How to make your own Color Wheel

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Regardless of the medium an artist uses, a color wheel is a useful and handy tool to have.

Posted on a nearby wall, it is a quick reference for the experienced artist and a learning tool for the beginning student.

Creating a color wheel of the paints in one’s own tabouret far exceeds the usefulness of a purchased, all-purpose wheel.

Seeing how the paints in the artist’s palette interact with each other gives him greater insight in how to best use his own colors in combination.

An artist may have more than one color wheel, each based on a group of paints that he uses in his paintings. This is why a one-size-fits-all color wheel from a single paint manufacturer is less useful than a custom wheel. Creating a color wheel is an easy project, and the beginning student will learn from its creation how his paints will blend in different combinations.

Drawing A Pie Chart Is A Piece Of Cake

Use a white support for the wheel, as a tinted surface will affect the colors. An acrylic painter or a watercolorist should use a scrap piece of watercolor paper or cardboard stock, as they are thick enough to have minimal buckling. An artist who uses oil paints can use a canvas board or paper canvas. Paper canvas is a heavy paper that is coated and textured to replicate a canvas surface. It is treated so the oils will not stain the area; therefore, the artist has a permanent record he can pin to his studio wall.

Use a plate or other round household item to draw a circle on the support. Then divide the circle into 12 wedges. Yes, this is a math test. Extra points will be given to the student who has equally sized segments.

Label the segments in order, with the following colors:

  • Red
  • Red-Orange
  • Orange
  • Yellow-Orange
  • Yellow
  • Yellow-Green
  • Green
  • Blue-Green
  • Blue
  • Blue-Purple
  • Purple
  • Red-Purple

Color Theory Is Not Theoretical

The artist will select three primary colors from his paint box. Yellow, Red and Blue are the primary colors. There may be a number of each in a well-stocked paint box, so which ones to select is a decision the artist has to make.

Primary Colors

For the basic color wheel, select a true, vivid lemon yellow that has no orange or green tint to it. Select a red that has no orange or blue tint, and a blue that has no undertone of violet or green.

Use a generous amount of paint when creating the color wheel. It will not do to have pastel tones for this exercise, even if the artist prefers light colors. The exercise is to show the colors at their maximum saturation.

Use the three colors and paint the suitably named segments. Color inside the lines for more bonus points.

Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are the result of mixing two primary colors together. Combine Red with Yellow, Yellow with Blue, and Blue with Red to create the secondary colors.

These colors will be mixed with equal quantities of the primary shades. Fill the appropriately named wedges with the resulting color combinations. It is very important to clean the brush thoroughly between color combinations to prevent residual paint spoiling the mixture.

Tertiary Colors

A tertiary color is the combining of a secondary with a primary color and is made from blending equal parts of the two. Combine Red with Orange, Orange with Yellow, Yellow with Green, Green with Blue, Blue with Purple and Purple with Red to form this third set of colors for the color wheel. Paint these into the properly labeled wedges and the wheel is complete.

Is It Red Or Is It Magenta?

Now that the student has created a basic color wheel, he can develop other wheels for various color groups. As an artist grows in confidence with color theory and color selection, he may find that he favors different sets of color for different applications. Floral paintings may have one set of preferred colors, while landscapes have a different grouping of paints that the artist favors. It is useful to have color wheels for these often-used sets of paint as well.

Shades And Tints

A related exercise is the effects of white and black on a color. A tint is the result of the addition of white to a color, and a shade is the result of adding black to a color.

To examine the effects of white and black on colors, draw a grid on a support. In the center of each horizontal row, paint a color at full strength. In each square to the left, the artist will paint the result of mixing white to the color, adding more white for each square until the white paint has the barest hint of color. To the right of the center square, each position will be filled with paint to which increasing amounts of black has been added. The final square will be black that has a colored undertone.

The mind’s eye is faulty, and the colors we remember may not be accurate.
By having the wheels posted nearby, the artist can easily refresh his memory and be able to make decisions regarding his color choices more easily.

Color theory can be confusing for the student, but should not put off the beginning artist. Knowing the basic rules allows the artist more freedom to make good choices in portraying his subject the way he wishes them to appear.

Learning the color wheel is an excellent way to get started on the lifetime journey of becoming an artist.

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