Gold can be a difficult colors to get right. It can be made using yellow and brown, but traditionally it is made by mixing yellow, blue and red in varying amounts. Another way to mix it is by using purple and yellow, but it will take practice.
Using primary colors to mix gold paint
Using your three primary colors is the traditional way of making gold paint. It gives you the most flexibility when it comes to getting the exact shade you want. If you want a deep red gold you could start with a Cadmium Red, an Ultramarine Blue and a Chrome Yellow. However, if you want a light whiter gold you should start with a Cadmium Yellow and some Zinc White. Add a small amount of Cobalt Blue and Cadmium Red very slowly until you get the exact color you want.
When you mix any other colors you should try different combinations to get the effect you want. Each gold paint you mix will need slightly different colors to make it.
Using brown to mix gold paint
Using Yellow with a good brown color is a really easy way to make gold paint. If you start with a light brown like Raw Sienna you will need less yellow. However, You can start with a darker brown like Burnt Umber and add more yellow. It is usually better to use warm yellows such as Cadmium or Chrome yellow, but if you want a lighter whiter gold then Lemon Yellow can be a useful option.
Using purple and yellow to make gold paint
If you look on your color wheel you will see that purple is the complimentary secondary color that is opposite to your primary yellow. You can use yellow primary colors and purple secondary colors to make gold. As you start to understand color theory more you find it gets easier to visualise the colors you need. Your purple secondary color is made from 2 primary colors, so mixing a primary and its opposite secondary color means you are effectively mixing all 3 primary colors as you did in the first example.
Remember that tone and color are different
Remember that the tone is different to the color or hue. The tone can be adjusted after you have mixed the color. Mix the color first, then add white or dark colors to adjust the tone until you get the precise color you need.
Create paint charts to make beautiful golds
Making a paint chart will help you understand how mixing slightly different color combinations can have very different effects. It isn’t easy to make a gold only color chart by mixing the three primary colors, but using one primary color and its opposite secondary color will make it much easier.
Draw a grid on your paper and along the top and in the columns write the names of the color you are using in that column. Do the same at the start of each row with a selection of complementary secondary colours. Some combinations will work but others don’t, so use colors that are opposite on the color wheel to the primary color you have used.
Make 3 different charts. One for blue primary based golds, one for red primary based golds and one for yellow primary based golds.
In the one that uses blue primary colors the secondary colors should be oranges, ranging from almost yellow to almost red. In the second use a selection of red primary colors and various green hues as the secondary colors. For the final one use yellows as the primary color and purples as the secondary colors.
This third chart is likely to be the one you will use most, but it is good to learn how to manipulate the colors you have in different ways.
Try to vary the amounts of color used to mix the various secondary colors. This will give you a wider selection of results. The more different the colors you use are, the wider selection of golds you will create.
You can see in the painting below that the gold colors vary from a light golden blonde in the hair to the deep almost bronze shadow under the chin.
Learn from your color wheel
You wont see gold on a standard color wheel. It is mixed from all three primary colors, so it is difficult to create a color wheel that shows gold’s well.
What you can do is use your imagination. Visualise the way the three primary colors will mix and try to deconstruct any gold colors you see.
Some golds will be obviously redder or yellower but others will be harder to work out. The one thing you can be sure of, is that it is possible to mix any gold you need from the three primary colors with either white or dark colors to adjust the tone.
Don’t worry if you find it hard, it can be. With practice it will get easier. You will be able to look at a gold and think “I need a Chrome yellow with a Cadmium Red and a small amount of Cobalt Blue”. As you get more experienced you will just know what colors too use.
Practice will help you understanding the amount of each color you need. It can save you a lot of of time and will help you understand colors in a totally different way.
Please note, the colors in the chart below are representative. Computers will render them according to set up so the colors will vary from one screen to another. The idea is to give you an idea of the different effect that mixing slightly different colors can have on the mixed color.
Make mixing colors as easy as you can
Get everything you need ready first. Make sure you have any cleaning equipment as well as the paints you will be using. Study as many paintings that use gold as you can and try to replicate the ones you think are done well.
Try to analyse the different colors the various artists have used to make the gold colors they have created.
How to make gold paint with oil paints
I find Mixing oil paints a lot easier than other paints simply because I use them more. They don’t dry out as quickly so the mixing process is less reliant on the speed that you get results.
First run a thick line of the yellow you have chosen across the top of the page with a palette knife. Then put a blob of blue in one of the bottom corners and a blob of red in the opposite bottom corner.
Scrape areas of the yellow downwards so the top half of the sheet of paper is covered in an uneven layer of yellow all over the top half of the sheet (you will need to prime the paper). Then you can clean the palette knife and spread the blue towards the centre. Do the same with the yellow too.
Where the different colors start to get close to each other mix them, but keep wiping your palette knife clean or thoroughly clean your brush before starting each new area.
Add different amounts of each color and mix a small area at a time. You can also run the original paint colors into the mixed color to adjust the colors again.
You will end up with a huge array of golds across the page all created from the same 3 colors.
How to make gold paint with acrylic paints
Keep clean water for mixing close by and add a little if necessary to keep the paint workable. It is best to have a blob of each of the colors you will be using in a triangle on your palette, but keep some space between them so you have an area to mix the gold.
You can buy beautiful metallic gold acrylic paint to give an effect like on the painting above and in certain key areas of the watercolor painting below. It is a color I often buy pre-mixed. You can mix a gold color from other colors, but introducing a metallic effect in the paint has a fantastic effect. It creates a real gold in a way that is really difficult with primary colors.
The gold you want to mix will determine the best colors to start from. If it is a dark almost bronze gold then starting with the blue can make it easier. Add a similar amount of red and then add the yellow to get the base gold color you want.
I often mix the blue and red thoroughly first and then add it gradually to the yellow. If I want it lighter then I will add more yellow and possibly some zinc white until I get the shade I want. As it gets closer to the color I am creating I can add small amounts of the red or blue if I need to.
Once you have a solid base color you can add thin washes of color or use dry-brushing to get the tonal variations You want. There will always be small amounts of the colors you are using on your palette, so if an area is in sunlight you can add a little more of the yellow, or if it is in the shade you can add some of the blues to darken and cool the color.
How to make gold paint with watercolor paints
With watercolor paints you should need to remember that the paper is your white. Don’t add too much pigment to begin.
You can mix the paint on the paper if you use plenty of water, but I tend to mix it roughly on my palette first. You don’t need the exact color to start, It can be adjusted on the paper. I keep the tones lighter to begin with and then darken them gradually as I paint.
Don’t paint too dark too quickly as it can be hard to lift paint off. If you do need to remove some of the paint then dampen some kitchen roll, squeeze out the excess water and then dab gently on the areas that have got too dark, It will lift some of the pigment off the paper and allow the white of the paper to shine through more.
Use thin washes to gradually adjust the tone as you progress across the painting to adjust each part of the color as you need to.
In most cases mixing your red and blue should give you a color dark enough for the shadows. If not a dark burnt umber or even a deep purple will help you get the darker shadows.
Just remember if the painting contains white you need to leave more of the paper showing through for the highlighted areas.
In the watercolor painting below the intensity of the color is achieved by layering up multiple levels of pigment. You will see I have still used a pre mixed acrylic gold in certain areas for that truly metallic effect it gives.
Experiment until you get the results you want
Experiment with as many different combinations as often as you can. Compare the results and analyse the difference that using a cobalt blue paint has when compared to using ultramarine Blue.
Use Cadmium yellow and then chrome yellow to compare the results that will have. As the dominant color the yellow will have a big effect on your final colors.
Do the same using a cadmium red light and alizarin crimson and study the differences. Try and understand the effect each specific colors has when mixed.
You will notice some colors have a much stronger effect. This is simply because some colors have a higher pigment content than others. Remember, there is never just one way of mixing any color. You can usually mix the same color using slightly different colors to begin with.
An Ultramarine Blue has a small amount of red already in it, so you will need less red in the mix than you would with a Cobalt Blue. A chrome yellow also has more red than say a lemon yellow, so the final mix will likely need a little less red if you are using chrome yellow as your yellow.
Try to use the colors you already have rather than buying new colors. If you have a cobalt blue use it. If the gold you want is a warmer gold, add a little more red or some warm yellow into the mix to get the color you want.
There are no limitations to the possibilities you can create, your imagination is the only limit. Make a mental note of how many distinct golds you can create using the primary colors you have in your paint box. You will be surprised at how many different colors you can make.
As you develop your skills it will get easier and more intuitive. You will soon be able to create the precise hues you desire.
Always be cautious not to overdo any color especially at the start. It’s much simpler to add a color than it is to remove one, whatever paint you use.