color wheel

learning about color

what is a color wheel?

The renowned physicist Isaac Newton of the 1600s first devised the color wheel.

We probably know about him because he was most famous for explaining gravity.

Artists today use this color circle based on twelve colors.

As an artist, it is the basis for our understanding of color.

We use it to select paint colors for our palette.

We use it when choosing colors for a painting.

We use it when we mix colors while we are painting.

Color gives life to our paintings, so let's delve into the color.

The color wheel is basic to the painting artist.Color Wheel

understanding color

what are the primary colors?

Artists use the primary color wheel based on the three colors; red, yellow 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 primary colors.

The primary colors, red, yellow and bluePrimary Colors

what are the secondary colors?

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

Yellow and red make orange.

Yellow and blue make green.

And blue and red make purple or violet.

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

how do you make a tertiary color?

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

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

The six tertiary colors also include; yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange, violet-red, blue-violet and blue-green.

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

using color in our paintings

There are warm colors and cool colors on the color wheel.

Red, orange and yellow are considered warm colors. They appear to advance forward in the painting.

Blue, green and sometimes violet are normally considered cool. They recede into the distance.

How do we create distance in our paintings?

We normally do our paintings on a two dimensional surface of canvas or paper.

When we look into the distance colors get lighter. They also get cooler. Suppose we have a yellow field of flowers. Even though yellow is a warm color, it will get cooler as it goes into the distance.

How do we create the illusion of distance and depth in our two dimensional painting?

We do this by using warm colors up close  and cool colors for the distance.

In the painting "Springtime" warm colors show that sunlight is shining on the mountains.

The addition of blue moves the mountains into the distance.

creating forms in our paintings

How do we show the form of an object?

Paint the main part of the object that comes toward us with a warmer color.

We painted cooler and darker colors on the edge of the mangoes to show them turning away from our view.

But you say red and orange are both warm colors. You are correct. However orange is a bit warmer than red and yellow is warmer than orange.

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.

selecting colors for our palette

What does this knowledge help us select paint colors for our palette?

We need a warm and cool version of all our colors.

I use a warm and cool version of each of the six basic colors of the color wheel.

These colors appear in nature in the rainbow.

I based my palette colors on the colors of the rainbow.

I use a warm and cool version of the six rainbow colors on my palette.The rainbow colors

Using a limited palette

Using a limited palette is a great way to learn about color. Oil painters may use the primary colors of Cadmium Yellow Light, Alizarin Crimson and Ultramarine Blue.

There are many variations of this, but with the primary colors and the addition of white all other colors can be mixed. Some artists add grey or black to their palette. To me black is a dead color. I prefer to mix my darks.

It could be advantageous to have a warm and cool version of each of the primaries.

We don't have to buy all the colors in the art store when we understand the color wheel and how to mix colors.


Enjoy your colors and have fun painting!

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