Color Theory

There are countless colors available from so many different manufacturers. For this reason I will try to make the theory of color as simple as possible.


Three primaries


One of the most useful things I ever learned when I started watercolor painting was the three-

color theory and this has stood me in good stead throughout my painting. Theoretically it is possible to mix any color that you need from the three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. Think about an inkjet printer – if you disregard the black, you can print out full-color photographs from the yellow, cyan and magenta ink cartridges.

This principle also applies to painting. In this blog you will learn to paint using just three colors for most of the projects. Every time I demonstrate this , everyone are amazed at the endless range of colors you can get when you learn to mix from these three primaries – you can even mix a black! And the good news is that there is no better medium than watercolor paints for mixing – they are simply made for it.

The three primaries I have chosen are cadmium yellow (1), cobalt blue (2) and alizarin crimson (3), so when I refer to yellow, blue and red in the instructions for the projects, these are the colors I would like you to use. They are all well known, available from most paint manufacturers, and have been chosen to give you the maximum range of colors when mixed. If you do use other variants for your primaries, for example lemon yellow rather than cadmium yellow, your finished colors will be slightly different but no need to worry it is ok. You will find as you progress as an artist you will add your own flavor of colors.

I believe every form of artwork is a masterpiece.


Color Wheel


The next stage is to reproduce the color wheel illustrated below. Start by drawing a circle with pencil. You can use a compass or draw around a plate for this purpose. Mix a pure wash with your blue and paint a blob or dab directly at the top at point A. It is important that you keep the ratio of paint to water consistent and that the color remains transparent so that you can see your pencil line through the wash. Next, use a pure wash of red and paint a blob of that at point B. It is vital that you keep your brush and water clean so as not to mix the colors. I suggest you change your water regularly! Next, use a pure wash of yellow and paint a blob of that at point C on the color wheel.

Now we come to the mixing! Start by mixing together a 50/50 ratio of red and blue, which should give you purple, and paint this exactly halfway between the red and blue at position D. Next do the same with the red and yellow: mix a 50/50 ratio making orange and paint this exactly halfway at position E. Then mix a 50/50 ratio of blue and yellow making green and paint this exactly halfway at position F. Form the complete wheel by adding at least three further colors between each of the points. The easiest way to do this is to start from the pure color point (A, B, C) and work round to the 50/50 mix. For example, if you start with the blue at point A, just add in a tiny amount of red each time until you reach the purple, creating a smooth transition of color. Once you have completed the wheel you will see the broad range of colors produced by just mixing two colors together.


By adding a third color into the mix, the range becomes infinite. To simplify the three-color mixes I have added three important colors in the centre. Point G is brown, which is produced by mixing equal amounts of all three. Point H is grey produced by adding a fair amount of blue into the brown you have just mixed. And finally we have black at point I, which is created by simply adding more paint into the grey you have already mixed. Black is a controversial color in watercolor painting and I would always recommend getting your black by mixing three colors rather than using a tube of ready-mixed black, which will always be dull and lifeless.





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