Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Using a Color Wheel

This is the new landscape painting I'm working on, and I thought it would be helpful to show you how using a color wheel can help your paintings. 

This color wheel is made by Grumbacher, it's called the Color Computer and I've had it since my college days in the early 80's so I don't know if they even make this anymore but there are many versions of the color wheel out there you can buy.

As a tonalist painter I am particularly interested in creating harmony in both value and color in my work, but it's also very useful if you like to create "pop" through vibrant and intense color, including complementary color schemes.

Here's how this works. The small wedge shaped window in the top arc, is my key color scheme, which is Yellow Orange. The top color in that group is the tint, the next down is the pure hue of yellow orange, and the next two bands show the pure color at lower intensities, which can be created by the addition of the complementary color or black.

The larger wedges to either side are analogous color harmonies. On the left there is orange, and red-orange and you see the tint, the pure hue and two colors at lower intensity. On the right there are wedges of yellow and yellow-green, again with the tint, pure hue and lower intensities shown. 

All the colors in the complete top arc are harmonious and can easily be used in my painting to create an harmonious whole. I think it's easy to see that I've stayed within those boundaries, particularly keeping the greens warmed up using olive green, and quinacridone green-gold as my two basic greens in this piece.

Even if your goal is color harmony, all paintings need some amount of contrast. You can do this in three ways and the color wheel helps you make those decisions. First, you can use the direct complement to your key color scheme, in this case you'll see that in the small wedge window directly opposite the yellow-orange wedge. The direct complement is colors in the blue-violet family.  Your second choice would be to use a split complementary scheme. Those colors are the lower wedges to the left (violet) and right (blue). These color complements are a great choice if you prefer jewel tone, vibrant paintings. I've chosen to use the third option, using a triadic color scheme.  You'll find those colors in the small circles. They are the lower intensities of the red-violet family and the lower intensity colors from the blue-green family. These triadic colors are the ones I'll use in the shadow areas.

To summarize the majority of my painting will make use of all the colors in the top arc, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange (the key color), yellow and yellow-green. These create an harmonious analogous color scheme. In much small quantities, mostly in the shadow areas I'll use the triadic complements, the lower intensity colors form the red-violet and blue-green family.

Besides using a color wheel I have out my reference photo upper left and then two paintings by Bruce Crane that have similarities in mood, color and composition to what I am painting. These three things help me stay focused on my goal: create an autumn landscape painting in the tonalist style that makes use of tight color & value harmonies, evokes transcendental light (glow), and is heavy on atmosphere and mood to elicit an emotional (or spiritual) response from my viewer.

Stay tuned for more, later this week.


oli said...

Great Post, thank you for sharing this.

Vikki Bouffard said...

Jan, This is a really helpful post and thanks for explaining the different choices. You're a great teacher!

Vikki Bouffard