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How to Use the Color Wheel to Plan Color Schemes and Color Mixing
Why Do I Need a Color Wheel?
What’s the point for an artist of keeping a color wheel handy?
The color wheel is a great start for getting inspiration on what color combinations and hues to use.
Consulting the color wheel artists can decide what color scheme they want to use with geometrical mixing method, which means taking into consideration the distance between colors on the wheel. More on the different schemes below.
The color wheel makes it easier to create color harmony by choosing the right color schemes.
The Color Wheel: a Visual Tool
The color wheel is a visual representation of the colors found in a prism, arranged in a circle, with the primary colors (yellow, red, and blue) spaced evenly around.
Artists of all kinds: painters, quilt makers, web designers, graphic designers, interior designers, etc. use the color wheel as basis for working with hues, shades, and colors.
The color wheel is a great tool to plan color schemes and color mixes.
The two Sides of the Color Wheel
On the front of the color wheel (top photo), all around the edge, you find the primary and secondary colors.
In the center, there is an inside wheel has small “windows” that let you see what color you would obtain adding either red, yellow, blue, white, or black to the colors on the color wheel.
The inner wheel shows the results of color mixing. Rotating the inner wheel you can find a color that is the closest to what you are trying to mix, and learn how to mix it.
The wheel has also a gray scale that let's you verify the value of each hue, for example in the top photo red compares pretty well to a value 6.
On the back of the color wheel (bottom photo) you can see for each color the scale of pure color, tint, tone, and shade.
Also, in the center there is a diagram showing all the color schemes, and turning the dial you can see combinations of colors that would work together for each color scheme.
Hue Terminology in the Color Wheel
Color can be used to represent things realistically or dramatically, yielding totally different effects and feelings, depending on the colors combination used.Another word for color is Hue.
The primary colors on the wheel are yellow, red, and blue. From these three hues all other colors can be created. In between each pair of primary colors are the ones obtain by mixing them, the secondary colors.
Colors opposite to each other on the wheel are complementary; colors next to each other are harmonious.
Color Temperature: Warm and Cool Colors
Each hue has a specific temperature. Temperature is the relative warmth or coolness of a color.
On the wheel, yellow or any color with yellow as a predominant component is considered warm.
Any blue or color predominantly blue is considered cool.
Red it’s kind of in the middle of the temperature scale, and its temperature is relative to the colors next to it. It’s cooler than yellow, but warmer than blue.
In general, you can determine if a color is warm or cool by asking yourself if it has more yellow or more blue in it.
The warm colors, that cover one half of the wheel, are yellow/green, yellow, orange, and red. On the other half are the cooler colors: blue/green, blue, violet/blue, and violet.
When used on a painting, the warm colors tend to advance from the surface, and the cool colors tend to recede. This factor is useful in portraying depth.
The use of cooler colors for trees and objects in the distance, by making them more blue-green than those in the foreground, creates an effect of atmospheric perspective.
There are only three true hues: red, yellow, and blue. They are called primary because nothing can be mixed to produce them: they must be made or bought. With them we can make any other color, except white which is not an actual color.
Depending on the three primaries you choose from the large range of reds, blues and yellows you will get different secondary and tertiary colors.
The three primaries that the artists most use are: cadmium red, ultramarine blue, and lemon yellow.
Mixing pairs of primary colors we get orange, green, and violet, which are called secondary colors.
If you go as far as getting tertiary colors, mixing secondary colors, you would most likely get muddy colors, because that’s what you get when you ix all the primary colors in different proportions
One color and its tints, tones and shades
Colors that are close to one another on the color wheel
Colors that are directly opposite to each other on the wheel
A color and then the two colors on each side of its complement
Three colors that are equally spaced around the color wheel
Four colors that are two sets of complements
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Having a good understanding of complementaries can help you achieve satisfaction in your painting. In any color wheel spectrum, each primary color is always opposite the color obtained mixing the other two primary colors. So red is always opposite to green, yellow to violet, and blue to orange.
The hues that are direct opposites on the color wheel are called complementary colors. These colors are contrasting, or conflicting, and they produce two different effects, depending on how they are used.
If we lay complementary colors next to each other, they will strengthen each other, and appear brighter than when separate, producing a vibrant effect. The Colors don’t need to be used at their full intensity; muted versions will produce subtle but effective complementary contrast.
If we mix a color with its complement, it will tone down. When a color is too intense or bright, adding a bit of the complementary is a good way to tone it down.
Complementary colors can be used on the dark side of objects to produce a shadow.
Also, by mixing any two complementary together you can obtain a large array of grays and neutral colors.
Orange and green will create a brown, orange and blue a gray, and so on; varying the amounts of each color used in the mix, will result in different tones and values of color.
Colors that are side by side on the color wheel are considered harmonious.
Examples are red and orange, yellow and green, green and blue; these colors for a pleasing color combination, with low contrast.
Simple Color Mixing Demonstration - Video
© 2012 Robie Benve