Which Color Wheel to Use?

34-which-wheel.jpgAs discussed in the previous blog, understanding color theory and how it applies to our paintings is invaluable. I’m not going to attempt to explain every theory associated with the study of color. What I would like to share is an explanation of the basic artist’s color wheel and how it can be used to strengthen our paintings. Since pastel artists don’t have to mix individual pigments to achieve a variety of hue, value and chroma, it’s easy to ignore this information, often leading to disastrous outcomes.

Arriving at the art store and confronting the color wheel choices can be daunting. The most prevalent is the simple Triadic wheel with its three primary colors. It has worked well for centuries and is a good place to begin. Its primaries of  yellow, blue and red are easily understood and simple to apply. There are many commercially available Triadic wheels on the market with most showing complementary, analogous and split complementary (or discordant) color relationships. 

The other color wheel you’ll run across is the Munsell. Around the turn of the last century, a problem occurred when printers attempted to reproduce a full spectrum of color in printing. They simply couldn’t do it with the three basics from the Triadic wheel. This led Professor Albert H. Munsell, through study of “human visual responses to color,” to create what’s referred to as “a color space,” consisting of three-color dimensions: hue, value (lightness) and chroma (color brightness or purity). He concluded that to represent color accurately, there had to be five primary colors: yellow, green, blue, purple and red. This led to the adoption of cyan, magenta, yellow and black (CMYK color space) for printing. Cyan is a blue-green, magenta is a red-purple, and with yellow, they represent the five primaries he advocated. This is still the system used in all press run printing  today.

Whether you choose the Triadic or Munsell color wheel, acquiring an understanding of color relationships will prove a worthwhile exercise. In the next blog I’ll discuss color systems from the wheel and provide a few tips for using them to create stronger paintings.

The Triadic wheel (shown in the photo) is available from The Color Wheel Company (Tel: 541-929-7526, www.colorwheelco.com). The Munsell Analogous Color Wheel from is available from Art Video Productions (Tel: 877-227-8843, www.artvideo.com)—sold by Dakota Art Pastels.



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2 thoughts on “Which Color Wheel to Use?

  1. Elsie H. Wilson

    Dear Richard,
    Thanks so much for this blog article.
    I read it several weeks ago and then ordered one of the Triadic Wheels via Dakota Art Pastels. It came yesterday and I’m delighted.
    I know it will be a good tool. I have other color wheels, but this one is unique and is so suited to pastel use.
    Elsie Wilson

  2. ursula barril

    I am looking madly for a
    Munsell color wheel and cannot find one anywhere. Dakota Art doesn’t carry them. or at least that’s what they told me. Can you help me find ont please.