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Make Your Own Color Wheel – Fun with Acrylic Paints

Updated on January 17, 2013

Color Mixing in Action

"The Jazz Play II" acrylic painting by Linda C Smith.  The author/artist mixes all her own colors.
"The Jazz Play II" acrylic painting by Linda C Smith. The author/artist mixes all her own colors. | Source

Color Mixing is not a Mystery

Painting with acrylic paints can be a joy. There are so many companies making paints with each one making a multitude of colors available by tube, an artist almost never needs to mix paints. But where's the fun in that? I like to mix my own colors for two reasons:

  1. I love it!
  2. It's a challenge, and I love a challenge.

Another reason is that sometimes you just can't find that perfect color and that's when knowing how to mix colors comes in very handy.

There is no mystery to mixing colors or making a color wheel. You start with the basic three colors, make three more and then the sky's the limit.

Color Definitions

First a few definitions.

Color Wheel - usually a circle around which are located the colors of the rainbow

Primary Colors - Red, Blue and Yellow - these are basic colors. You can't mix any other colors to get these three colors; however, you mix these three colors to get every other color. One caveat: you can get earth colors that are formulated from naturally occurring sources such as from clays and plants. One example is ochre.

Secondary Colors - Green, Orange and Purple [or Violet, use these terms interchangeably] - these are interesting colors in that each one is a mixture of two primary colors. Green is a mixture of blue and yellow. Orange is a mixture of yellow and red. Purple is a mixture of blue and red.

Tertiary Colors - these are the colors mid-way between a Primary color and a Secondary color. An example would be blue-green - a mixture of blue with Green, that sits halfway between the two on the color wheel. Another is red-purple, and another is yellow-orange.

All other colors fall somewhere in between the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary colors. A word about Black and White: whites and blacks, like the Primary colors, are formulated...they cannot be mixed from other colors. One caveat with black is that you can get some very dark, near-to-black "black" by mixing some very deep, intense colors together such as Prussian Blue with Dioxazine Purple.

A Word about the Color Gray

Gray is an interesting color. You can mix gray by combining white and black. You can mix interesting grays or neutrals by mixing a Primary color with its Complement [the Secondary color directly across from it on the color wheel]. One example of a good Complementary neutral would be to mix red with green; or blue with orange; or yellow with purple. You can even make an interesting "black" by mixing the three Primary colors together then gray it down by adding a bit of white.

Make Your Own Color Wheel

Actually you can make several different color wheels - it will depend upon which reds, blues and yellows you choose to begin with.

One example: begin with Cobalt Blue, Permanent Rose and Cadmium Yellow Medium. Put these at three corners of a triangle [pyramid shape] with Yellow at the top, Blue at the lower right point and red at the lower left point. Draw a circle around this triangle. This is your color wheel shape.

Put in the secondary colors. Begin with green. Mix the Cadmium Yellow Medium with Cobalt Blue in equal ratio. Place this exactly halfway between the yellow and blue on your color wheel. You'll notice that it now sits directly across from the is the complement of red.

Now make the secondary color of purple. Mix the Cobalt Blue with the Permanent Rose in equal ratio. Put this purple exactly halfway between the red and the blue. You'll find that it now sits directly opposite the yellow. Yellow and purple are complements.

To make the color orange, mix in equal ratio the Cadmium Yellow Medium and the Permanent Rose. Place this orange exactly halfway between yellow and orange on the color wheel. It now sits directly opposite its complement of blue.

*If you think the secondary colors you have mixed look too dark...often purple looks dark...add some white to it. Adding white will tint the color and give you a truer "feel" as to the color.

To get the tertiary colors, or third level of colors, go around the color wheel and mix, in equal ratio, each of the colors; place them half-way between each color:

• yellow mixed with green to get yellow-green

• green mixed with blue to get blue-green

• blue mixed with purple to get -blue-purple

• purples mixed with red to get red-purple

• red mixed with orange to get red-orange

• orange mixed with yellow to get yellow-orange

You now have a basic color wheel. You'll get a different looking wheel if you begin with Cerulean Blue, Cadmium Red Hue and Gamboge [yellow]. Or make a wheel using any of these combinations:

*Naphthol Crimson, Winsor Blue and Cadmium Yellow Deep

*Indanthrene Blue, Primary Magenta and Lemon Yellow

And of course any combination of the above and other blue, red and yellow formulations can be used to make a color wheel. Knowing how to mix your own colors, and experimenting with various combinations of reds, blues and yellows and the colors they create can greatly expand your versatility as an artist.


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    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 5 years ago from Arizona

      I enjoyed this hub a lot as I am a struggling painter. I love your painting. You have explained the basics very well. Thanks for sharing this great hub.

    • gamelover profile image

      Meskens Geert 6 years ago from Belgium

      Very nice

    • toddwertz profile image

      toddwertz 6 years ago

      Painting is fun work. I love combining colors and creation.Nice hub.

    • mache de la torre profile image

      mache de la torre 7 years ago

      Very informative!

    • billrobinson profile image

      billrobinson 7 years ago from CA, USA

      Fun and colorful I should say.

    • cindy.dauer profile image

      cindy.dauer 7 years ago from Oregon

      Great refresher course on mixing colors. Thanks.

    • profile image

      AshlieN 7 years ago from

      Great run down on acrylics and color combinations. Definitely worth the reference.


    • nikki1 profile image

      nikki1 8 years ago

      very informative.. great artwork.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      I like painting. I like mix some color to get new color like your said above. I think we have to know the basic color. And this hub help us to get beautiful color. great hub.