take the stress out of choosing the painting color schemes for your artwork

  • Select your painting color schemes with the secrets of color selection.

Artist 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 painting 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 and peace in viewing 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

learn the secrets of color selection

Over 20 years ago, I learned this method of selecting the colors for each individual painting. Today the method still works for me.

first - you need a color wheel

You may purchase a color wheel.

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

You are familiar with the colors you commonly use in your paintings.

So when you choose colors from your homemade color wheel, you know exactly what colors to use in each painting.

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

second - make some color templates

Color Scheme TemplatesColor Scheme Templates
  • Make templates of the painting color schemes artists use today.

You can use any type of paper. These templates were cut out of newsprint.

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

These are the templates I made years ago. And I still use them today.

See the templates in larger sizes to make your own templates.

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

(The examples are the giraffe above and the turtle below.)

My second favorite is the Split Compliment template.

now choose your painting colors

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

#1 - Choose the Main Color

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

Complimentary plus a half right is one of my favorite painting color schemes, artist Carol May

#2 - Choose a Complimentary color

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

#3 - Choose an additional color

Yellow was great for the sunlight areas of the painting. Some painting color schemes may include another color or two like in an analogous scheme.

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

#4 - 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 scheme will keep you on track and give you a beautiful, harmonious paintings.

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popular artist's painting 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 painting of a Baby OrangutanBaby Orangutan
  • 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.

It was painted with Quinacridone Sienna. The addition of its compliment, (Ultramarine Blue) made the black and neutral shades.

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.

complimentary colors

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

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.

The red-violet mixed with the yellow-green gave the darker leaves. The mixture also gave the neutral colors for the background.

White softened the colors for a lovely rose painting.

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

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

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


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

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.


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

Using Semi-triad Colors for a flower paintingAzalea Flowers

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

Sea Shells painted with analogous colors by artist Carol MaySea Shells

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.

now it is your turn -

Make your own color wheel and painting color scheme templates.

and enjoy beautiful, harmonious paintings!

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