How Colour Mixing is Like Cooking

Hi friends! I have kind of a fun analogy of how to think about colour theory and colour mixing today.  I’ve been trying to find new recipes to try out lately, and shamelessly have been watching a lot of Chopped and Master Chef. I blame it on being pregnant and wanting to eat 24/7.  So as I was watching the contestants in these shows, I starting thinking about how they approach making their challenging (and delicious-looking) dishes is pretty similar to how mixing colours in painting works.

Starting with a Plan

The chefs always explain what their overall plan for the dish is.  They state their main protein, the side dishes, and any sauces/extra things they want to add to it.  This gives them their ingredient list and game plan when they have to run to the pantry (especially in those shows like Cutthroat Kitchen when they only have a limited time to grab what they need!).

When starting a new painting, we do something pretty similar.  We have the idea of our main subject (the protein), the background images or general colour schemes that we want to use (the side dishes), plus the extra added touches of a special texture acrylic medium or ideas about glazing all or parts of the painting to really make it special (the sauces).  This gives us a good list of the colours we will need when we dig through our paint supply, and possibly on a trip to the art store if we’re missing anything.

color theory acrylic painting
We use these tools in a pretty similar way.

Adjusting as you Go

The chefs then dive into their cooking, changing their plan as things work or don’t work for them.  Sometimes they burn something and have to dump it out and start all over.  Sometimes a flavour combination they thought would work ends up tasting not as good as they would like and they have to find something they can add to it to change it a little bit.  Sometimes the consistency of a sauce it too thick or too runny, and they have to figure out how they are going to fix it.

When painting, sometimes things start not working out as we would like.  Sometimes we make a mistake and have to paint over certain parts of the painting.  Sometimes mixing two colours together results in an unexpected tone or hue, so we have to figure out what we can mix into it to get the colour we have in our minds.  Sometimes the paint we mix is too transparent to cover something we don’t want to show though, or too opaque to use because it would end up erasing out some details that we want left showing.  Then we have to figure out what mediums or other colours we can use to make our chosen colours more opaque or more transparent.

It’s all About Balance

At the end of the day, the cooking challenges are all about balance.  Sweet,spicy,salty,bitter.  Is the sauce too sweet? Add something acidic to cut the sweetness. Is it too salty? Add some more sweetness or a touch of spice to balance it out.  The chefs constantly taste their dishes as they progress to make sure all of the components are going to work together when it comes time to plating the dish.

The same goes for painting.  Is the green you mixed too cool? Add a touch of yellow to brighten and warm it up.  Is that purple far too reddish-looking, add some blue to it to cool it off.  That red far too vibrant? Add a tiny bit of green to tone it down.  Artists are constantly backing away from their canvas and looking at the “big picture” to make sure all of the colours are balanced and look harmonious together as a finished painting.

So there you go, guys, a little comparison between cooking and painting.  With both activities, the key is to continuously check and correct as you go, as it’s far easier to fix tiny mistakes as you make them than rushing through the process and ending up with terribly salty overcooked shrimp ruining your perfect Scampi white wine sauce – I mean –  your beautifully blended background.

Now I’m off to have my lunch…for the second time today.  I feel like a hobbit.  Thanks for reading!

-Ashley <3

Never miss a new post!

Sign up to receive new blog posts instantly, delivered directly to your inbox. Usually this is about once per week (this is NOT the monthly Studio Notes email, this is simply every new blog post mailed directly to you :)


  1. I love to cook and paint and never really thought of how the two are similar so I really like how you’ve made parallels between both in your post 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

Leave a Comment :)