But What Is It For?
I know you've seen color wheels. You probably also know the three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue, but you may have wondered how artists use the color wheel, if at all. In this post I explain how I use a color wheel to create color schemes and show examples in my paintings.
I have my color wheel next to my easel and I use it all the time for color mixing and to create harmonious color schemes. You'd think I would have the thing memorized by now, but I don't, and since I'm a visual person, it helps me to see it.
Color Mixing 101
You may remember from art class the idea of the different types of colors. Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors (at left above) and theoretically all colors can be mixed from them. (That's not actually true in terms of paint pigments, but that's another post).
The three secondary colors (center above: orange, green, and violet) are made up of the two primaries nearest them. The six tertiary colors (at right above: yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, red-violet and red-orange) are each made up of the primary and secondary colors nearest to them.
The main color relationship that is useful to me is knowing what is a color's complement, or the color that is opposite on the wheel. At full strength these two hues will be very vivid against each other. If one is dulled, then they will look very harmonious. If you combine them at equal strengths, they will make a neutral color.
I can dull a color by adding a small amount of its complement. I do this frequently because I rarely use colors full strength out of the tube; they would just be too bright.
The classic color schemes are based on complements:
Examples of My Color Schemes
"Cold Duty", New York City, oil, 16"x16", ©Linda Hugues, sold.
This complementary color scheme uses strong yellow-orange and toned down versions of its compliment, blue-violet.
"Our St. Pete, oil, 36"x36", ©Linda Hugues, sold.
This complementary color scheme emphasizes dulled blue-greens against brighter tones of red-orange.
"Neighbors", Paris, oil, 30"x30", ©Linda Hugues, sold.
This tetradic color scheme uses two complementary pairs: yellow-orange/blue-violet and red/green.
Notice all the neutrals that support this complex color scheme.
While I often approach colors analytically, I don't always end up with such clearly defined color schemes. In the end I always stand back and decide what feels right to me. Understanding the rules allows me to confidently break them.
Now for you: do you think about color theory when you create or view art? What approach appeals most to you?
A Trip to Remember
This was a commission for clients who who typically visit Paris in November because there are so few tourists and no lines. My clients had a candid photo of themselves in front of the Square du Temple, an English landscaped botanical garden in the heart of the city. I love this image because my clients seem delighted to be together in the City of Lights, and not at all bothered by the late fall temperatures.
Starting on Canvas
Top left: I started with a 6x6 pencil grid on my 30"x30" canvas, and used that to place the elements in roughly the right spot. Then I refined the drawing and used grey and white paint to show the darkest and lightest values. Lastly I continued to refine the drawing using a thick black line.
Top right: Here I started to block in color, just using two values for most forms. I wanted the warm muted fall colors in the background to contrast with the cool colors of their jackets and the bench in the foreground. I put the faces in very loosely.
Top left: Here I continued to refine all aspects of the painting. I decided the tree in the middle distance on the left needed some green leaves, even though it was November. Artistic license! :)
Top right: I worked further on the faces and clothes. I lightened the foreground bench and the distant grass. I added texture to the ground under their feet and put more detail in the orange shrubbery behind them.
The Dance of Painting
I never start a painting knowing exactly how I will paint it or how it will look. I have an idea, but the painting really takes form step by step as I react to what I see on the canvas. I see something that needs to be changed; made lighter, darker, warmer, cooler, bigger, or smaller. When I do that, then I see something else that needs to be modified. So it's a dance, a process that creates the painting from a series of decisions, each flowing from the one that preceded it.
"Fall Vacation", Paris, oil, 30"x30", commission, ©Linda Hugues
It All Comes Together
Here's the final painting of "Fall Vacation", Paris, oil, 30"x30", ©Linda Hugues. I think the colors and values work beautifully together, and my clients' expressions and poses make the painting.
Below you can see a detail of the faces and figures. The challenge with this kind of commission is to have enough detail on the faces to make them recognizable, but still keep the image loose and painterly.
The Clients Love It!
The clients were delighted with the commission. She said,
"We love the painting and will cherish having it. We always love to buy paintings to remind us of where we've been on our travels. This one is extra special because it was such a special time for us."
Detail "Fall Vacation", Paris, oil, 30"x30", commission, ©Linda Hugues.