Imaginary Gardens: Color Mixing for the Young (and Young-at-Heart)!

This is a fun rainy day activity which is also an entertaining way to practice color mixing, whatever your age! It works great with any kind of water-based paint. For young artists, this is a good way of learning the basics of color mixing, and for slightly older painters it helps us to get to know our pigments and how they interact! You might also find it a useful warm-up activity before you start a bigger painting, or when trying to get over a creative block. 

Van Gogh Watercolors In Paint Box

I’d just added Van Gogh Permanent Red Deep to my little paint box, and wanted to mix it with my Cotman Cadmium Yellow Hue and swatch out some colors to check I was happy with my choice.

I added some water to my pans of color, gave it a minute to soak in then made a thick wash of pure yellow in my palette. If I’m using yellow in a painting, I like to start off with it so I know my brush and water are clean and won’t contaminate the color.

Coloring Mixing Kids Activity Step 1

I started off painting some circles on my paper with the pure yellow. Then I added a tiny bit of red to the mix and added more circles to my paper. I repeated the process, adding red and painting more circles until my mixture looked the same shade as the pure red paint. If you want to be organised you can paint from one side of the paper to the other to show the gradation of hue, but I was happy popping circles anywhere.

My circles were all a bit wobbly but that was ok- this activity works best when you don’t make it look perfect! While the paint dried, I found metallic gel pens, coloring pencils and fine line pens in hot colors. I drew petals and spirals over the dry paint, then added some bugs and popped extra patterns and stems on the flowers.

The hot colors made the whole thing look happy, and I didn’t worry if my petals were bigger than my blobs. I wrote the names of the colors I’d used to help me remember what I’d used in the future. I’ve now got a fun and funky reference card, but the design would be a really fun greeting card, post card or journal page!

Adding Pen And Ink to Watercolor Mixes


Final Watercolor Mixing with Pen and Ink Flowers

Taking it further

You can use any pair of colors for this activity, and can turn the blobs into whatever you like. Your circles could become fish or hot air balloons, or you could put two or three blobs together to turn into planes, dinosaurs, llamas, owls… I used pairs of blobs to make a greeting card covered in birds mixed from ultramarine and viridian!

Turning Watercolor Blobs of Paint into Bird Designs

For younger children you might want to start off with pairs of primary colours to teach the essentials of color mixing. If you want to make purples, then cool reds or magenta work better than warm reds, which tend to make neutralised or muddy shades when added to blue. Older children will also enjoy exploring the subtleties of mixing analogous colors (shades which are next to each other on the color wheel), or exploring complimentaries (opposites on the color wheel).

Have fun, and tag your explorations with #WorldWatercolorMonth when you share them online – we’d love to see what you create!

Recommended4 recommendationsPublished in Tutorials, World Watercolor Month

13 thoughts on “Imaginary Gardens: Color Mixing for the Young (and Young-at-Heart)!

  1. Making mixing charts is a fun task on a rainy day, or any day! When I try out a new palette of colors I like to make a set of mixes of each pair, to see what will happen when they meet on the paper. It can prevent some really ugly mixtures on the paper if they touch and bleed into each other; i find out that they never should have been introduced!

    1. That’s good advice- sometimes really unexpected things can happen (for better or worse)! It’s definitely worth taking the time to get to know your colours!

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