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If you’re new to painting, one of the most important things is learning about color. How they relate to one another, what happens when you mix them, what colors go good together and why. This article won’t go deep into color theory, but creating a watercolor color wheel is a good first step if you’re getting into watercolor painting. The principles of color can be applied to any painting medium as well!
Supplies you’ll need for this tutorial:
- Watercolor Paper*
- Watercolor Paint – you’ll need at least 3 primary colors (red, yellow, blue).
- Paint palette – you only really need this if you’re using watercolor paint from tubes, so you have somewhere to put the paint onto.
- Flat Brush – the size depends on how big you will be making your color wheel. The color wheels I made were 4″ (10cm) in diameter, so I used a 1/2″ flat brush.
- Water container – possibly more than one. You’ll want to get your brushes really cleaned off good when you’re selecting a new color! I have a container that has 3 separate sections, which was perfect(one for each primary color!).
- Paper towels – for absorbing excess water from your brush or the paper.
- Protractor – you can get a semi circle (what I’ll be using as that’s what I have), or a full circle one. This will ideally be the size you want your color wheel to be!
- Pencil & Eraser
*If you don’t know what type of paper or paint to get, I go into details here on watercolor supplies, what kind to use and buy.
You do not have to use these specific ones, but in case you’re wondering, for this tutorial I’m using Arteza watercolor paper, Daniel Smith set of 6 Essential watercolor tubes(they are Pyrrol Scarlet, Quinacridone Rose, Hansa Yellow Light, New Gamboge, Phtalo Blue, and French Ultramarine), and a 1/2″ Flat Brush.
Basic Color Wheel Theory
As I said above, I’m not going to go deep into color theory, but there are a few basic important points of the color wheel you should know. Learning these will help you use it for selecting good colors in your own works of art.
The first thing you should know about is where the Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary colors are located on the color wheel.
Primary colors: Red, Yellow, Blue
Secondary Colors: Orange, Green, Purple. You get these by mixing the primary colors together that are next to each other. So, Red & Blue make Purple, Red & Yellow make Orange, and Yellow and Blue make Green.
Tertiary Colors: These are all the in between colors which include: Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Violet(or purple), Red-Violet.
Analogous Colors: These are colors that are right beside each other on the color wheel. You can have just 2 colors, or a Broad Analogous range of 4-5 colors. These can be anywhere on the color wheel, the example above shows just the red-purple colors. Picking analogous colors for your painting will give you nice color harmony.
Complimentary Colors: These are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel. In the example is Red and Green. You can have Blue and Orange, Purple and Yellow, etc.. Using complimentary colors gives you a form of color contrast in a piece.
Split Complimentary Colors: Taking complimentary colors to the next step, you can split one of the compliments by choosing the colors on either side of the one color. This can give you a more interesting variety of color contrast.
Drawing the color wheel shape
Traditionally, color wheels are divided into 12 sections. The reason for this is that we start out with 3 Primary colors. Those are mixed to form 3 Secondary colors, and in between each secondary and primary are the Tertiary colors. So, we need 12 sections for 12 colors!
There are templates you can download and print out, but it’s good to know how to make your own with just traditional tools as well. Afterall…what else are you going to do with that protractor you got in grade school? 😀 Let’s put it to use!
Draw a circle on your paper
- Find where the center of your paper is using a ruler and make a small dot in the very center.
- Center the protractor on the dot, and draw your circle in one or 2 parts.
Mark the first divisions
- Place your protractor in the center of the circle you just drew so that “90” degrees is at the top.
- Mark the half way points within 180 degrees. So for example, at the top of your paper is 90 degrees on the protractor. You’ll make a mark at 45 degrees, and 135 degrees, on either side of 90.
- If using a semi circle protractor, rotate it to the other side and make the marks on the other half of the circle as well. If you have a full circle protractor, the other marks would be at 235 and 315.
- Next, using your ruler, draw lines connecting the opposite points on the circle, so you make an X.
- Place your protractor so the 90 degree mark lines up with one of the lines on the X.
- Then, make marks at 30, 60, 120, and 150.
- Do this on the opposite side as well, so you have equal divisions around the circle. (I’ll let you figure out the other numbers if you’re using a full circle protractor yourself 😉
- Next, using your ruler, draw straight lines connecting each opposite mark. You’ll now have 12 equal divisions!
- Lastly, label the top spot, above the circle, with one of the primary colors you’ll be using(I like to put red up there, but it doesn’t really matter). Going clockwise, count 3 spaces in between, and this will be the next primary color. Count 3 more and you have your final primary spot. You can look at the picture below to see exactly where they go too.
Paint in your Primary Colors
- Watercolor Tubes: If you’re using tubes, place some of the paint you’ll be using on a palette. You only need a tiny a bit! A little watercolor goes a LONG way!
- Watercolor Pans: If you’re using pans you don’t need a palette really, since you’ll be mixing colors directly on the paper.
- Take your brush and put a little water on it. Dabbing it on the paper towel if you have too much excess.
- Pick up some of the paint on your brush, and fill in your primary color spots.
- You can make these spots as dark or light as you wish, however I do suggest making them darker (use more paint) to begin with, so you can really see what the full amount of pigment is like in your watercolor color wheel. You can wait until they dry and go over them with another coat if you’d like.
- Make sure you clean off your brush really good when you’re switching colors!
Note: Getting the right amounts of water and paint on your brush will take time to get used to. Don’t be discouraged if you’re new and you have too much of one or the other, it’s just something you have to get a feel for.
Adding the Secondary and Tertiary Colors
This part is a little bit more tricky. You’re going to have to blend the colors together, as smoothly as you can, in between each primary color. I would wait to do this step until your primary colors are dry; that way they won’t run into the other colors (watercolor likes to flow and blend where it’s wet).
- Start with one of the primary colors, and add some of the color to your brush.
- Lay down the color, going from darker to lighter, in the spaces surrounding that primary color.
- Clean your brush off, then pick one of the other colors to blend with the primary you just painted down.
- The middle space, where the “Secondary color” would go, should be about 50/50% of each color. With the spaces of the “Tertiary colors” on either side of that about 25/75%.
- Don’t worry about being exact. Just try to blend it as best as you can. You will find yourself going back and forth with adding some more paint, or adding a little more water to dilute until you get it right.
*Don’t forget to use your paper towel to absorb any excess water! Both off your brush AND off the paper if you need to.
Also, if you make any mistakes, with a clean brush with water on it, you can try to “erase” the paint off a little. Only do this a little though! If you rub too hard on the paper or put too much water, the paper can get ruined. It can only hold so much water.
As a last step, I like to go over the lines again with a pencil or fine line marker.
Experiment with different shades of red, yellow, and blue, like I did with my four different color wheels. You’ll notice the colors really do interact different with one another. Some of the reds & blues create more of a brown shade than a purple for example.
Don’t be discouraged if you’re a beginner and your color wheel looks messy. Again, watercolor take a lot of practice! Just keep at it with them and you’ll get the hang of it 🙂
You can also do more simplistic versions of a color wheel to practice color mixing. Don’t worry about the drawing step, just mix the colors together! You can even get creative with the shapes. Have fun! 🙂
I hope this tutorial helps you get started to making a color wheel! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to post in the comments below! 🙂
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