Monday, 7 May 2012

Mixing Mud

I wanted to share my take on this for any of you who might have this problem. There are many theories about why mud happens, mixing too many colours together, mixing complimentaries, mixing opaques etc, etc.

Well...... I don't agree with any of that!!!!

For me there are two reasons why mud happens in a painting...

1. Adding different colours to the paper and then fiddling with the brush. You need to let the colours mix by themselves on the paper, add the paint and LEAVE alone!!!! The only help you need give it is to move the paper around.

2. Painting over something before the underlayer is completely dry.... an absolute no, no..... have  PATIENCE!!!!! I should practice what I preach!!!

Take a look at these ( already featured in my Planets blog but like to get my money's worth out of things!!!!)

Have used raw and burnt sienna for them all and changed the blue, so mixes of warm, cool, primaries, opaques, semi's, transparents.... but no mud!!

This one has a variety of blues and reds all with raw sienna, so again opaques and semis (cad red, cerulean, indigo etc) primaries, warms, cools, really doesn't matter it is the technique which prevents the mud, not the colours. On all of these I just let the colour mix on the paper either wet in wet or wet in dry and then LEFT ALONE!!! As soon as you go in with a brush or go back in before the paint is dry you will get a dull murky mix.... am not talking about brown here am talking about a colour which is dull, unattractive and lifeless and quite obviously a mix you don't want to get in your paintings.

An alternative way to add colour to a wet mix is to splatter or throw paint at the paper (Jean Haines does a lot of that and I defy you to find any mud on her paintings!!!) the key is to let the paint and water do the work, not the brush.

This is an example of what I mean. This was another version of the shell I did, used a different palette and was pleased with how it was going until I added more paint above the shell before it was completely dry... see what happened..... it hasn't actually created a brown colour but I think you can see the mix has totally lost any vibrancy, the colours have lost any identity and it is an ugly unattractive mix. I have washed this out and am going to try and rescue it.

This was a painting done using a step by step by Lydie Pieplu from Paint my Photo as inspiration. I've used lots of colours, just threw them on for the bg and made sure that when I went in with the darker layers around the flowers the paint under was completely dry.


Here's a  challenge for you all......try and make mud, make the muddies yukkiest mix you can and observe how it happened.  Then,  try again and mix as I've tried to describe here. If you feel the colours you are using are impossible to mix without mud, post them here and let me have a go to see if I can manage it!!!


  1. Well done you. You need to get this message out there loud and clear and I think you managed it. It's not mixing and layering that is the problem it's fiddling and impatience. You taught me well... :-)

  2. Ah thanks Laura.... think you did a lot of teaching yourself on the quiet, I think we've all helped one another!!!

  3. I love this idea Judith.

    I was originally taught to mix in the palette but since I stopped having lessons I have definitely moved away from the palette towards mixing on the paper. So much better! But one thing I miss are my mixing charts. I always test colours together before starting a new piece but some mixing charts made using your planet method would definitely help with the initial choice of colours.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

  4. Am not sure I was even taught that at the beginning Stephanie!!! I have learned from all the classes I've been to but not a lot specifically about watercolours, very few teachers have been able to share much with me about them. Have learned far more from other artists which is one reason I started this blog... there is so much that can be learned and so much art teachers don't either tell you or maybe don't know themselves... hopefuly people will find a bit of it here!!

  5. Really useful post, Judith. Great examples too. Nice to have visual references (and a challenge :-) )

  6. Thank you your work

  7. Thank you for sharing this!!!


Would like to thank you all for taking the time to visit my blog, why not leave me a message then I know you've popped by!! If you have any enquiries please send me an e-mail to