As an artist, you must be able to use colors in your art that are harmonious and pleasing to look at. You can do this well by using a color wheel.
So what is a color wheel? It’s a system which describes the relationship between colors. You can’t just choose random colors and put them together. Well, you can but it may hurt the eyes. That’s why it’s important to understand how to use a color wheel to pick good color combinations that work for your art.
Primary Secondary and Tertiary Relationship on a Color Wheel
The color wheel I’m talking about consist of 12 main colors as displayed in the image above. The primary, secondary and tertiary. Let’s take a closer look at each and their uses on the wheel.
Primary Colors – Red, Yellow, Blue
These are the original colors. All the other colors are derived from these three hues. You can’t mix any other colors to get a primary red, yellow or blue.
Secondary Colors – Orange, Green, Purple
Create these colors by mixing a primary with another primary. Use red and yellow to produce orange, red and blue to make purple, and yellow with blue to give green.
Tertiary Colors – Yellow-orange, Yellow-green, Blue-green, Blue-purple, Red-purple, Red-orange
These are tertiary because each comes from a blend of a primary and a secondary color. Yellow and green equal yellow-green, blue plus green is blue-green, blue and purple give blue-purple, red with purple create red-purple and so on.
So you see the relationship among these colors. Two primaries give a secondary. And a tertiary color is created by mixing a primary with a secondary. These are all the colors used to form the color wheel. Mix several combinations of their hues to create other versions of each color.
Understanding Certain Terms Used in Color Theory
Before moving on to the subject of color schemes in art, we need to address some other important terms in color theory. These are hue, value, saturation/desaturation, tint and shade.
Hue is how you describe individual colors. Example red hue, yellow hue, green hue. It’s basically just another word for color. So, if we have different hues of colors it means for example red, blue, green and so on. Look at that pear. Can you see a hue of orange in it?
Value is how light or dark a color is. In other words, how much black or white is present in it. You can see how much value a color has when viewed in black and white. A good value of colors will show a definite form of an image in black and white.
Saturation and desaturation is high and low density of colors. The more saturated a color is, the more color is present. Desaturation is the opposite. It has less color and some gray in it. On the color wheel saturated colors would push towards the bright intense area and desaturated goes more towards gray.
The best way for me to explain this is to show you. This is an example of saturated and desaturated green hues. The more green presented, the more saturated it is. Less green, less saturation.
Tint is basically making a color lighter by adding white to it. Here’s an example. If you take some red and mix it with a little white, you get a lightened red which is actually pink.
Here are a few more examples.
This is how dark a color is or how much black is in it. The opposite of tinting. In the examples below you can see dark shade of red, dark shade of blue, dark shade of purple and a dark shade of green.
How to Use a Color Wheel to Pick Harmonious Color Schemes
A color scheme is a coordination of colors that can be chosen from a color wheel. Now let’s learn about the different types of schemes and how and where to find them on the wheel.
Monochromatic color is a one hue scheme. It is of various tints and shades of the same color. For example, light green, dark green, saturated and desaturated greens etc. It’s all the shades of black, white and gray.
Analogous Color scheme
Colors that are next to each other and go in the same direction on the color wheel are analogous. They are very pretty because they have so much in common. Example yellow, yellow-green, and green.
Two colors across from each other on the wheel are complementary. Red and green complement each other. They look good together. By the way, when you mix complements, you get a neutral color like brown or black. Try it and see.
Choosing a dominant color and the two next to it’s complement is known as spit complementary. In this image red is the main color. The splits are blue-green and yellow-green which are next to green. You really ignore the complements in this case.
Tetradic colors are created by picking a main color and three others in the form of a rectangle or square. These are all pairs of complements.
Triad is similar to tetradic except in this method you pick colors in the form of a triangle. Again simply select a color on the wheel and create a triangle. The triangle should have equal sides.
Warm and Cool Colors
On the color wheel, warm colors are in the yellow to red-purple zone. Cool colors are in the yellow-green to purple area. Artists use warm and or cool colors to help create a certain atmosphere in their artwork. You should think about how and where you’re going to use warm and cool colors to express the mood in your picture scene. For example on a sunny day you may want to use a lot of yellows, oranges and reds to create that feeling of warmth or heat in the art. If the time is cold or rainy or if it’s in the evening, you may use a variety of dark shadowy colors like greens and blues. It all depends on the mood and feeling that you are trying to convey.
Picking colors that go together can be confusing. But after you learn how colors relate in color theory and mastered using a color wheel, you find that you are able to choose harmonious color schemes that make your art stand out.
I hope this basic color tutorial was helpful. Please spread the word and I’ll see you in the next.