Colors Aren’t Scary! Understanding The Color Wheel.

A new Artshop semester has started at Creative 360.  One of the biggest concerns my students bring to my attention in classes is “How do  I know which colors to use?” What colors can they mix together, and what colors basically turn to poo the moment they touch each other? Everyone probably has some vague memory of the color wheel from way back when in elementary school art class, but few remember what it actually is aside from a pretty rainbow circle.

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Primary colors are like the color gods and goddesses. They are colors you don’t mix anything to get, they just are, and they are used to create all other color life. See the starred sections above, red yellow and blue. In between the primary colors, the color wheel shows you what will happen if you mix two of them together. For example, in between the red and blue space are various shades of purple, depending on if you mix in more red or more blue. If you mix all 3 primaries together, you get a neutral color (brown or grey/black depending whether there is more warm red or yellow, or more cool blue present).

Contrasting colors are colors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, note the black connecting line. Contrasting colors as a rule look amazing together due to how boldly they play off of each other (There are a lot of sports teams I can think of whose colors are blue and orange for example, and I don’t even follow sports!). However, if you mix them to try to make a new color, they will completely neutralize each other into a grayish or brownish color. Remember how all 3 primaries mixed together make a neutral? Well, think of why this would happen when you mix orange and blue, contrasting colors, together… Orange is made with red and yellow, add the blue, and you have all 3 primaries mixing.

Complementary colors are colors that are right next to each other on the color wheel. Because they are very similar, these colors always look pleasing together as well.

Look familar? The artwork on the left uses a contrasting color scheme of red and seafoam green. On the right a complementary color scheme is used with all different shades of purple, and some pink and dark red accents.

These color pairings aren’t just for artwork, they work well in interiors and clothing as well. Below is an interior idea based on my watercolor painting “If The Ocean Dreamed” that I mocked up on Polyvore, which is a really fun interior and style designing website to play around on. All items you can add to your “set” include links where they can be purchased as well.

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Once you’ve got the gist of it, you can become a C O L O R  M A S T E R and even get tricky and combine both contrasting AND complementary color schemes in one, like below. This is another fun set I put together on Polyvore using clothing I am selling on zazzle covered in my original artwork. This tank top features my piece, “Be My Eyes”. In styling this outfit, I used the contrasting color scheme of yellow and purple with the gold and plum apparel, but also added in some pink with the accessories as pink is a reddish hue that would be next to purple on the color wheel.

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The last type of basic color scheme is triadic. A triadic color scheme uses three colors that are equidistant from each other on the color wheel. Using only the primary colors red, yellow, and blue would be a triadic scheme as they are spaced equally apart on the color wheel. Another triadic scheme is green, orange, and purple, which I’ve used in the interior below.

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Appropriate that I will be going on an adventure to Lowe’s to collect paint chips shortly after I post this as my boyfriend and I will be moving from an apartment into a new home by mid June, and this means …. I can paint the walls! 

I have to end this post like a proud art-parent with a selection of my Artshop students’ work from my watercolor class last semester. Looking forward to teaching another great class!