what colors make orange

What Colors Make Orange? – Exploring Color Theory

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What Colors Make Orange – Exploring Color Theory

What colors make orange? Red and yellow mix together to make orange, in case you were wondering, but not all oranges are created equal. For instance, the reason you can combine blue and brown to make a chromatic black, is because brown is actually a very dark shade of orange. Painters learn to make black from Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Umber. They then combine various parts of their black mixture with various amounts of white, to create a gray tonal scale. The cool thing about using blue and brown for your black, is the fact that you can use a little more brown to make the resulting mixtures warmer, or add more blue to make the resulting mixtures cooler.


Color theory isn’t just about mixing two colors to get another color, it’s actually a system that lets you predict how your color scheme will harmonize with itself, and plan out that harmony in advance, setting yourself up for a successful image before ever making that first brushstroke. If you’re serious about turning your passion for painting into a viable side hustle, learning what colors make orange (and the rest of color theory!) is extremely important (and under-rated).

How to Mix a Color When You Can’t Even Tell What It Is

If you’ve noticed this phenomenon, that sometimes it’s difficult to tell what color you’re looking at, What Colors Make Orange - Color Wheel jmyou’re almost certainly dealing with a neutral situation. Neutrals are actually what make brilliant color even possible, and though you can paint without them, you might find that when you create color-neutral combinations in your paintings by accident, they add a sense of atmosphere that bright colors just can’t create on their own. Remember the blue and brown(orange) mixture we talked about? That process works by combining complementary colors, or, colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. When a color almost looks blue, but a dull blue, chances are if you mix a little orange with it, you’ll find the perfect neutral shade you were looking for.

What Colors Make Orange Look Good?

Say you’re painting an actual orange, like the citrus fruit. I don’t have to tell you what color an orange is right? Lookup a picture if you’re not sure, ok? So, you have your orange sitting on the table, with the light from the window coming in from one side, giving the orange sphere a crescent-shaped shadowed side, and then an elongated shadow on the table caused by the sphere blocking the light. 

On the light side obviously, you’re going to see a brilliant orange color, but what about the shadows? It might vary a little based on What Colors Make Orange - Picture of an Orangeyour light source, or the color of the table your orange is sitting on. But there’s one method that will make your orange look like a cohesive and color-true spherical orange: add some blue. It sounds crazy, but a little bit of blue will neutralize the bright orange, in the same way the color appears to be neutralized in the orange’s shadow area. Cool right? It takes some tweaking to get your neutral mixture JUST right, but the results are well worth it.

Suppose you’re using a blood orange, which is more of a red-orange. Since your light color shifts toward red, your complement(green) will shift naturally toward blue. Memorizing the color wheel is important, but until you do, it’s nice to have one nearby to check your intuitions.

Using Color Harmonies to Establish a Solid Foundation

You can easily pre-plan your color harmonies simply by looking at the color of your subject(s), and find that color’s complement. You have to treat each object a little differently, like a girl with red hair, wearing a blue hat. All three main color masses must be treated a little differently, but it will always be the color opposite your main color on the color wheel. There are only a few to memorize: Blue-Orange, Yellow-Purple, and Red-Green. 

So, that was pretty easy, are you a master painter yet? Ok, not quite, there’s a little more intricacy to color that we need to look more closely at.

color theory infographic

Color and Value Are Both Relative

Orange will seem more orange when your image has blue in it, and this applies to the other color harmonies as well. The most tried and true way of establishing this complementary relationship in a painting, is to use your overall light color to establish a unified shadow with the light color’s complement. What this means is, anywhere you have shadows, block them in with a nice dark complement color, even if that means neutralizing a little bit of your light color to turn the form. The thing is, your paint is capable of a lot more subtly, letting you use this knowledge of your light/shadow relationships, and build up to that saturated orange with a gradient of value-based neutrals. 


To further simplify, if you paint your whole orange in slightly neutralized colors, but leave a spot with pure orange, the eye will be drawn to that point. This is a little bit like your natural reaction to a ripe fruit when hungry; your eye is drawn to the thing you crave, and in the same way, the eye craves that saturated, lush color, and the rest of the painting will create a tension which can only be satisfied by feeding the eye what it wants. Cool.

How to Mix a Variety of Oranges

What Colors Make Orange
A Variety of Oranges

Every yellow and red pigment you can get will have different qualities, allowing an endless variety of orange mixtures. The best way to experiment with mixtures, is to start with a variety of base colors, mix them in a variety of ways, and then add a little bit of white off to the side, to test how the color behaves as it cools and grows lighter.

Using Tinting to Get the Perfect Orange

Some pigments are transparent, and some are opaque. If you want the brightest orange, choose something opaque like Cadmium yellow or Lemon yellow, in combination with a transparent red, like Alizarin Crimson, or Transparent Red Oxide. Don’t neglect substituting red or yellow for an earth tone, especially if you’re working from something in nature. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer Fall-Leaf Orange, to Prison-Jumpsuit Orange. Maybe that’s not the best analogy, but you get the general idea. Earthtones can mix some brilliant colors that fit more in a landscape or portrait, even though they might have trouble reaching the brilliance of a sunset orange.


Now, go out there and mix some orange, and check out this video of Eminem rhyming like 100 things with “Orange”:

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