Unlocking Colour Wheel Secrets

We have already confirmed how important it is to know the constitution of pigments and how the knowledge improves your watercolour skills. Now let us take it one step further:

Colour wheel secrets

A5 watercolour: Basically a yellow, green and blue analogous colour scheme, with burnt umber accents.

Unlocking colour wheel secrets:

If you use a specific combination of pigments you’ll get a particular range of hues, shades and special effects according to their constitution.

  • A combination of transparent cool intense pigments will give you beautiful fresh translucent washes of colour. Example: Rembrandt gamboge yellow and Perm Madder Lake, Winsor green and blue.
  • A combination of opaque pigments will make your painting look milky and smoky. Example: Naples yellow, cadmium red and manganese blue.
  • A combination of segmented pigments will give you dusty and grainy effects. Example: Winsor lemon yellow, Venetian or Indian red and cerulean blue.
  • A selection of earthy pigments will give you a muted range of colours. They are lovely to use when you want to tone down a colour that’s too bright perspectively. Example: Raw sienna, Light Red, burnt umber chrome oxide green and Indigo blue.
  • Subdued primaries: Raw sienna, brown madder alizarin and French ultramarine blue.
  • Delicate primaries: Aureolin yellow, rose madder Alizarin and cobalt blue.
  • Subtle energy colours: cadmium orange, cadmium red, manganese blue and Winsor yellow.

Exercise experience: If you make a simple colour wheel from each group, you will see what range of hues each of these combinations make.

Note: The example of pigments above, are only suggestions. If you had done the scrub and opaque test in the last blog chapter, you will have had some idea of which of your own pigments are transparent, opaque, segmented, etc.

How to make a basic colour wheel:

  1. It is made up of the three primary colours: yellow, red and blue, equally spaced apart.
  2. The secondary colours: orange, violet and green, are placed in between the primaries: Yellow and red make orange, yellow and blue make green, and red and blue make violet.
  3. The intermediate colours: are placed between a primary and a secondary. Example: yellow and green makes lime-green.
Colour wheel template

Cardboard colour wheel template.

It’s easy to make a colour wheel if you have a stencil template:

I made my colour wheel from a stiff piece of cardboard.

  1. I used small shirt buttons to get the size of the holes and then cut out the holes with a sharp blade.
  2. Notice the order of holes: The top hole should line up with the bottom hole (four holes in a row).
  3. I labelled the top hole yellow, like the sun high in the sky.
  4. The bottom hole will be the violet hole.
  5. Label the three primary colour holes, so you know where to begin filling in the colours. With red on the left and blue on the right.
  6. The six centre holes are filled in last (after you have filled in the primary, secondary and intermediate colours). They are for grey mixtures, made by mixing the complementary (opposite) colours together.
  7. When mixing the colours, don’t use colours straight out of tubes. Mix with a little water to an even consistency. Note some pigments are weaker intensity.
  8. To get the right hue balance, mix colours 50:50 in ratio, eg: 50% yellow to that of 50% blue to make true green.
  9. My colour wheels (see illustration) were based on Winsor and Newton’s quality control grading. AA been absolute permanent colours. S1 referring to cheapest range.
  10. Because my illustration is only a photo copy, you can’t actually see the texture quality of the pigments. That you will need to discovery for yourself, by experimenting with your own pigments.
Colour wheels

Simple colour wheel examples

Concluding remarks:

All these colour wheel exercises may seem a waste of time, but let me tell you, I thought so too years ago until I did it. Then, WOW!! I WISHED I HAD DONE IT SOONER.

I love colour. Especially the rainbow effects of colour wheels. Some pigment combinations give your painting a mellow old world appearance and some combinations give you such beautiful mottle effects. You feel you can create any mood you wish with this all-embracing knowledge!

I have a general basic palette that I use, but when doing a commission, I select and make up a personal colour wheel for each of my clients, to make sure I get the right range of hues and shades to suit their desired décor colour scheme and mood to suit their particular vision, portrait skin tones, etc.

Have fun experimenting with your colour wheels.

ADA FAGAN is the author of this website.
It is her aim to inspire artists, from all over the world.
Not only supplying advice, but also how to exploit their own creative skills beyond their wildest imagination!

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