Creating Your Color Palette by RGC

By Barb Skivington for Real Girls Create

Finishes painted with Chalk Paint® decorative paint by Annie Sloan often work best when more than one paint color is used. Doing so can give your finish depth and interest, and this is an easy way to make your finishes unique to you. There are lots of ways you can combine colors to form interesting color schemes.

Mix your Own Colors 

Can’t find the perfect Chalk Paint® color for your project? Mix your own! When creating your own colors, start out by mixing different paints together on paper. Keep it simple — use your fingers as mixers and start with small amounts of paint to create your new color. Vary the amounts until you’ve made a pleasing color. Come up with a ratio — is it 1 dollop to 1 dollop, or 1 dollop to 2 dollops, or is it just a little bit more. Once you have determined the ratio, you can then go on to make larger quantities using that as a guide. Record your color mixtures in a sketchbook or on small paint sticks for future reference.


Mixing and combining paint is easily done if you know how color works, and for this a color wheel can be quite helpful. Annie Sloan made her own using her Chalk Paint® colors. The points of the triangle indicate the three primary colors — red, yellow, and blue. These colors can’t be mixed from other colors. You can mix the primary colors together to form secondary colors— red and yellow make orange, yellow and blue make green, and blue and red make purple. Mixing adjacent primary and secondary colors form tertiary colors — red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.

“… using color can be a curious business: part science, part intuition, but mostly a matter of taste and experience.”— Anonymous


Choose an Analogous Color Scheme

Choose two or three or more colors that are next to each other on Annie Sloan’s color wheel. These colors should have similar tones so that they are in harmonious balance with each other. An example would be painting with different blues and greens, such as Aubusson Blue, Napoleonic Blue, and Duck Egg Blue. Apply them in different sections, layer one over another, blend them wet-on-wet, or use one or more as accents.


Add Underlying Contrast

Add some underlying contrast to your finish by first painting a color from a different segment of the color wheel or choose a clean neutral color such as a white or black instead. For example, a red color will add a certain impact when placed under colors within the opposite segment on the color wheel, such as bright turquoise-blues and greens. A black color painted under yellows or oranges would make a powerful combination because of the high contrast of color; the impact of a black with more muted colors would be much less but still add depth to the finish. A white can effectively serve as a base when layered with softer, more muted colors.


Add a Complementary Color

Finding a color’s complementary color is simply a case of looking across the color wheel at its opposite color. Knowing a color’s complement is useful when you want to darken or tone a color or adjust its undertone. For example, Napoleonic Blue can be turned into a deeper navy blue color by toning it with just a bit of its opposite color, Barcelona Orange. English Yellow can sometimes appear to have a green undertone. You can warm this color by adding a very small amount of Burgundy or Emperor’s Silk (the opposite of green).

Some complementary colors will look good next to each other or one over the other, and some will look very bright and garish and require some adjustment. For example, facing English Yellow is Emile. Use a little Emile to darken or tone English Yellow or use the two colors together but alter their values by adding Old White. This means that you could have creamy pale yellows alongside lavender or lilac colors.

It’s also possible with the Chalk Paint® color wheel to determine which three colors will work together. Known as a split complementary color scheme, it means that instead of using, say, the opposite color of Burgundy, which is Antibes Green, you could use the colors that are either side of it, such as Provençe and Arles.


Use Contrasting or Clashing Colors

Contrast is the difference between two colors. Typically, they are two colors from other segments of the color wheel, although sometimes a clean neutral color, such as a white or black, is used for impact. When these two colors are placed side by side, each one will be given certain characteristics, making them appear lighter, duller, or brighter. Red, for example, will look dazzling if placed alongside any color within the opposite segment on the color wheel, such as bright turquoise-blue or green. Graphite next to English Yellow would make a powerful combination because of the high contrast of color; the impact of Graphite next to a more muted color with less contrast would be much less.

Colors can be deep, such as Emperor’s Silk, Olive, and Greek Blue, with flashes of bright color such as English Yellow, Arles, and Pure White for maximum contrast. Contrasting colors are often used when painting more modern pieces of furniture from the 1950s and 1960s in a modern retro or contemporary style.

Clashing colors, on the other hand, typically use adjacent primary and secondary colors, such as Burgundy next to Old Violet, Emperor’s Silk next to Barcelona Orange, or Arles next to Antibes Green or even Florence. Although the term might sound bad, clashing colors can work well together in a design depending on the amount of color and how close they appear together. Put a neutral with them to soften it so they are not fighting too much with each other. Clashing colors are often an essential component in Bohemian décor.


Mix Sophisticated Grays and Browns

When seeking a sophisticated gray or brown, the best results come from mixing two complementary colors. Adding white to the mixed color is how the delicate brown or grayness of a color is achieved, opening up a world of delicate neutrals. Try the following combinations but feel free to experiment with other complementary colors:

  • Old Violet and Arles mixed together make a warm gray. With the addition of Old White, you have a mellow gray.
  • Primer Red is an earthy, slightly orange red, while Florence is a bluish green. Neither contains much white so when mixed together the result is a dark brown black. Adding Old White to the mix gives a warm gray.
  • Barcelona Orange mixed with Greek Blue makes a gray which is either cooler or warmer, depending on the ratio of the mixture that is brought out with the addition of Old White.
  • Primer Red mixed with Antibes Green makes a brown rather than a gray because Antibes is rather yellowish. With the addition of Old White, a pale mushroom color is created.
  • Burgundy is a blue-red and Antibes Green a yellow-green. When mixed together, the strong red pigment takes over, giving a rich, purple-tinged brown. Adding Old White brings out interesting pink tones.

For more information on working with the Chalk Paint® colors, see Chapter One of Annie Sloan’s book, Color Recipes for Painted Furniture and More (pages 12 -25). This chapter will help you in understanding her paint colors and how they relate to the color wheel. It also contains extensive information on working with color variations of red, green, blue, yellow, and neutrals, including gray

Permission to publish this article given expressly to 3PaintGirls by Barb’s estate.