painting color schemes

for artists

master your color schemes in 3 easy steps

  • Select your color schemes with confidence.

Artists love color. But, there is such a bewildering array of colors.

  • We need a plan to control all the colors.

Limit the number of colors in each painting, so your paintings will have more cohesion and harmony.

Your viewers will find them more pleasurable.

Normally I use only 3 or 4 colors for each painting.

Any additional colors are then mixed.

When the additional colors are mixed from the original 3 or 4 colors, they always exhibit color harmony.

Selecting Color Schemes for your paintings by Carol MayCreate Harmonious Paintings


painting color schemes

for artists

master your color schemes in 3 easy steps

  • Select your color schemes with confidence.

Artists love color. But, there is such a bewildering array of colors.

  • We need a plan to control all the colors.

Limit the number of colors in each painting, so your paintings will have more cohesion and harmony.

Your viewers will find them more pleasurable.

Normally I use only 3 or 4 colors for each painting.

Any additional colors are then mixed.

When the additional colors are mixed from the original 3 or 4 colors, they always exhibit color harmony.

Selecting Color Schemes for your paintings by Carol MayCreate Harmonious Paintings


#1 - you need a color wheel

  • You may purchase a color wheel from your local art store.
  • The best option is to paint a color wheel from the colors you use on your palette.
Paint a color wheel with your favorite paint colorsMy Color Wheel

#2 - make some color templates

Make yourself templates of the common color schemes used by painting artists.

These templates have served me for years to select my painting colors.

Click for enlarged color scheme templates, so you can make your own.

The color schemes I use the most often are the Compliment + 1/2 Left and it's brother Compliment + 1/2 Right.

My next most used one is the Split Compliment.

Color Scheme TemplatesColor Scheme Templates


#3 - choose your painting colors

first choose the color of the main subject

Here my main subject was the turtle. I chose burnt sienna, a red-orange for his flippers.

Then choose a complimentary color

We need complimentary colors to mix the dark colors. The compliment of burnt sienna is the blue-green.

I needed a lighter color for the sunlight sides of the turtle. I moved half way left on the color wheel for new gamboge yellow.

Complimentary plus a half right is one of my favorite painting color schemes, artist Carol MayCompliment + One Half Left
  • I put each template over my color wheel until I find a template that suits the individual painting.
  • Then I clip the template to my color wheel.
  • I refer to it when I lay out my colors and while I am painting.
  • The color schemes keep me on track and give me beautiful paintings.

These have been my go-to color schemes for over twenty years, so I wanted to share them with you.

If you are pressed for time you can purchase a Color Wheel with a Color Mixing Guide from Amazon.

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
There is no additional cost to you.


artist's color schemes

Place your color scheme templates on the color wheel and see all the possible beautiful color combinations.

Choose the color for your main subject first. Then you more than likely will need a compliment for the darks in your painting.

Let your artistic license run wild. Painting is fun!

monochromatic

One of my earliest painting lessons was to do a painting with one color.

The lesson was to teach us to see and use values in our paintings.

Monochromatic paintings are done with only one color.

White would give you various tints of the color.

The addition of black will create various shades of the original color.

This orangutan is basically orange, so this is the closest example from my paintings.

Monochromatic painting of a Baby OrangutanBaby Orangutan

complimentary colors

Compliments are any two colors directly across the color wheel from each other.

Complimentary colors can be used for high contrast paintings.

Complimentary colors are also used for mixing darks and other neutral colors.

In this painting I used the color yellow-green with its compliment red-violet.

I softened colors with white and got myself a lovely rose painting.


double compliment

Here I use the same two compliments as in the rose painting.

But to give the painting more variety, I added a color next to each compliment.

This gave me some brighter colors for the highlights by adding lemon yellow.

Adding dioxazine purple gave more depth to the darks.


split compliment

A split compliment color scheme uses the colors on each side of the direct compliment.

I chose orange with new gamboge and ultramarine blue as the complement.

Blue and orange are compliments for making the darks to darken the feathers, his dark beak and eye.

Yellow was used for the highlights on his chest.


compliment + one half right

Compliment plus a half left (the turtle painting, above) and compliment plus a right half are the two color schemes I most often use.

Complimentary colors are any two colors directly across from each other on the color wheel.

The addition of a complimentary cool color always adds zing to the painting.

It gives me dark colors for value contrast.


triad

The triad painting color scheme uses three colors spaced equally around the color wheel.

A triad color scheme gives a balanced painting.

Turn the color scheme template and select any three equally spaced colors that suit your subject.

In this painting I used the primary colors, red, blue and yellow.

The greens and dark colors were easily mixed from these primary colors.

Using a triad of primary colors - art by Carol MayCardinal 'n' Dogwood

semi-triad

The semi-triad painting color scheme uses two primary colors with a secondary.

The primary colors are always ideal for mixing other colors.

If you use single pigment colors, the secondary colors are good for mixing, also.

Here I used blue, violet red and yellow green.


analogous colors

An analogous color scheme is made of three or more adjoining colors anywhere on the color wheel.

They may be either warm or cool colors or a combination.

Analogous colors have automatic color harmony because they are adjoining colors.

I did this sea shell painting from actual shells that I set up. Their natural colors were in perfect harmony.

Sea Shells painted with analogous colors by artist Carol MaySea Shells

now it is your turn -

  • Make your own color wheel and color scheme templates.
  • May have many beautiful paintings!


learn more about painting

  1. Home
  2. Color Schemes

What's New

  1. Oil Painting Art Supplies

    Oil Painting Art Supplies

    Find answers to your questions about oil painting art supplies. What do you use for oil panting? What are the best oil paints? What brushes are best for oil painting? What are the basic colors for o…

    Read More

  2. Learn the basics of oil painting

    Learn how to oil paint with artist Carol May

    Find the answers to common questions beginners have about how to oil paint. What do you need to oil paint? What paints should you get and what brushes? How do you use oil paints? How long do they ta…

    Read More

  3. What is the advantage of Painting Daily

    Sunflowers, a daily painting

    Can painting daily really make you a better artist? Paint more often and don’t always strive for perfection. Artist Carol May shares how painting regularly will put your painting journey into overdr…

    Read More

  4. Learn a mixed media method to make "Awesome Paintings".

    White Peacock Butterfly painting by Carol May

    I did a series of awesome art paintings. When I took them to shows people would just rave. "What awesome paintings." They would ask me, "How do you do it?" You can do this easy painting technique an…

    Read More

  5. Types of Butterflies commonly seen in the United States

    Pictures and information that will help you identify some of the 30 different types of butterflies and moths commonly seen in the United States. It's fun to identify the butterfly types and learn more…

    Read More