Mixing Muted Sea Blues

Photo by Russ Ward on Unsplash

What’s the best color for the sea? Like the sky, the sea varies a lot by place and time of day, but where I live, in Northeastern United States, it rarely appears bright blue. Rather, it is usually more muted with tones of gray, green, and brown, as seen in the Maine lighthouse photo above.

How do you approximate that color? A lot has to do with context (you could use gray, for example, and in context it would appear to be a blue sea), but I wondered if there was a quick way to mix two colors – say, a blue and a red-orange to mute it – to come up with a muted blue that would remind me of this type of sea.

Here are my experiments.

Phthalo Blue (Green Shade)

Mini-sea paintings using different Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) mixes

In each of the mini paintings above, I painted the sky with unmixed Phthalo Blue Green Shade (PB15:3). Then I used Phthalo Blue Green Shade to mix with one other color to make the sea color. I didn’t use any sort of science to determine the balance, so some of them have more blue than the others, but I tried to make a color that I liked.

Other than looking good, the definition of “best” for me in this case is a mixer that makes the Phthalo Blue more muted and grayish, but doesn’t significantly change the hue. In other words, it shouldn’t become more green or more purple.

Phthalo Blue (Red Shade)

Mini sea paintings with Phthalo Blue Red Shade

I repeated the same process for Phthalo Blue Red Shade (PB15:6), a variant that is less greenish to start with (and that I believe is a fantastic all around sky color).

  • It definitely still felt as though Scarlet Lake, Winsor Orange RS, and to a lesser extent Pyrrol Scarlet and Deep Scarlet were making the color too purple.
  • Transparent Pyrrol Orange is definitely making it too green.
  • Transparent Red Oxide is also making it a bit green, but I really like this color and I found this combination, of all the ones on this page, was my favorite and did the best job of capturing what I consider to be a true sea color.
  • Transparent Brown Oxide does a good job of maintaining the hue, but seems a little muddy.
  • Quin Burnt Scarlet mixes feel fundamentally incapable of getting dark. They just dry so pale.


My favorite overall combination was Phthalo Blue (Red Shade) plus Transparent Red Oxide.

Of the Phthalo Blue (Green Shade) mixes, TRO and TBO both did a good job of muting to a “sea blue” a bit on the green side, while Deep Scarlet and QBO made more neutral grays.

It’s good news to me that TRO does such a good job, since it’s a palette staple for me anyway!

2 thoughts on “Mixing Muted Sea Blues”

  1. I grabbed a DS Ultramarine Turquoise (PB29 PG7) and have found by sheer accident this works best for me.

    I drop in Perylene Green (WN PBk31) and my other blues (Antwerp or Cobalt Blue Hue) depending on what I need. I’m not clear on Payne’s Blue Grey (DS) yet!

    I don’t like granulation or toxic colour pigments so my blue and black list is very odd I’m sure XD

    • Ultramarine is a great option for a non-toxic blue!

      Shortly after writing this I did add another muted red to my collection – Daler Rowney Perylene Maroon – so I’ll have to try this experiment again with that one.

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