Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Jump on the Color Wheel

Let's assume that you are all pretty familiar with what is known as "the color wheel" in art. Although you may understand the idea of the relationships between the colors, do you fully understand how you can use the relationships to your advantage when painting?

There are many versions of the color wheel, and lots of controversy seems to crop up about which is best to use. Sir Isaac Newton is credited with coming up with the first version of the color wheel, when he identified six beams of color in light, and then looped the ends together to show that the system was complete- a circle.

But Sir Newton was talking about LIGHT and we need to know how it all works with PAINT (or pigment). If you want to be as smart as Sir Isaac Newton, you can read up on all the theory that is out there on color and decide for yourself. But I'm guessing that you'd rather just paint instead, so I'll try to give you an idea of a few of the main schools of thought on which color wheels work best, and link to more info, if you'd like to read more, and you can choose a color wheel to use when mixing your paints.

Here is a lot of information on the color wheel from the excellent artists' website Handprint.com. If you read through even a little of the information, you will see that it is the opinion of the author or authors of that site that there are huge problems with the color wheel that most of us are familiar with (You know, the one with red, blue and yellow as the primary colors). The Handprint site is concerned primarily with watercolors, so keep in mind that the white of the paper is used as white in examples on other pages there that you may explore.

There is some additional information here and here on other ideas about color and color theory.

But perhaps the best look at how a modified color wheel can be used with the paints that we use as artists today is a color wheel that has been designed by an artist named Don Jusco. He makes his color wheel available as a free download here, if you'd like to try it out. Basically, the colors have been moved around, so that when you mix a color with its complement- the color directly across from it on the wheel- the result will be a neutral gray or black. In the popular version of the color wheel we all grew up with, when you mixed complements (yellow with purple or red with green), a mucky, yucky brown was generally the result. On this page, another from his site, here is a comparison of many of the different color wheels in easy-to-read language.

Today, why don't you try a small painting using Don Jusco's color wheel as the basis, and see if it helps you? In the last link before this sentence, he talks about making the shadows on a red tomato, by mixing cyan with the red. I know it sounds weird, but try it! Do a little painting with something red, and see if you don't get much better neutrals by mixing a cyan-like color with the red than the traditional opposite or red- green.

Share your results with us!

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