Using a Color Wheel to Make Color Choices

35-color-wheel-image.jpgWe all love color. It’s one of the most seductive components of painting. When used with understanding and sensitivity, it can lead to successful results. When left unchecked, on the other hand, it can easily become disturbing and appear artificial.

As I discussed in previous blogs, pastel artists can gain considerable color confidence by experimenting with mixing paint, and studying the science of color theory. This is not to encourage a dependency on a mechanical system but rather to better strengthen the intuition we use when painting.

When we look at our subject matter, things share a relationship. Objects relate to each other, sharing the same light source (see my earlier blog on this). This produces a natural harmony and a sense of rightness. Since painting is an illusion, a trick if you will, we have to capture that natural sense to the best of our ability, and we’re hindered by visual prejudice. We associate colors to objects and let that symbolic association guide us when making color choices. Skies are blue, trees green, and people pink. A color scene, arranged from a color wheel, can help in making harmonious color choices.

Many commercially available color wheels have common color arrangements indicated, such as analogous, complementary, triadic, and split complement (discordant). By choosing a dominant color for the painting, and selecting it on the wheel, we can quickly see these relationships and make our pastel selections accordingly. However, the color wheel is not the absolute truth, telling us what colors we must choose, but a tool. By employing these color schemes, color confidence will be built—leading to a heightened sensitivity for the natural color harmony all around us. Many of us remember the first time we painted a hillside with the guidance and influence of an instructor. Our eyes were opened to the variety of greens before us. After that experience, it became easier to witness these subtle variations.

By employing a color scheme derived from a color wheel, you’ll be able to strengthen your natural intuition and, after time, be able to simply experience the scene and make wise choices. This will lead to a successful harmonious outcome.

My painting, Fall Textures (above; pastel 12×16), used a color scheme of split complement (discord). Dominate colors are purple, blue-purple and red-purple. Complementary colors are yellow-green, and split-complements (discords) are blue-green and yellow-orange.

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2 thoughts on “Using a Color Wheel to Make Color Choices

  1. Dennis E. Hanson

    I too am a beginning pastel student. I have been enjoying reading all of your blog entries. I can only echo Sarah’s THANK YOU for all of the blog work and articles you have shared with us.

    I know that I benefit from each and every one of your blog entries.

  2. Sarah Young

    I’m a beginning pastel artist and want to THANK YOU for your blog!
    It’s really benefited me greatly! I hope someday to take one of your workshops. All of your work is absolutely beautiful! I soak everything up I can get my hands on.
    Please keep the wonderful info coming and thanks!
    Sarah Young

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