How to Make a Compound Mixing Chart for Beginners

three color watercolor mixing chart

You know sometimes when you have an idea of what colors you want to include in your painting, but you have no idea how to mix them?

Well, this is one of the beginner challenges of watercolor painting.

Color wheels help you understand the basics of color theory, however, they can only take you so far. When it comes down to it, mixing charts are the way to go! That’s where compound mixing charts come in…

In this post, I’ll tell you what a compound mixing chart is, how to read one, and finally, I’ll take you step by step on how to create one for yourself.

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What is a compound color chart?

A compound color chart is a type of mixing chart that shows you the possible outcomes of mixing three colors in different ratios. Unlike the regular mixing chart, a compound chart is more detailed and focused on fewer colors. This way you can know how much of each color to mix to produce a particular color.

How to read a compound chart

Once you understand how the colors are arranged it becomes easy to follow along!

Let’s start with the main hues…

You’ll start by choosing three colors to include in your chart. The three colors will need to be painted in three of the four corners of the grid. For my colors, I chose Quinacridone Rose, New Gamboge, and Cobalt blue. I painted Cobalt blue in the top left corner, Q. Rose in the top right corner, and New Gamboge in the bottom right corner of the grid.

How to read a three-color watercolor mixing chart

The first row shows different shades of purple (Blue-purple, purple, and Red-purple). These are the shades you get from mixing different amounts of Cobalt blue and Q. Rose. The last column shows different shades of orange in between red and yellow (Red-orange, Orange, and Yellow-orange). These are the shades you get from mixing different amounts of Q. Rose and New Gamboge. (Image below).

For every color, besides the ones on the right column, there is a lighter diluted version to the right. This is so you can see what each color looks like when watered down.

How to read a compound mixing chart, the diluted areas and different mixtures,

The rest of the grid shows the different colors produced when mixed. You can see the colors closer to yellow are a lot warmer and the colors farther from red are greener because they have more blue and yellow. The colors closest to blue which have only a touch of yellow and red are grayer.

Let’s say you want to mix a light gray, the chart below shows that to mix a light gray, you’ll have to mix Red-orange (this means more red and less yellow) then add cobalt blue. If you look further down the column, you can see how this light gray turns greenish the more yellow you add.

How to find which color to mix using a compound color chart

Jump to the tutorial

5 reasons why you should make a compound chart

1. Making a compound chart will help you to learn more about color mixing. You’ll learn which colors in your palette to mix and how much to add to create the desired color.

2. Unlike regular mixing charts, compound charts show you more than just one shade from mixing two colors at different ratios. For example, instead of just orange, you can see red-orange, yellow-orange…etc

3. With a compound chart you’ll be able to see the different results of mixing three colors in different amounts. You’ll be able to see what types of colors are produced when you add more yellow and red and only a touch of blue. Or more blue and a touch of red and yellow…etc

4. Compound charts can help you avoid muddy paintings. This is because certain colors when mixed, mute each other and creates muddy, undesired outcomes. A compound chart can be especially useful in helping you determine which colors when mixed produce unwanted results.

5. Neutral tones such as Grays, browns, and earth hues can be mixed using three primary colors. Instead of buying so many color tubes, you can learn to mix and adjust your own shades of neutral colors. This way you’ll only need a few paint tubes and can save money or can spend it on higher quality paints.

How to create a compound chart step by step:

The steps may get confusing, that’s why I also included some labeled diagrams to help you understand better.

Materials used:

  • Watercolor Paper hot pressed(you can also use cold-pressed). Since we’re making a color chart, you don’t have to use good quality paper, any paper will do.
  • Watercolor round brush (size depends on how big you draw the grid)
  • Watercolor paint
    • Cobalt blue (PB28), Winsor and Newton
    • Quinacridone rose (PV19) Daniel Smith
    • New Gamboge (PY97 PY110) Daniel Smith
  • Mixing Palette/area
  • Paper towel
  • Two jars of water
  • Hb pencil/earaser

1. Drawing the grid/table

Step 1. To create this chart start by drawing a 9 by 5 grid. Leave a small gap between the rows and columns like in the image below.

You may also draw a regular table instead of a grid with small gaps between columns as it’ll take less time and be a lot easier. Just make sure the paint colors don’t overlap with each other.

2. Choosing which colors to include

When making a compound chart I prefer to use the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow). For each new chart I create, I will either re-arrange the position of the primary colors or pick primary colors of a different temperature bias. This is because warm and cool primary colors produce different results. If you’re not sure what color temperature is, you can read more about it here where I explain it in depth.

For this tutorial, I decided to use Quinacridone Red, New Gamboge, and Cobalt blue. One thing you need to understand about compound charts is where to position the colors on the chart.

If you position red and blue at the top and yellow at the bottom of the chart then they will produce colors in the purple family and orange family. However, if you choose to position yellow and blue at the top and red at the bottom, this will produce colors from the green family and orange family.

Two different compound charts with different results using the same three colors

The image above shows two different charts with the same three colors (Cobalt blue, New gamboge, and Q. Rose). The chart to the left has blue and red at the top and yellow at the bottom; this has resulted in mixing different shades of orange with purple. the chart to the right has blue and yellow at the top(with green in between) and red at the bottom resulting in mixing different shades of green with orange.

3. Filling the first three squares

Now that you know what colors you can include, it’s time to paint in the first three squares.

  • Top Left corner: Cobalt blue
  • Top Right corner: New Gamboge
  • Bottom left corner: Quinacridone Rose

4. Filling the first row and last column

Now its time to fill in the squares between the three primary colors.

After painting in the 3 primary colors the first row (X-axis) should have 6 empty squares. Here, I mixed three mixtures of green from the Cobalt blue and New Gamboge. For the next six squares after cobalt blue, I painted in a mixture of blue-green, green, and yellow-green in that order. I made sure to paint a lighter diluted version next to each one.

In the last column, I filled in three empty squares with three different mixtures of orange from new Gamboge and Q. Rose. Underneath New Gamboge I painted Yellow-Orange, Orange, and Red-orange in that order.

How to fill the first row and column of a watercolor compound color chart

5. Filling in the rest of the chart

Although it may take a long while, filling the rest of the chart should be easy! You can always leave it half way through then come back to it.

To fill the rest of the colors simply mix each color on the X-axis (top row) with each color along the Y-axis (right column). For example, you can start with cobalt blue and mix it with Yellow-orange, then orange, then red-orange, and finally, Quinacridone rose. Let’s not forget the lighter diluted version to the right.

How to fill a compound mixing chart with watercolors.

That’s how you create a compound color mixing chart! Remember you can always use whatever three colors you want and you can be flexible with your chart. For example, you can leave out the lighter diluted versions or place the Y-axis on the left side if you prefer!

The image below shows another chart I made using a darker cool blue, warm red, and cool yellow:

If you want to learn more about the different kinds of mixing charts, I recommend you check out this article where I explain different kinds, and what use each one has:

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