A basic understanding of colour theory and the colour wheel is essential for every artist and can increase the possibilities for your work. Colours are, after all, one of the basic tools of painting.
VALUE – is about changing the lightness or darkness of a colour e.g. adding black or white.
SATURATION – is about altering the brightness or dullness of a colour.
Adding violet to yellow makes it duller, but being an already extremely bright colour, it cannot be more saturated than it already is. Add yellow to green and it’s a different story.
A common discussion amongst artists is whether or not to use tube black or mix your own. It’s entirely individual and doesn’t make you a bad artist if you chose to use pre-mixed. Life is too short to be stressing over such things; I myself prefer tube black but have created my own at times when I’ve not had any tube black available.
So here’s how to make your own- Mix together all three primary colours, yellow, red and blue it’s as simple as that, black is made up of all colours. The type of blue, red and yellow you use however can have a massive effect on the final outcome i.e. French ultramarine blue is going to create a better black than say a cerulean or cobalt blue. A really good recipe for black if you have these colours on hand; a deep ultramarine blue, a deep green, and a deep violet. That will give you a cool black, so you will need to add a dash of a warmer colour like orange or red if you want to create a gray from your black.
We often hear about colour wheels and they are a great tool to an artist who is still learning about colour mixing. I advocate making your own colour wheel rather than trying to follow a commercial type one.
When you do this, you will keep the information about the colours or paints that you like to use and it will help you in solving your specific artistic problems for your colour choices like identifying mixing complements; identifying paints that mix well together for example.
Your personal colour wheel starts with the actual selection of paints in your palette. You won't include as many pigments as the scientific or commercial colour wheels so it’s less confusing.
Any artist can make their own colour wheel or colour chart.
For a simple colour wheel you start with the three primary colours in the centre; so for me Id use French ultramarine for my blue, Alizarin crimson for my red and cadmium yellow for my yellow. A second outer circle would be divided up into three segments that are divided halfway between the primary ones e.g. for the one that covers half red and half blue you would fill it in with purple mixed from your red and blue colour choices and so on. This will show you what your particular colours will create for you. A third circle for your tertiary colours where you would mix the colours even further half and half will give you an accurate record of what you can make from them. Remember too that when paint dries it is a shade darker than it was when it was wet.
I like to get my students to paint up a basic colour wheel along with a grid of their usual colours –
1. Paint vertical strips of colour using your usual colours (watered down by 50%) Its best to all the paint colours you are likely to use in your art for instance I use French ultramarine blue, Permanent Green light, turquoise (Phthalo) and cadmium yellow a lot, I also use many other colours but there are also many I don’t use so I won’t add those ones in.
2. Try to keep them in some sense of order like a rainbow, so greens next to blues, and reds next to orange and so on. Make sure you label what each colour is next to it.
3. Let the lines of colour dry and then repeat them horizontally across the vertical stripes so they cross one another.
4. You should now be able to see what each colour does to the other and what colours they create together. This exercise also helps with seeing which colours you have are translucent or opaque.
Think about other considerations to designing a colour wheel or chart; the texture of the paints, or their behaviour when added to a different medium. Texture pastes can sometimes completely alter the finished hue so it’s a good idea to create a chart that shows this, it can be a useful reference later n if you want to make sure you get your colours right.
There is no "objective" colour wheel, and no "best" colour palette. There are many colour wheels and palettes, each one suited to a particular artist or artistic purpose. Art means you do it whatever way makes sense for you. One of the best things about painting is the process of continually rediscovering your personal colour wheel, rather than memorising somebody else's "perfect" colour system.
Finally, don’t be afraid to try new colours, have a play with them and see what happens, often it can be quite surprising what you will come up with.
Posted: Monday 11 January 2010