take the stress out of choosing
the color schemes for your paintings

Select your color schemes with the secrets of color selection.

Artists love color But -
there is such a bewildering array of colors!

what's the answer?

  • Limit the number of colors in each painting.

A good color scheme will use only three or four colors for each painting.

Your paintings will have more cohesion and harmony. Your viewers will find pleasure in looking at your paintings.

Any additional colors are then mixed.

Your paintings will exhibit color harmony because the additional colors are mixed from your original color scheme.

Selecting art Color Schemes for your paintings by Carol MayCreate harmonious paintings

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the secrets of color selection

first - you need a color wheel

  • The best option is to paint a color wheel from the colors on your palette.

Or get a ready-made color wheel from Amazon

Make a color wheel with the colors from your palette paint colorsPaint the colors from your palette

second - make some color templates

  • Make templates of the common color schemes painting artists use today.

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

Pictured here are the templates I made years ago. And I still use them today for every painting.

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

The second most used template is the Split Compliment.

you're ready to choose your painting colors

  • Try each template over your color wheel to find one that suits your individual painting.

After you select a color scheme, you will know what colors to use from your palette.

choose the main color

Here the main subject was the turtle. Burnt sienna, a red-orange was his dominant color.

choose a complimentary color

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

choose a third color

Yellow was great for the sunlight areas of the painting. Some color schemes may include another color or two.

Complimentary plus a half right is one of my favorite painting color schemes, artist Carol MayCompliment + One Half Left

how to get ready to paint

  • Clip the template to your color wheel.
  • Refer to it and lay out the selected colors on your palette.

The color schemes will keep you on track and give you beautiful, harmonious paintings.

popular painting artist's color schemes

These have been my go-to color schemes for over twenty years and I am happy to share.

  • Let your artistic license run wild.
  • Painting is fun!


  • Monochromatic paintings are done with only one color.

White will give you various tints of the color.

Adding black will create various shades of the color.

This orangutan is basically orange, so it is the closest monochromatic painting from my current work.

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

Monochromatic paintings teach us to see and use values in our 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.

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

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

White softened the colors for a lovely rose painting.

Using Complimentary Colors for a flower painting of white roses by artist Carol MayPeace

double compliment

Here I used the same two compliments as 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 yellow.

The addition of purple gave more depth to the darks.

Some artists call this a rectangular color scheme.

split compliment

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

Here I chose orange and new gamboge yellow with ultramarine blue.

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

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

Move two spaces left or right for your third color.

Any additional colors in the painting are mixed.

Orange and blue are mixed to create the browns in the wren.

The green leaves are mixed with the yellow and blue.

Compliment plus a half right used for a wren with morning glory flowersWren with Morning Glories

Compliment plus a right half and compliment plus a half left (the turtle painting) are my favorite color schemes.


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.

This painting uses 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


The semi-triad painting color schemes use two primary colors with the addition of a secondary color.

Primary colors are always ideal for mixing other colors.

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

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 join each other on the color wheel.

This sea shell painting was done from actual shells. 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 painting color scheme templates.

may you have many beautiful paintings!

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