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Did you know?
       "Learning how to make a color wheel
        is by far the best lesson
        of watercolor painting."

 

 
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        a color wheel displaying primary, secondary, and tertiary colors


The Color Wheel

  • What is a color wheel?
  • The Primary colors
  • The Secondary colors
  • The Tertiary colors
  • How to make a color wheel with watercolor



To fully understand color and how to use it in your paintings, it's best if you start at the beginning and learn the basics of the color wheel. On this page I will break down the structure of the color wheel into the simplest of terms to help get you started, but if you are serious about watercolor painting, and wish to be successful at it, then I highly recommend exploring these books on color.


What is a Color Wheel?
  The color wheel is a circular display of 12 hues of color arranged according to their relationship to one another.

An Artist's Color Wheel, like the one shown here, is comprised using the primary colors of yellow, red, and blue.
color wheel displayed  
Learning how to use and navigate through the color wheel will not only help you with mixing colors, but also for selecting colors in your paintings.
 

The Colors of the Color Wheel

The color wheel is divided into three main color groups.

 
The Primary Colors
The Secondary Colors
The Tertiary Colors
 
  The first group, known as
The Primary Colors,
consist of three colors; Yellow, Red, and Blue. Named primary, as there are no two colors that can be mixed to create these colors.
  The second group, known as
The Secondary Colors,
also consist of three colors; Orange, Violet, and Green. These colors are made by mixing equal amounts of two primary colors located closest to each other on the color wheel.
  The third group, known as
The Tertiary Colors,
consist of six colors; Yellow Green, Yellow Orange, Red Orange, Red Violet, Blue Violet, and Blue Green. These colors are made by mixing a secondary color with the closest primary color on the wheel.
illustration showing primary colors

Yellow
Red           Blue
illustration showing secondary colors

Orange       Green
Violet
illustration showing tertiary colors

Yellow Green  
Yellow Orange
   Red Orange
 Red Violet
Blue Violet
Blue Green
How to Make a Color Wheel with Watercolor


You will want to gather the following list of supplies.

 
Template
with various size circles, or other circular shaped objects that will give you three different sized circles.





Pencil
a technical with lead size .5mm or .7mm, or a no. 2 graphite school pencil.

display of supplies

Eraser
a Kneaded eraser, or other artist eraser that will not mar your paper.


Paper
a 7" x 7" (17.8cm x 17.8cm) piece of Arches 140lb. cold pressed watercolor paper, or a brand of paper that you plan to paint on.





Large Circular Shape
a blank cd disc, or other round object to trace out a circle shape.
 
 
  The Drawing
 
 
 


Step 2.  A  Circles
Using the largest of your three circular shapes, draw the three primary circles positioned as shown in the example.
  Step 1.

Place your cd disc, or chosen circular shape, in the center of your paper and with your pencil lightly trace around the disc.

illustration showing placement of circles
 

When you are finished with your drawing, take your kneaded eraser and press down on each of the circle shapes. This will remove all the excess graphite from your pencil lines. Continue pressing until you have a pale design of all 12 of the circles remaining.
 
Step 3.  B  Circles
With the medium size of your three circular shapes, draw the three secondary circles positioned as shown in the example.

Step 4.  C  Circles
With the smallest of your three circular shapes, draw the six tertiary circles positioned as shown in the example.
 
 
  The Paints
 
 
  Select a yellow, red, and blue watercolor.  
 
three tubes of paint
  If you are already familiar with watercolor, then you probably have a good idea on which yellow, red, and blue you would like to use.

If you are new to watercolor, you can browse through these  color wheel examples  and select a yellow, red, and blue according to colors that most appeal to you.
 
 
 
  The Colors
 
 
 
Mixing your primary puddles of color.
  Begin by making three separate medium sized puddles; one yellow, one red, and one blue.
Make the value of each puddle approximately a medium value.
 
 
Illustration showing placement of primary colors

large puddles of yellow, red, and blue
 
Yellow
New Gamboge - a warm, transparent, non-staining yellow.


Red
Permanent Rose - a vivid, cooler, transparent, non-staining red, that's actually more pink than red.


Blue
French Ultramarine Blue - a warm, semi-transparent, non-staining blue, with beautiful sediment.


Mixing your secondary puddles of color.



 
puddles yellow and red mixed to make orange
Orange
Illustration showing placement of secondary colors


puddles red and blue mixed to make violet
Violet
puddles yellow and blue mixed to make green
Green
  Orange
To mix your orange, take quite a few brush loads of your chosen yellow, and place in a well as shown. Rinse out your brush and blot well. Take the same amount of brush loads from your chosen red, and place them in a separate well as shown. Now mix those two wells together to make one.

Violet
To mix your violet, follow the same instructions as when making the orange, but substituting the yellow with blue.

Green
To mix your green, follow the same instructions as when making the orange, but substituting the red with blue.


Mixing your tertiary puddles of color.



 
yellow-orange
orange mixed with more yellow and red
red-orange
Illustration showing placement of tertiary colors


red-violet
violet mixed with more red and blue
blue-violet


yellow-green
green mixed with more yellow and blue
blue-green
  Yellow  Orange
To mix your yellow orange, take several brush loads of your chosen yellow, and place in a well as shown. Rinse out your brush and blot well. Take the same amount of brush loads from your orange puddle, and place them in a separate well as shown. Now mix those two wells together to make your yellow orange.

Red  Orange
To mix your red orange, repeat as above using red and orange.

Red  Violet
To mix your red violet, repeat as above using red and violet.

Blue  Violet
To mix your blue violet, repeat as above using blue and violet.

Blue  Green
To mix your blue green, repeat as above using blue and green.

Yellow  Green
To mix your yellow green, repeat as above using yellow and green.


The Color Wheel Finished.



 
 

Illustration of finished color wheel

After you have filled in all the circles with your primary, secondary, and tertiary colors, your color wheel should resemble the one to the left.

Explore more color possibilities with other primary colors. Keep your color wheels safe within a folder to use for future reference when selecting colors for your paintings.




 
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