Custom Mixing: An Artist’s Cheat Sheet

Plasters, paints, color wheels, stone, sand, mica, glitter, stains… And the list goes on and on! There are so many products and color choices in the artistic and faux finish realm, we could never try them all. But even if you could, would you even want to? Probably not. That’s where the secret world of custom mixing fits in!

As a faux finisher, I’ve experimented with different product lines and types of products, but like many artists, I have my core product group that I trust, know how to use and keep on my shelf at all times. I like to try new products to keep things exciting and fresh, but my core line stays the same. Don’t let that give you the impression that my projects are just boring repeats of one another. NO WAY! It’s good to intimately understand your products but custom mixing is the gateway to ultimate artistic freedom. Don’t feel the pressure to continuously expand your products. Instead… Explore, experiment and grow your knowledge on custom mixing. It will open up a world of creativity that can’t be bought.

6 Tips to Custom Mixing

Once you get comfortable with custom mixing, you may never use a product straight out of the bucket again. I don’t! Practice makes perfect when it comes to custom mixing and understanding the composition of your products is a great start. Recycle glass jars, plastic containers and any other ‘mixing bowl’ you can find around the house and get mixing!

An Artist’s Cheat Sheet

#1 Get a good color book.

custom mixing color book
Color books are a great resource

We all learned our basic colors as kids, but don’t assume you’re a color master. There are so many great color books out there that can help guide you in using different mediums as well as colors across the whole spectrum. It isn’t cheating to have a book. It’s just smart! I use my book the most when I start with a non-primary color and want to adjust it. I’d rather take guidance from a pro to save time and product then just randomly mix colors and hope for the best. Also, when choosing tinted product to buy, refer to your book and chose colors that give you the most flexibility to tint into other directions! I always try to buy more generic colored product, giving me the widest flexibility to create other colors.

#2 It’s not just about color. Mix Products!

Expand your options and mix products not just colors. Mixing products could be as simple as taking two paint colors or plasters and mixing them together for a new color. It could also mean mixing different products with one another like mica flakes into wax or stain into glaze. Not every mixture will work, but it’ll be a learning experience. You may create something unexpected in your experiments and discover a great new “product”. If you missed out on some of our artistic experiments, check them out. Articles: Great Day for an Artistic Experiment & It’s Art Science Time

water-based stains mix up formula
Mix things up for the perfect formula

If you’re a purist and only use one manufacture’s line, you could be limiting yourself but I respect your loyal nature. I say still mix! Put pigments, metallic elements, stains, glazes, plasters, etc. into those mixing bowls and see what wonders you create. A single manufacturer doesn’t have to limit your creativity. As an example, Faux Effects® has so many products lines that you could never leave their portfolio and experiment with mixing forever!

#3 Measure it out & write it down.

It’s fun to get into mad-scientist mode and start squeezing bottles and feverishly stirring. But, what if you create the coolest of concoctions and have no idea how you got there? Be patient in your mixing endeavors. Have a notebook and pen in your laboratory at all times. Use scales to measure out products and keep track of pigment drops and % of additives to the mixture. You’ll appreciate having taken the time to chronicle your custom mixing exercise. You may have just recorded an utter disaster to never repeat again. OR, you may have just created the most amazing finishing product to use for a client. Either way, having a record of what you did to repeat or NOT repeat is the best use of your experimenting time.

#4 Start small. Test integrity.

It’s important in your custom mixing that you don’t end up with a mixture that’s lost its integrity. There will be a point where you reach the maximum % of additives, color or product blending that causes the mixture to break down. An example would be varnish products. You can thin many of these with water or a thinning agent but if you pass, say 40% additives in the mix, the varnish loses its integrity and will fail on your project as a sealant.

custom mixing mix buckets small samples
Label & keep your samples for future projects

Seek advice from your fellow artists as well as manufacturers when mixing products. It may be well known in the community that you should never add more than 20% drying agents to a particular paint or stain to give you the best result. Some of these limits you may discover and then you can share with others. Pigments also fall in this category. If you are looking for a deep, dark color, don’t try to tint all the way from white to black! Most likely you’ll never get there and the mix will have lost its integrity at some dark gray point. Start with a darker base product and then tint. It will save you time, money and give a better result!

#5 Keep the naturals & acrylics apart!

Not all products play well in the artistic sandbox. Be aware of what your products are made of and if you can even TRY to mix them. In the nluv Studio, we have several products that are mineral-based and purely natural in their composition. I cannot mix acrylic additives and other artificial products into these natural mediums. Read the labels, investigate your products and ask if others have tried what you are planning to do.

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Chronicle your experiments & formulas to share

Sometimes no one will have done what you are thinking and you’ll be the first. That’s great too! At a minimum, try to determine if you are working with natural or acrylic products. That’s a great place to start as you’ll know what to consider for your custom mixing fun with the greatest chance for success.

#6 Share!

With all this custom mixing, experimentation and trial-and-error, the most important part of it all is that you share! Don’t hoard all your hard work and creative-scientific genius. Sharing is a powerful tool for artists and is one of the greatest ways to expand our community of education. Don’t think of it as giving away all your secrets. Think of it as being teachers and students. We can all learn from one another and you never now… You could get the next best custom mixing concoction from a fellow artist that’s your client’s favorite finish of all time! Sharing your successes and failures doesn’t dilute each of our artistic ‘special-sauce’ but rather makes us all smarter and sparks each of our imaginations and brainstorming abilities.

Get mixing!

Some days I enter the studio not to work on a project, but to experiment with products and create new mixtures to use later on. I have a whole shelf of custom mixed plastic containers with labels reminding me what they are. Never buy product and feel you are trapped within the bucket or bottle it came in. Create your own colors… Mix your own mediums… Experiment and create custom mixture formulas to set you apart from the rest. And most importantly, share your ideas with other artists so they will share in return with you. Your next best idea could come from your own imagination or it could be your peers! You never know where your inspiration will come from. Happy mixing!

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