This page follows on from my Basic Colour Wheel Colour Theory blog post which covers understanding the artists’ colour wheel, terms such as warm and cool colours, plus discussion about using the colour wheel for artist colour mixing techniques for a variety of drawing materials - nip back there for a quick recap if you need one..!
With a colour wheel, we can make colour selection simple – we don’t have to worry about the colours that we choose clashing or looking ugly together!
The colour wheel does all the hard work and you just get to creatively decide which colour options you prefer for your artwork.
We’ll look, here, at some very simple, tried-and-tested colour palettes that you can use for your art.
Just because they’re simple, don’t dismiss them – simple colour selections can be the most effective and with the most impact. And they’re easy to get right and guaranteed to work!
So let’s get familiar with some colour palettes that you can use with confidence in your artwork.
So, we already discussed using colours next to each other or close together on the colour wheel to mix new colours for our art - check back if you need a reminder…
Colours Close Together
These colours are called ‘harmonious colours’ or sometimes ‘analogous colours’.
They are colours that are next to or nearby on the colour wheel. This means they are similar to each other. An example would be tones of yellow and orange together – or blues and greens.
You can also add a few neutrals (blacks, whites, grays and browns) into your artwork somewhere.
Using harmonious colours means that your artwork will look calm and balanced and the colours will work well together.
This is ideal for calm landscapes, relaxing florals, subtle portraits etc – anything where you want the overall look and feel to be harmonious and balanced.
You might choose to use just two to three colours together - or span almost half the colour wheel with a large range of colours.
Keep these points in mind:
If you want your artwork to be bold, exciting – with a more dramatic feel, you can choose to create a contrasting colour palette – also called using a ‘complementary colour’ or ‘contrasting colour’.
For this idea, you will need to use colours that are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel for artists.
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For more unusual colour palettes, take a step away from the primary/secondary colours of the colour wheel and instead go for a tertiary colour selection.
These are far more subtle and interesting – but just as impactful:
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This is a very simple colour palette for your artwork – but so dramatic!
Use it for when you want your art to be exciting – or to make a certain element in your art really ‘pop’ or stand out.
Use this technique carefully and make sure that you vary quantities and tone of your colours to make it work.
If you used equal amounts of orange and blue of the same tone in your artwork, the two colours would compete and visually create a ‘strobe’ or ‘flicker’ effect when you looked at it.
This might be the effect you want for your art – a sense of tension or being unsettled. If it’s not, decide to use one of the colours in a greater amount and the other in small quantities, perhaps for the most important parts of your artwork – these will really catch the eye then!
You could also vary the tone across the two colours – use one of the colours in a mid-tone and one dark – or use one very dark and strong against a paler background…
Or vice versa! It’s your art – experiment and make something different!
If you choose to use this artist colour wheel colour combination for your art, add in neutrals (whites, blacks, grays, browns) to make your colour choices really pop.
Or work with the colour harmonies that we’ve just looked at to create a balanced and ‘harmonious’ background to this colour ‘pop’.
This allows you to use a wider selection of colours and you can get an artwork that’s overall balanced and calm but with a moment of excitement or ‘pop’ – a focal point that draws the viewer’s attention.
Always remember to work with the tones in your drawing or artwork too – what’s light, dark, or mid-toned? See the section on light and shade in the Learn to Draw/Start Drawing PDF to see why this is important.
The final colour wheel artist colour palette that we’ll look at is all about using tones.
Using a Tonal Scheme
In some ways it’s the simplest colour palette – but in other ways, it’s more difficult to get right – as it does rely on your understanding of tone or light and shade.
This is the ‘monochromatic’ colour scheme. This is selecting just one colour from your colour wheel to be your artist colour palette.
This might seem a little odd. But actually, it’s not dissimilar to drawing with just a pen, pencil, or charcoal.
Here, it’s the depth of tone – the darks – and the contrast with the highlights – the lightest areas – as well as the relationship with the ‘middles’ that will make your artwork come to life.
It’s a really useful exercise to try and it will improve your artwork a lot if you master light and shade.
You can also use the monochromatic (one colour) artist colour scheme together with the neutrals like black, white and grey.
Lightly done – by that I mean don’t overdo the amount of colour – a pop of colour against a neutral background can create a real impact – very dramatic!
So, there’s some very useful tips and techniques for using the colour wheel for artist colour palettes that work. Try these for yourself in your next artwork and you’ll see you can’t really go too far wrong!
Combine these colour wheel techniques with a colour that you’re crazy about and see how your art starts to be transformed.
I’ll be covering more advanced colour wheel techniques for artists in my colour and composition online course.
Have fun choosing colours from your colour wheel and selecting colour schemes for your art – stay creative and curious and enjoy the ride!
Want more help with your colour?
Flowers & Floral
Learning To Draw & Art Skills
Myth Meaning Folklore
Nature And Wildlife Art
Offers And Freebies
Surface Pattern Design
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