As pastel artists, it’s in our best interest to acquire knowledge of how colors interact when mixed. The first step in gaining color confidence is to develop an understanding of the color wheel. It shows the relationship of individual colors derived from light (Sir Isaac Newton in the 17th century proved scientifically that light held the full ?spectrum of color). Today there are two common wheels in use: the “Triadic,” which consists of three primary colors, and the “Munsell,” which consists of five (I’ll discuss in-depth their individual ?characteristics in next week’s post). A few of the relationships we need to understand are: analogous, complementary, split complement, and discordant. Having an understanding of these and how they create different effects in our paintings will help us to better control the appearance of color and create color harmony in our paintings.
Even if you never plan on painting with anything but pastel, it’s advisable to experiment with wet paint. As any wet media artist can attest, learning how to mix individual hues to arrive at specific tones takes trial and error. Individual pigments have their own personalities and, when mixed with others, often lead to exciting outcomes. If you’ve never worked with a wet medium, I recommend oil. It stays wet and allows for prolonged mixing and experimenting. Buy a minimum of four tubes: yellow (cadmium yellow light), red (cadmium red or napthol red), blue (ultramarine blue), and white (titanium or a ?mixed white). Other combinations may be used, but these colors work well and are readily available at most art supply stores. Place them on a palette; glass works well and is easily cleaned. Then, experiment—play and mix with abandon, taking note of the effects. Over time you’ll become more comfortable with the characteristics of color, leading to a stronger intuitive response when next you work with dry pastels.
In the photo above, I’ve arranged mixed colors that represent the color wheel on a glass palette. I mixed them all using one yellow, red and blue. I added white around the perimeter and colors were mixed across the wheel in increments to show the natural graying of complementary colors.