface if you want something more permanent.

Mixing Vivid Orange - Supplies Needed

Mixing Different Oranges

Step 1. Try to predict the outcome of your mixing. Which yellow and red will produce the most vivid orange? Which will produce the dullest orange? Write it down so you can see how you went after mixing the colors together.

Step 2. Take all the different yellows and reds and arrange them on your palette.

The yellows I used on my palette were (shown below from top to bottom):

  • Yellow ochre
  • Cadmium yellow deep
  • Cadmium lemon
  • Cadmium yellow light
  • Cadmium yellow

The reds I used were (from left to right):

  • Alizarin crimson
  • Permanent rose
  • Vermilion hue
  • Cadmium red

I predicted that my cadmium yellow and cadmium red would produce the most vivid orange and that my yellow ochre and alizarin crimson would produce the dullest orange.

How to Mix Vivid Orange - Red and Yellows

Step 3: Mix all the different combinations of yellows and reds.

Try your best to balance the yellow and red against each other. Just be aware that some colors are stronger than others.

For example, the cadmium lemon (yellow) felt very weak compared to most of the reds. So I needed to use much more of it in the mixtures.

Mixing Reds and Yellows

Work your way around until you have mixed all possible combinations. Make sure you do not contaminate each mixture with other colors. The palette knife comes in handy for this, as you can easily clean it between each stroke.

Mixing Reds and Yellows Part 2

Step 4: Analyse the results.

Below is a photo of all the different oranges I mixed with the colors I had available. I also placed cadmium orange from a tube down the far right for comparison.

The results were mostly as expected. Cadmium yellow and cadmium yellow deep mixed with cadmium red produced the two most vivid oranges. The orange from cadmium yellow deep seems to be just a touch darker and closer to red.

Mixing Reds and Yellows Final

Yellow ochre mixed with alizarin crimson produced the dullest orange. Yellow ochre is actually a warm yellow, but it is also the dullest yellow on the palette by far.

Key Takeaways and Other Tips for Using Orange in Painting

Here are some of the key takeaways from this post:

  • You will rarely need to use vivid orange in your paintings, but it is still important to learn how to mix your own to develop your understanding of color mixing and what your paints are capable of.
  • To mix a vivid orange, you need to mix a yellow and red which lean towards orange on the color wheel. The yellow and red also need to be highly saturated colors (you cannot mix two dull colors and get a saturated color).
  • Orange is broadly considered a warm color. But don’t forget that you could have warm and cool variations of orange.
  • Cadmium orange from a tube appears to be the most vivid orange we are able to paint with.
  • Color is relative, so if you need to make an orange seem vivid and strong, then try surrounding it with a dull blue (like in Vincent van Gogh’s painting below).
Vincent van Gogh, The Paris Sunflowers, 1887 Vincent van Gogh, The Paris Sunflowers, 1887

Additional Readings

How To Mix Vivid Greens And Why You Must Understand Color Bias

A Comprehensive Guide To Color Theory For Artists

Thanks for Reading!

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this post! If you have any questions or thoughts, please share in the comment section below.

Happy painting!

Signature Draw Paint Academy

Dan Scott