the color wheel

master color with the color wheel,
the artists' favorite tool and best friend

  • Artists use the color wheel to create beautiful, successful paintings.

how do we use color?

  • Color creates emotions in our paintings.
  • Color gives the illusion of depth in our paintings.
  • We use warm and cool colors to shape forms. 
  • We select the paints for our palette according to color.
  • Color is our guide to mixing our paints.

color is just plain fun!

what is a color wheel?

The renowned physicist Isaac Newton gave us the color wheel in the 1600s.

He was famous for explaining gravity, but he also devised the theory of light and color.

He noticed when light goes through a prism, it is divided into the colors of the rainbow.

The seven rainbow colors are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and purple.

Today's color wheel is based on twelve colors.

The color wheel is the artists' best friend.

Artists have been using their knowledge of color to improve their paintings ever since.

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let's delve into color

what are the primary colors?

Today artists use the primary color wheel based on the three primary colors yellow, red 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 three primary colors.

The primary colors, red, yellow and bluePrimary Colors

the secondary colors

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

Mix yellow and red and you get orange.

Yellow and blue mixed together make green.

A mixture of blue and red make purple, also called violet.

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

what are tertiary colors?

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

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

If we go to the other side of yellow and mix it with the secondary orange, we get yellow-orange.

The tertiary colors are; yellow-green, yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet and blue-green.

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

Learn more about the Color Wheel from Wikipedia


boost your painting skills with the color wheel

warm and cool colors

The color wheel contains warm colors and cool colors.

Red, orange and yellow are considered warm colors.

The warm colors appear to advance forward in the painting.

Blue, green and sometimes violet are normally considered cool colors.

Cool colors appear to recede into the distance.


warm and cool colors

create distance in your paintings

Paintings are usually done on a two dimensional surface, such as canvas or paper.

We use color to create the illusion of distance and depth in our two dimensional paintings.

  • Colors get lighter and cooler when they move into the distance.

Use warm colors up close in the foreground portions of the painting.

Use cool colors for the distance.

In the painting "Springtime" warm colors show the sunlight shining on the mountains. Adding blue and lightening the colors moves the mountains into the distance.


use color to Contour the form of objects

  • Paint the part of an object that comes toward the viewer with warm colors.
  • Paint the parts of an object that turn away from the viewer with cooler colors.

Cooler and darker colors on the edge of the mangoes show them turning away from our view.

But you say, yellow, orange and red are all warm colors. You are correct. Yellow is the warmest color. The less yellow in a color, the cooler it gets. So red is the coolest.

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.



select your paint colors

  • Use a warm and cool version of each of the six basic colors of the color wheel.

These are the natural colors found in the rainbow.

When you include a warm and cool version of the six basic colors, it is easier to mix additional colors.

Examples of the colors on my watercolor and oil palettes

limited palette

Using a limited palette of the primary colors (yellow, red and blue) is a great way to learn about color.

  • Use Cadmium Yellow Light, Permanent Rose or Cadmium Red medium and Ultramarine Blue, plus white.

An expanded palette of a warm and cool version of each primary makes it easier to mix other colors.

  • There is no need for black on your palette. It is easy to mix black, brown or grey from complimentary colors on the color wheel.


a great tool for artist

Use the color wheel to select the colors for your paint palette.

We use it to choose color schemes for individual paintings.

We use it for mixing colors while we are painting.

Color gives life to our paintings.


the color wheel is our key to beautiful paintings




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  • Choose Paint Colors for each painting

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  • Choosing Paint Colors for your palette

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