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# Color Theory Basics: Color Wheel, Shades, Tints and Paint Mixing

One key to successful painting is the ability to mix pigments, achieving the color and effect wanted. To accomplish this, a basic understanding of color theory is needed. The color wheel below describes the relationships.

Primary colors (red, yellow, blue – as represented by the inner circle) are basic and cannot be mixed from any other pigment. Secondary colors, as represented by the next circle, are created from two primary colors – e.g., yellow + red = orange; red + blue = purple; blue + yellow = green. The result, when all three primary colors are mixed together, is black.

By adding the intermediate colors, the color wheel is completed. Mixing a primary color and a secondary color creates these colors, e.g., orange red.

Color complements are color opposites. If you look at the wheel above, the blue arrow is directly opposite its complement color, orange. These colors are in extreme contrast to each other, yet they help make each other more active, e.g., a touch of orange will highlight and make your blues more vibrant.

Exercise: A color wheel consists of primary colors, separated by secondary and intermediate colors. Create your own color wheel as practice in mixing pigments. Use the traditional circle or a simple strip of paper – divided into twelve sections.

The color sequence is:

• yellow
• yellow orange (2 parts yellow + 1 part red)
• orange (1 part yellow + 1 part red)
• orange red (2 parts red + 1 part yellow)
• red
• red violet (2 parts red + 1 part blue)
• violet (1 part red + 1 part blue)
• blue violet (1 part red + 2 parts blue)
• blue
• blue green (2 parts blue + 1 part yellow)
• yellow green (1 part blue + 2 parts yellow) – and you’re back to yellow

Color Choices: Making Color Sense Out of Color Theory

With the help of his own “Quiller Wheel,” a special foldout wheel featuring 68 precisely placed colors, the author shows artists how they can develop their own unique color blends. First, Quiller demonstrates how to use the wheel to interpret color relationships and mix colors more clearly. Then he explains, step by step, how to develop five structured color schemes, apply underlays and overlays, and use color in striking, unusual ways. This book will bring out every artist’s unique sense of color whether he or she works in oil, watercolor, acrylics, gouache, or casein.

We have been talking about the mixing of color in pigments. The mixing of color in light, on a computer monitor for example, responds differently than in pigment mixing. The result, when all three primary colors are mixed, is white because all of the colors of the spectrum are present in white light. (The opposite results, or black, occur when the primary colors are mixed in pigments.) Four-color printing processes and the computer programs used to produce artwork for these processes are based on the primary colors, yellow, magenta, cyan, and black.

The color wheels, in both of these examples, are different from the ones for mixing pigments. If you’d like to explore more on color theory for painters, I suggest this site: Color mixing with graphics from Winsor & Newton.

Using the Color Wheel

### Shades and Tints: Explore the mixing of shades and tints to create more realistic three-dimensional paintings

Painting an object with a three-dimensional feel is dependent on the use of tints and shades. Shades are the relative darkness of an object and tints the relative lightness. The rules for shading, using darks and lights to give depth, are that the farther away an object is from the viewer’s eye, the darker and less intense the color. Conversely, the closer the object is the lighter and more intense the color. Using several shades of a color will give a greater sense of depth and heighten the illusion caused when the viewer’s eye blends the different shades together.

A shade is created when black is added to a pure hue. In the example above the pure hue, blue, is the furthest square on the right. For each subsequent square, a touch of black was added – ending with the square on the left which is almost pure black.

Tints are simply the opposite of shades. In the example above, the pure blue square was altered by adding a touch of white and further white for each additional square.

Exercise: Practice mixing shades and tints yourself. The two examples pictured above were originally one piece of paper which I separated to clarify the differences in shades and tints. Ideally, the middle square on your strip of paper should be the pure hue. Left of that middle square paint your first tint, right paint your first tint. When finished, your strip will range from nearly black on the left to nearly white on the right.

### Adding Black Isn’t Always the Right Solution

Adding black to a color will make that color darker, but the results may be less than satisfactory. If you look at the darkest blue in the shades strip you’ll agree that the blue has lost its sense of blueness and become somewhat muddy and murky.

Other times, adding black to a color can have some unexpected results.

If you look at a color wheel, the blue arrow is directly opposite its complement color, orange. Adding a touch of purple to yellow or blue to orange will darken the hue without the muddiness that black can cause. A color wheel is one of the best investments that an artist can make in reference materials. Features usually include primary colors, tones, tints, complementary colors, and harmonies.

And, to explore color theory further on your own, try this site: The Difference between “Mixing” and “Visual” Complements by Hilary Page is an excellent resource for learning to mix complements – both in pigment and visually by the strategic placement of complements next to each other. Well illustrated with examples of these concepts.

### Paint Mixing Troubleshooting: Learn to create difficult colors, such as flesh tones, and mixing alternatives

As anyone who has experimented with paint and brush will agree, there’s more to mastering basic color theory than simply mixing primary colors to achieve the desired color. Sometimes, what sounds good in theory just doesn’t work on canvas or paper. Color wheels help artists align colors and further understand their relationships but only practical experience will show you what happens when one color is mixed with another. This week, the focus will be on some of those hard-to-achieve colors.

Flesh Tones: Probably the most difficult color to achieve, flesh tone paint can, of course, be bought premixed in tubes. The premixed color makes life simpler but I personally think the color is a little wimpy – it’s fine for children’s portrait but it lacks the depth needed for the character of most subjects faces.

Logically, flesh tone can be achieved by mixing white and red (this time we do want a shade of pink, so use the Red, Medium.) Add a dab each of yellow and blue, and some burnt umber. Darkening this concoction poses a problem because it contains all three primary colors. Adding even a touch of black will immediately cast an olive-green shade on your flesh tone.

Instead, try this trick. Make your flesh tone by mixing Orange, Medium and a bit of white and add a bit of burnt umber. This combination can be lightened by adding white or darkened by adding more burnt umber. This color may appear too orangish but once you start working with it and shading you’ll find that it will give a very natural look to your portraits.

Color by Betty Edwards: A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors

Millions of people have learned to draw using the methods of Dr. Betty Edwards’s bestseller The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Now, much as artists progress from drawing to painting, Edwards moves from black-and-white into color. This new guide distills the enormous existing knowledge about color theory into a practical method of working with color to produce harmonious combinations.

White: If you’re having trouble achieving the desired tint you want by adding white there could be a very logical explanation. Titanium white is used for mixing tints. Adding Titanium White to any color, particularly transparent colors, will increase the paint’s coverage but not dramatically affect the value of the original color. Zinc white is an extremely transparent white. It shouldn’t be used for mixing tints. It’s ideal use is for subtle tinting or glazing because it will not affect the opaqueness of the original color.

Black: There are also differences in the qualities of the two blacks normally included in a painter’s palette. Mars Black will give you a dense, cool black while Ivory Black produces a warmer color, more suitable for producing shades for portraits, for example. Or create your own rich, dark, transparent black by mixing alizarin crimson and phthalo green.

Alternatives to Black: Shading with Neutral Gray offers a subtler alternative to black when mixing shades. Use a premixed color of the same value as the original color or mix your own color using black, titanium white, or zinc white. I rarely use pure black for the darkest shadows. I prefer mixing a touch of the darkest blue I have into the black to give the color more depth. This is particularly true of watercolors – I cheat by adding touches of a blue/black ink from Pelican to the shadows.

Yellow Ochre: I use this natural color constantly. On the one hand, has the amazing ability to “warm” color mixtures while on the other hand it subdues even the brightest colors. Used with Titanium White, it maintains the opaqueness of the mixture, adding a warmth to your tints. At the same time, it is transparent enough to create a glazing mixture when used with Zinc White.

Mixing Earth Colors: Medium greens through to lime greens when mixed with orange reds (e.g., Red, Light) through orange yellows creates an array of earthy colors. Avoid using the darker shades of red. Red Deep, for example, has been darkened with the addition of purple – used as a mixing foundation it creates muddy, not earthy colors.

Part of understanding the relationships between colors and the results that occur when two or more colors are mixed depend on understanding the terms used to describe colors. A refresher course on color terms will explain words used to describe colors such as value and chroma.

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