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Art Therapy: Acrylic Paint Color Mixing for Relaxation

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

In this blog post we will discuss the art of color mixing. The process of creating a unique color palette is both practical and calming in its experimental nature. The beauty of this skill is that there is no wrong way to mix paint colors together if the intention is to play, experiment, and create a unique variety of colors.

While there are a variety of pre-mixed paint colors that may be available to us, it can be a fun experience to challenge ourselves to make darker shades or lighter hues of a specific color or mix colors out of curiosity for the final outcome. There may be practical reasons that you may want to practice this skill set in a therapeutic setting. Perhaps, there is a desire to create a color that truly reflects the color that you envision for a painting that you are creating in a session- the perfect shade of crimson red or salmon pink. While the goal of art therapy is not to just learn and practice art skills, it can be a useful and rewarding process to experiment and create one’s own method for inventing colors.

The process of mixing paint colors can be used with preschool-aged children and above. With preschool-aged children, this skill set enhances problem-solving, observational, and experimental skills in addition to encouraging attentiveness and a present-focus on a goal-oriented activity. For older children, teens and adults, this skill set is optimal for those who are learning to let go and be curious, to break down perfectionistic pressures and standards, to increase relaxation, and to build a sense of confidence and joy through the process of observing.

This process can be done in an art therapy session with the support and guidance of an art therapist, who can help you identify different colors to mix together if there is a specific color in mind that you would like to mix. The art therapist can also encourage you to reflect on how you are feeling throughout the process- if this is comfortable or uncomfortable to you, if you have a reaction to any of the colors that you mixed and if there are any emotions that surface. You might also choose to engage in this process on your own as a self-guided relaxation technique.

Here are examples of how you may engage in the color-mixing process:

  1. Choose what paints you would like to work with. Some people like to start with a rainbow of colors- red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, pink, brown, white and black. Others prefer to work with the primary colors alone (red, blue and yellow) or with secondary colors (green, orange and purple).

  2. Practice painting 2 colors together until you have experimented with each set on your palette.

  3. Practice adding a touch more of one color on one side and adding a touch more of the second color on the other side. (Ex: First, mix together yellow with red to make orange Then, practice adding more yellow and then more red, so that you end up with 3 colors- a redder-orange, an orange and a yellower-orange)

  4. Practice adding white to a color to make it more of a pastel color. Add yellow to a color to brighten it.

  5. See what happens when you mix complementary colors together (purple and yellow, orange and blue, and green and red.

  6. Practice mixing 3 colors together.

  7. Create an ombre effect-slowly add more and more of a color to a base color (ex: keep adding more and more yellow to the base red and see the transition from reds to oranges)

There is no right or wrong way to complete this exercise and there are limitless possibilities as you create varieties of colors. The goal is not to necessarily make anything, but rather to create and invent colors from paints that you may already have. You may choose to create a color map, chart, or color wheel. You may also decide to mix your paints directly on a canvas or surface, in which the area in which you mix your color becomes your artwork. Allow yourself to act with curiosity and wonder and to be affected by the surprises that you encounter and beauty of the colors that you mix into existence.


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