Basic colour wheel colour theory explained – keeping it simple – put the ideas into practice straight away.
Do people keep referring to the colour wheel or colour theory without explaining what it is, why it’s helpful, or what it’s got to do with you? …confusing, right?
Only until it’s explained properly! When you understand basic colour wheel ideas, it’s like you’ve been let into a special artists’ club and get to find out all the colour secrets!
I didn’t properly understand about the artist’s colour wheel until I started training in interior design… it was a big ‘a-ha’ moment and suddenly everything ‘clicked’…
That’s what I want to share with you – how basic colour wheel colour theory can improve your art!
We’ll look together at the basic colour wheel – we’ll understand what it’s for and understand some simple colour terms before going on to see how basic colour wheel colour theory can help us choose colours for our drawings and artworks.
In this blog post, we’ll cover:
Understanding the Colour Wheel
All colour is made up from three colours. These are called the Primary colours:
Any colour at all in the world is made up of different combinations of red, yellow, and blue.
Equal amounts if any of the two primary colours make up the secondary colours.
Then, if equal amounts of the primary colour and the adjacent secondary colour are mixed, they create the tertiary colours.
In this way, the colour wheel builds up as below…
Warm & Cool Colours
The terms ‘warm’ and ‘cool’ colours are used a lot in art instruction and colour theory and are very useful to know about – so it’s really good to understand what they mean and how you can use this knowledge in your own art.
The terms let you know how the colours ‘feel’ – do they create a warm ‘feeling’ or a cool ‘feeling’?
Warm colours – are on the red and orange side of the colour wheel – ranging from red-violet through to yellow-green.
Cool colours – are on the blue side of the colour wheel – ranging from pure violet to pure green.
Think about an artwork of a sunset, with rich oranges, reds, and pinks – the artwork will give you a warm feeling. This is because of the warm colours used.
Now, think about an artwork of a winter scene filled with cool, frosty blues – the cool colours make the scene feel cold to you.
A little confusingly, individual colours can also be termed ‘cool’ or ‘warm’…
For example, a cool pink or red would be one that veered towards the cool side of the wheel - so it would be a purpley-red or purpley-pink.
A warm blue would be one that veered towards the red or orange side of the colour wheel – a purpley-blue is a warm blue compared to a ‘cool’ blue (a pure blue or teal blue/green-blue).
Note how in one of these examples, the purpley shade is called warm and in the other it’s called cool – this is because it’s named in relation to the main colour and not as an absolute – the purpley-blue is warmer than the pure blue, the purpley-red is cooler than the pure red.
You can buy colour wheels made of card and cut into a circle with another circular card attached.
These are really useful as they show you a whole range of tones of a single colour, not just the colour at full intensity as I’ve shown you on my basic colour wheel.
This makes it much easier to identify where the colours you’re using, or thinking of using, might fall on the colour wheel, and helps you to make accurate practical decisions around identifying colours. I whole-heartedly recommend you spend the small amount to invest in one.
The two cards turn and you can pick one colour from the colour wheel, turn the card, and see which other colours will work best with it. You can also use the colour wheel as a guide to mixing colours for your art – I’ll show you how to do this later.
Once you get the hang of using your colour wheel and colour theory, I think that you’ll find it really useful and it will help you a lot with mixing and selecting colours for your drawings and artworks.
I use mine all the time! If you would like to get one, make sure you buy an artist or interior design colour wheel and not one that’s used for web design (called an RGB colour wheel).
The RGB colour wheel is used for creating colours on computer monitors using the colours of the light spectrum (rather than paint colours).
The RGB colour wheel uses red, green, and blue as its primary colours (not red, yellow and blue like we want) – so avoid this unless you want some weird results! Look for an artist’s colour wheel instead!
Colour Mixing with the Wheel
This blog post is an extract from my free drawing resource 'Get Creative with Colour' where you can start learning about using the colour wheel to create a few simple colour schemes that can really get your art to 'pop'...
When you're ready to build further on this knowledge, I also have a more in-depth self-study course on Confident Colour & Composition to help you improve your art techniques with both colour use and composition - both vital to creating art that people love...
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