Marcula Stauffer breaks down the fundamentals of the color wheel for new artists.
The first color pigments were invented as early as 40,000 years ago and consisted of five simple colors: black, white, brown, yellow and red. Through ongoing experimentation during great art movements in human history, more colors were formed, some never even seen before. To help artists understand and make use of all these colors, Sir Isaac Newton, a famous mathematician, invented the first color wheel.
To this day, artists still rely on the color wheel to not only mix and make new colors, but also to understand the relationship between colors. An experienced artist, Marcula Stauffer, explains that the color wheel reveals complementary colors, which when put together, look pleasing and form the strongest contrast. It also shows opposite colors, which when mixed together, always form a brown or grey color.
When looking at the circle of the color wheel, Marcula Stauffer finds complementary color combinations using two colors that are opposite each other. Harmonious combinations can also be formed by using any three colors spaced equally around the wheel forming a triangle, or any four colors which form a rectangle. Complementary combinations are called color schemes and remain consistent no matter the rotation angle.
Primary colors consist of blue, red and yellow. They cannot be created by mixing any other colors together, and are a necessity when purchasing paint. Marcula Stauffer lists primary color combinations below, which equal what are called secondary colors.
- Red + Yellow = Orange
- Blue + Yellow = Green
- Red + Blue = Violet
Tertiary colors are made by mixing secondary colors together. These combinations result in yellow-orange, red-orange, yellow-green (lime), blue-green (teal), blue-violet (dark purple), and red-violet (fuchsia).
Another key component to understanding the color wheel is understanding warm and cool colors. Marcula Stauffer notes that warm colors typically convey energy and joy because they remind humans of things like the sun and fire. They typically appear closer on the canvas. Cool colors are better suited for exhibiting calmness because they remind us of trees and water. They typically appear further away on a canvas.
Below, Marcula Stauffer lists warm and cool colors.
The best way to fully understand the art of mixing paint is to practice. Marcula Stauffer advises new artists to spend time studying the color wheel and trying various combinations to see the outcome. Don’t be afraid to experiment, and remember that all great technique comes with time.