A Guide To Colour Wheels And How To Use Them - Hobby Land

Most people are familiar with the artist's colour wheel, but we’re here with a guide to help you understand how to correctly interpret it and use it to benefit your art. The colour wheel is essentially the visible spectrum of colours enclosed in a circle and is a useful tool to help explain what happens when we mix colours together. It is a visual cue for mixing and this guide will help you understand what it is and how to use it. 


There are multiple variations of the colour wheel. The first is the traditional colour wheel, in which the primary colours - red, blue and yellow - are evenly spaced around the wheel. It’s the most common wheel used by artists. Whilst simple and easy to use, it lacks precision. 


The Munsell colour wheel is believed to more closely represent the relationship between colours. Similar to the traditional wheel, but with the spacing between colours slightly different. The placement of colours is considered to be a more accurate reflection of how they are arranged in the visible colour spectrum. Because of this, you may find that the Munsell colour wheel gives you more reliable and accurate colour mixing guidance. But this comes at the expense of the simplicity and popularity of the traditional wheel.    


Finally, is the additive colour wheel. Additive colour refers to how we see colour in light. This wheel is useless for mixing colours, but is important to understand nonetheless. The primary colours of light are different from the subtractive primary colours of paint. When you mix all the light colours together, you get white light. Our paint doesn't work that way.

Primary colours can theoretically be mixed with most others in the visible spectrum. In art, the three primary colours are red, blue and yellow. However, some artists believe that magenta, cyan and yellow are the most accurate primary colours because they can blend a wider range. When you mix all three primary colours together, you end up with a messy or dark gray colour. When you mix two primary colours you get a secondary colour (green, orange and purple). The tertiary colour is obtained when the primary and the secondary are mixed. Those that are close to each other on the colour wheel are considered to be harmonious. 

Opposite colours on the wheel are complementary to each other. Placing two complementary colours side by side creates a sharp contrast. For example, yellow and purple or orange and blue. When you mix complementary colours, you are actually mixing all three primary colours together. Suppose you are mixing red and green (they complement each other). Green can be obtained by mixing yellow with blue. So, by mixing red with green, you are really mixing red, blue, and yellow. 

The colour wheel is not a perfect science, especially in painting. Instead, you should think of the colour wheel simply as a guide to help you mix colours. With this guide, you should now be armed with a deeper understanding of colour use; what works and what doesn’t. As always, the best way to learn is to do. So buy some paper and paint from Hobby Land and get painted.

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