• Claire Tolles

The Color Wheel: Why it Matters

Updated: Feb 6, 2021

Not sure why your art doesn't have the right feel? Could be a problem with your colors. Ever tried purple?




Colors you think don't belong in your piece are actually hiding in the shadows--literally.

Lots of artists create beautiful masterpieces with little to no knowledge of the color wheel. That's all well and good until you start drawing more realistic pieces--people, still life, landscapes. Colors you think don't belong in your piece are actually hiding in the shadows--literally.


The centerpiece of this idea is the color wheel. Even a basic knowledge of color theory will help you gain a better understanding of how to make your art pop!


Let's start with the primary colors. If you've don't know what I'm talking about, that's okay; the primary colors are yellow, red, and blue. They are effectively 'base' colors. You cannot mix any other colors to get primary colors. If you're running low on paints, no stress. As long as you have red, blue, and yellow (and white) you can make any color you want!


The secondary colors are purple, green, and orange--they are mixtures of the primary colors (ie. blue + yellow, yellow + red, and red + blue). On the color wheel, the secondary colors sit between the primary colors, forming complementary colors or 'opposites'. The opposite of blue is orange which sits directly across the wheel.


Complementary colors are very important when you want to work with dark and light. For example, say you're painting a face and you want to make shadows 'cooler'. Instead of using a dark brown--which will make the piece appear flat--you should use a blue or purple that compliments the warm colors of the face.


Tertiary colors are mixtures of the secondary and primary colors: yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green...etc. It can go on forever.


Though it may appear confusing at first, the color wheel is actually very simple and systematic. Once you understand how to use the complementary colors to your advantage, you can achieve a higher level of artistic understanding.

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