choose colors for a painting and create harmonious paintings

How do we choose colors for a painting? There are so many colors!

When I was learning to oil paint, I just used the colors the instructor suggested.

Then I started watercolor using a large rectangular palette filled lots of paint colors. I was always hunting for the colors. A round color wheel palette made it easy to find the colors.

But there were so many colors! What colors should be used for each painting?

How-to-choose-colors-for-a-paintingWe can do a painting with only 3-4 colors.

how do we choose colors for a painting?

Studying the work of professional artists and reading everything about how to choose paint colors, gave me some revelations.

  • Too many colors in one painting create discord and confusion.
  • A painting with fewer colors is more harmonious.

do we want color confusion or harmony?

Too many different colors in a painting looks confusing. All the various colors don't give the eyes a place to rest.

Even if all the colors are very attractive, many different colors won't work well together in one painting. The viewer's eyes jump from one color to another in a disconcerting manner.

Fewer colors in one painting create peace and harmony.

I came up with a plan ---

how to choose our colors

There are three steps to choose colors for a painting.

first: paint a color wheel

I used watercolors to make my personal color wheelMake a color wheel of your paints.

This seems like a bit of work, but believe me it is very worthwhile.

Paint the color wheel with the colors we use most often.

Poster board or any heavy type of paper will work for oil paints. Water-colorists use watercolor paper.

There are twelve colors on the color wheel. Paint a warm and cool version of each of the six basic rainbow colors.

There was still a debate in my mind about exactly which colors to use. The colors out in the middle of the wheel were some of the alternate colors still on my palette.

This is the color wheel I made over thirty years ago. It's a little worn, but I still use it today for selecting the colors for both my watercolor and oil paintings.

second: make color scheme templates

Cut out color scheme templates the same size as your color wheel.

These are the templates I cut out of newsprint years ago. Today I still use these same templates to choose the paint colors for each individual painting.

Example paintings of these color schemes

Complimentary color scheme
Double compliment color scheme
Choosing colors with a split compliment color scheme

the following two schemes are the ones I use most often.

The compliment plus half left color scheme is one of my favorites.
My other favorite color scheme is the compliment plus half right.
A triad color scheme uses the primary colors.
Semi-triad paint color scheme
Analogous paint colors are next to each other on the color wheel.

third: choose the colors for a painting

First - Select the main color of the focal point, according to our reasons for doing the painting.

What do we want to convey in each painting. Do we want a happy painting or a sad painting, a bright or somber one, do we want nature's natural colors, etc. Select the main color accordingly.

Second - Look for the second color.

Use the painting scheme templates to select colors for the painting.Start selecting the colors.

Individually place each color scheme template over the color wheel. Place each template so our selected focal color shows through a cut-out in the template.

The second color we choose will almost always be a complimentary color. Monochromatic and analogous color schemes are exceptions.

A scheme with complimentary colors will make it easy to mix neutral, dark colors for the painting.

The mixed colors will always harmonize with the rest of the painting. They won't look out of place because they came from the original color scheme.

Third - Choose an additional color. This color will normally be used in the smallest amounts in the painting.

Some painting color schemes may include another color or two like the analogous scheme.

Get more hints on how to paint a good painting.

how i choose colors for a painting

How-to-choose-colors

Here is how I chose the painting color scheme for the turtle painting.

First, I chose orange-red for the focal point, turtle. I used Burnt Sienna for the orange.

Second, the compliment blue-green was the perfect color for the tropical water. Mixing the two colors made the dark colors for the turtle and the ocean floor.

Then, a third color, yellow was great for the sunlight areas of the painting.

After we select a painting color scheme, we will know what colors to put out on our palette.

Note, a straight complimentary color scheme will consist of only two colors. But we can mix a huge number of colors from two compliments.

get ready to paint

Paper clip the template to your color wheel. Only the selected three or four colors will show. Refer to it and lay out the colors on your palette.

Keep the color scheme in sight while painting, as a reminder to not use any other colors. If we want more colors, mix them from the selected colors. 

A color scheme of limited colors will keep us on track, so we don't paint confusing colors. It will make a painting that displays cohesiveness and color harmony.

Today I still use the same color wheel and templates when I ready to choose colors for a painting.

If it works for me, it will work for you!

choose paint colors like the professionals

  1. Make a color wheel from your paints.
  2. Make and use the templates to choose your painting colors.
  3. Enjoy the pleasure of harmonious paintings.

go and create beautiful paintings!

more pages to visit

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