How to Nail Bright Colors in Mixed-Media Art

I have taught and continue to teach a variety of mixed-media art workshops online and in person around the country over the last several years, so it’s no wonder I’ve heard just about every question there is around painting, selling art, and becoming a full time artist that there is. Anytime I head out to teach, I can guarantee I will hear these questions. I’ll be sharing my responses to the questions in my next couple of articles. Here is my disclaimer however: I don’t know everything there is to know about art or art business but I’m happy to share what works for me and what hopefully has helped my students in the past.

If you were a fly on the wall in one my mixed-media art classes, you’d know that I always try to ask during introductions, “What is one thing you’d like to learn during our time together?” The topic of vibrant colors usually comes up with one or more students: “I love the bright colors you use. That was something that drew me to your classes. How do you achieve that vibrancy in your paintings?”

Mixed-media art ideas | Jodi Ohl,

This is a tricky question to answer. It’s easier to show in person, but what I want you to think about first and foremost is about the quality of product you use. Using professional-grade paints is the first step in achieving vibrant, lightfast colors. By lightfast I mean that the paint is less likely to fade over time when exposed to sunlight. Inexpensive acrylics are filled with low quality binders and less pigment (and inexpensive pigments), therefore they usually dry matte or chalky and fade overtime. Professional-grade acrylic paints, however, are generally more vibrant because the pigments are of a higher quality and dry to a softer, almost plastic-like finish. This is because acrylics are essentially plastic in liquid form until all the liquid evaporates and forms a solid. Moral of the story is: Build your paint color library up over time to include better paints, especially if you are working on large paintings on canvas.

Mixed-media art ideas | Jodi Ohl,

The next suggestion I would have for you is to paint in layers, allowing each layer to dry before adding the next layer of color. Try this at home: Paint four swatches of color. Allow each to dry. Leave the first swatch alone but add another coat of paint to the next three. Allow to dry. Repeat until the last swatch has four coats of paint on it. Notice the difference in color compared to the first swatch. Mixed-media art ideas | Jodi Ohl,

Another tip I have for you is to use glazing medium, rather than water, with your paints if you’re trying to thin down your paint and add multiple layers. You can also use glazing medium to add translucency to your paint colors or to keep the paint open longer (extend the drying time). You can use a bit of water with no apparent issues but if you use too much water, you are essentially dulling the color and making the formula less stable, which effects the vibrancy and lightfastness as well as the surface adhesion.


I could go on and on about color in my painting but I will leave you with this last tip. Buy a color wheel if you don’t have one already. Well, actually one other additional suggestion is to become an observer of color wherever you go. Perhaps keep a color journal of interesting color combinations. A color board on Pinterest is also helpful in inspiring color choices. A color wheel will help you make basic decisions on what colors look good together and then just being a constant student of color will help you grow in your decision making process.

Mixed-media art ideas | Jodi Ohl,

When you are looking to jazz up your mixed-media art to make your work look more vibrant, first consider whether or not you have enough contrast in your work and then consider whether adding more complementary colors  will enhance your composition. Imagine a painting with red, magenta, ultramarine blue, and purple in it. All of these colors are close to each other on the color wheel but if you want to add more zing, throw in a lime green and your reds and magenta will automatically be more vibrant because green is complementary.

If the painting is dominant in blue, adding orange or a derivative of orange to your work will achieve a similar effect. Mix your complementary colors together with a bit of white and you create a neutral gray in the same color scheme. As a painter, I think part of the excitement is finding solutions to problems that occur while painting. You never know what discoveries you will unearth as you fix issues or react to your work while you are in the midst of creating your next masterpiece! Listen to your instincts and apply principles you learn along the way.

I hope you find yourself on your way to more vibrant and striking paintings as you keep developing your skills! Stay tuned–in upcoming blog posts, I’ll answer the following mixed-media art FAQs:

I don’t like my painting, what can I do to fix it?

How do you know when you are finished?


Learn more with Jodi’s mixed-media art workshop DVDs:


Blog, Mixed-Media Painting Techniques, Mixed-Media Techniques
Jodi Ohl

About Jodi Ohl

i'm a mixed media artist, writer and instructor who loves the adventure of art making and meeting like minded individuals! I'm from Aberdeen, NC and the mother of two young men (no longer boys ) ages, 15 and 21


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.