Neutrals - Making Your Colors SING!

When you hear “neutral colors,” what comes to mind?

For me, “excitement,” “opportunity,” and “essential” are the first that pop into my head. The technical definition of “neutrals” is “any set of tones created when mixing two complementary colors and any amount of white.” Utilizing these in paintings is an incredible way to make your colors absolutely sing. To understand why this is the case, though, let’s discuss some principals of color briefly! 


Understanding the color wheel!

A basic color wheel is comprised of twelve colors, and begins with the three primary colors, red, yellow and blue. These are the basis for all other colors. Secondary colors are the “offspring” of two primary colors from the when (oranges, greens, and violets), and tertiary colors are made from mixing a primary and secondary (red-orange, blue-purple, etc.). 

When crafting a painting, I oftentimes use a complimentary color scheme. This entails using colors from opposite positions on the color wheel (such as yellow and violet, or blue and yellow-orange). Utilizing complimentary colors allows elements to pop and stand out, leading to a vibrant and dynamic final result!

I additionally appreciate and use an analogous color scheme, using adjacent colors from the color wheel (for example, green and yellow). In these paintings, I’ll pick a dominant hue, a second color to support the first, and a third as an accent.

Back to Neutrals!

Neutral colors are essential elements of any painting and any color scheme. I love bright, vibrant colors as much as anyone, but too many bright colors together in one painting become overwhelming, busy, unnatural, and – perhaps ironically – boring. You have to have neutral colors to stand in contrast with the bright hues! Ultimately, these colors will create the appearance of distance and depth, and the eye will be drawn first to the bright shades that “pop” and “sing” in contrast with the neutrals.

Tui Maori Messenger Bird.jpg

Neutrals are incredibly versatile, and you only need three colors to start mixing them! Mix together yellow, red, and blue, and add white. Adding more of any of those three will either make your neutral warmer or cooler; for example, the more red and yellow added into the mixture, the warmer, the more blue, the cooler. When setting up a palette and selecting colors to use, experiment with these combinations, and how they look next to your bright and saturated shades. I absolutely rely on neutrals to make the other colors pop! 

 What words come to mind for you now when you think of “neutrals?” I hope the same three as mine – “exciting,” “opportunity,” and “essential” – are true for you!

To learn more about making your colors sing, make sure to subscribe at to receive a FREE webinar on this topic!

Caryl Pomales