choose paint colors
for a painting

Learn how to choose paint colors
create beautiful, harmonious paintings
with only 3 or 4 colors.

There are so many colors to choose from.

  • How do we choose paint colors for each painting?

This painting "Two Stripies" consists of only 3 colors, yellow, orange and blue.

How to choose paint colors for beautiful, harmonious paintingsTwo Stripies - Banded Butterflyfish

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you are not the only one concerned about colors

  • When I was learning to oil paint I didn't know how to choose paint colors. So I just used the colors the instructor suggested.

About twenty years ago, someone gave me a Christmas present with watercolor paintings on it. I was intrigued and wanted to give watercolor a try.

Watercolors here I came - I jumped in full-force!


are you making these mistakes?

  • I started buying watercolor paints and filled the new palette with lots of beautiful colors.

Someone gave me a used rectangular watercolor palette. I filled it with paints. But it was a bit cumbersome to me. I was always hunting for certain colors.

So I purchased a round palette that held twenty-four colors arranged like the color wheel. There was extra space in the corners to hold an additional eight colors.

It was easy to organize and find the colors in the new palette. I was so pleased.

it was still confusing with so many colors to choose from.


are your paintings harmonious?

When there are too many different colors in one painting, the painting becomes confusing because there is no place for the eye to rest.

  • The viewer's eyes jump from one color to another in a disconcerting manner.

how could i choose colors for each painting?   Hmm....

So, I started reading thru my painting library. I needed to learn how to choose paint colors.

After studying the work of professional artists and reading everything I could get my hands on about color.

I came up with a plan -





how to choose paint colors

#1 - make a color wheel

I made a color wheel.

Poster board or any heavy type of paper would work fine to make your color wheel.

I painted twelve colors on the color wheel from the paints I was using.

There is a warm and cool version of each of the six basic rainbow colors.

The color wheel is over twenty years old. I still use it today for all my watercolor and oil paintings.


I used watercolors to make my personal color wheelColor Wheel of My Colors

#2 - make color scheme templates

  • Professional artists often use certain color schemes.

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

These are the templates I cut out of newsprint years ago.

Complimentary color scheme
Double compliment color scheme
choosing paint colors with a split compliment color scheme
analogous paint colors are next to each other on the color wheel
A triad color scheme uses the primary colors
Semi-triad paint color scheme
The compliment plus half left color scheme is one of my favorites.
One of my favorite color schemes the compliment plus half right.


#3 - select your paint colors

Decide on the main color of the focal point of your proposed painting.

  • Place various color schemes over your color wheel. Always include the main color.
  • Choose a color scheme with additional colors that suit the rest of your proposed painting.

A scheme with complimentary colors makes it easy to mix darks.

Try the different color scheme templates over your color wheel to select the paint colors for an individual painting.Choosing a Color Scheme


After the color scheme is selected, I paper clip it to my color wheel. Only my selected three or four colors will show.

I keep the selection in front of me while I'm painting. Then I am not tempted to use all the other colors from my palette.

  • A limited number of colors in each painting gives the painting cohesiveness and color harmony.

Today I still use the same color wheel and templates to choose the colors for my paintings.



you may purchase a ready-made color wheel



choose paint colors like the professionals.

  • Make a color wheel from your paints.
  • Use the templates to choose your color schemes.

you can create harmonious paintings!

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learn more about color

  • Artists Mix Paint Colors

    When artists learn how to mix paint colors, they can save money at the paint store. It’s easy to mix greens, brown, grey and black. Mix colors, don’t buy them.

  • Color Schemes for the Painting Artist

    Master your art painting color schemes with the secrets of color selection. Artists can take the stress out of choosing the paint colors for their paintings.

  • Choosing Paint Colors for your palette

    Choosing paint colors for your artist’s palette. A warm and cool version of the six rainbow colors are an excellent choice of paint colors for your art palette.

  • Color Wheel - The Artists' Best Friend

    The color wheel is the artists’ best friend and favorite tool. We use primary, secondary, tertiary, warm, cool and complimentary colors for successful paintings.

  • Painting with a Limited Palette

    Painting with a limited palette is fun and easy. It gives your art work cohesion and harmony. You only have to stock a few colors. Great for travel or plein air painting

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