the artist color wheel is the artist's favorite tool and best friend

master color with the artist color wheel

Use the artist color wheel to create beautiful paintings. Understanding color gives the artist a great advantage in our painting skills.

how do we use color?

  • Color creates emotions in our paintings.
  • Color gives the illusion of depth in our paintings.
  • We use warm and cool colors to shape forms. 
  • Color is our guide for mixing and selecting paints for our palette.

color is just plain fun!


what is the color wheel?

The artist color wheel is the artists' best friend.The Color Wheel

The renowned physicist Isaac Newton gave us the color wheel in the 1600s.

He was famous for explaining gravity, but he also devised the theory of light and color.

He noticed when light goes through a prism, it is divided into the colors of the rainbow.

The seven rainbow colors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and purple.

Today the artist color wheel uses twelve colors, instead of the seven rainbow colors.

Artists have been using the knowledge of the color wheel to improve their paintings ever since.


let's delve into color

what are the primary colors?

Primary colors are yellow, red and blue.Primary Colors

The twelve colors of the artist color wheel are based on three primary colors; yellow, red and blue.

The paint colors closest to the primary colors are;

  • Lemon Yellow,
  • Permanent Rose
  • and Thalo Blue.

All other colors can be mixed from these three primary colors.


the secondary colors

When we mix two primary colors together we get a secondary color.Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are a mixture of primary colors.

When we mix two of the primary colors together, we get a secondary color.

Mix yellow and red to get orange.

Yellow and blue mixed together make green.

By mixing blue and red together we get purple, also called violet.


what are tertiary colors?

Mix a secondary color with a primary color to get the tertiary colors.Tertiary Colors

When we mix a primary color with a secondary color, we get the intermediate colors called tertiary colors.

For example, the primary color yellow mixed with the secondary green gives us yellow-green.

If we go to the other side of yellow and mix it with the secondary orange, we get yellow-orange.

The tertiary colors are; yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet and blue-green.

Learn more about the Color Wheel from Wikipedia


warm and cool colors

Warm colors advance, Cool colors recede

The artist color wheel contains warm colors and cool colors.

Red, orange and yellow are considered warm colors.

The warm colors appear to advance forward in the painting.

Blue, green and sometimes violet are normally considered cool colors.

Cool colors appear to recede into the distance.


use color to Contour the form of objects

  • Paint the part of an object that comes toward the viewer with warm colors.
  • Paint the parts of an object that turn away from the viewer with cooler colors.

Cooler and darker colors on the edge of the mangoes show them turning away from our view.

But you say, yellow, orange and red are all warm colors. You are correct.

Yellow is the warmest color. But the less yellow in a color, the cooler it gets. So orange is cooler than yellow. And red is cooler than orange and more cooler than yellow.

If the edge has bright light shining on it, you won't paint it darker. But still paint it cooler to show it turning away.


use color to create distance in your paintings

Paintings are usually done on a two dimensional surface, such as canvas or paper. We use color to create the illusion of distance and depth in our two dimensional paintings.

  • Colors get lighter and cooler when they move into the distance.

Particles of dust and moisture in the air cause this phenomenon called aerial or atmospheric perspective.

  • So as an artist, we use cooler colors in the distance. And we use warmer colors in the foreground portions of the painting.


In the painting "Springtime" lightening the colors and adding blue, moves the mountains into the distance.

But notice the colors in the foreground are much warmer compared to the mountains.


select your paint colors

Painting with a limited palette of the primary colors (yellow, red and blue) is a great way to learn about color.

  • Use Cadmium Yellow Light, Permanent Rose or Cadmium Red and Ultramarine Blue, plus white.

An expanded palette of a warm and cool version of each primary makes it easier to mix other colors.

  • A full palette would include a warm and cool version of each of the six basic colors of the artist color wheel; yellow, orange, red, violet, blue and green.

There is no need for black on your palette. It is easy to mix additional colors. Black, brown or grey are a mixture of complimentary colors.

the artist color wheel is our key to beautiful paintings



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