This one’s another of those so-obvious practices that took a while to get through to my brain. My first day at Old-School Scenic, I was working with a lovely woman named K. We spent most of the morning mixing a bunch of colors – a sort of nerve-wracking activity on my first-ever day of union work, but it seemed to go pretty well. My buddy M. (another apprentice) said that he kept looking across the shop floor and getting nervous on my behalf.
For the most-of-the-people-I-know who don’t do this for a living, mixing colors is a really finicky activity that takes a lot of practice. It’s about stored-up knowledge from years of getting colors wrong: if the vibrant magenta you’re mixing is a little too vibrant and a little too light in value, you can pop in some raw umber (a green-tinged brown) to get the shade you want. Picky, picky knowledge. And easy and expensive to get wrong, but really satisfying to get right.
For the painters I love, then: lots of times when you’re mixing a color, you find yourself getting mighty close and then needed to lighten it a little, right? Those colorants can really take the value down while you’re trying to find your hue. As you’re adding white, instead of just dumping the white straight into the color you’ve been working on, pour some of the mix off first. This way, if you put too much white into the whole thing, you can pour in some of your old mix (the stuff you’ve just poured off) to bring it back to exactly what you were looking for.
K. kept reminding me, gently, to pour off some of the mix before I added more white, especially in circumstances where it seemed like I was having to add much more white than I’d thought I would. This all, of course, traces back to the idea that if you’re trying to get a pastel, you oughtta start with the white and mix in the color, rather than vice versa. No guilt here, though: the colors I was trying to rock were pretty far from pastel.