How to Mix the Color Wheel

By Leslie Rose

The color wheel is a tool used in art to show the relationship of colors to each other. By reading a color wheel, one can find complementary color pairs and analogous color groups, and one can tell what two colors can be mixed to form another color. This information alone makes the color wheel invaluable to artists. Although the primary colors (red, yellow and blue) cannot be mixed, you can use the primary colors to mix all the other colors on the color wheel, and in this way you can make your own color wheel. Primary colors are combined to create secondary colors, and tertiary colors are created by mixing one primary and one secondary color.

Draw a circle on the paper in front of you, using a pencil. This circle will be the guide for your color wheel, so it needs to be large enough to paint your color wheel on. A diameter of approximately 3 to 6 inches should be adequate.

Load red paint onto your palette. Dip your paint brush into the red paint and then paint a solid red circle of paint, approximately 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter, onto the paper. Paint the red circle of paint at the ten o'clock position on the pencil circle you drew in step 1.

Clean your paintbrush by dipping it into the jar of water. Swirl the paintbrush in the water, gently rubbing the bristles into the bottom of the jar.

Load yellow paint onto your palette. Dip your paintbrush into the yellow paint. Paint a solid yellow circle approximately 1/2 to 1 inch in diameter at the two o'clock position on the pencil circle you drew on the paper. Repeat step 3 to clean your brush.

Load blue paint onto your palette. Dip your paintbrush into the blue paint. On the paper, at the six o'clock position on the pencil circle, paint a solid 1/2 to 1 inch blue circle. These three circles should form the points of a triangle. Repeat step 3 and clean the paintbrush.

Dip your paintbrush in the red paint on your palette, and smear a bit of red paint on your palette somewhere separate from the primary blotch of red paint. Dip your paintbrush into a tiny bit of the blue paint, then smear a bit of blue paint into the separate blotch of red paint. Mix these colors until you've made a purple. If your purple is too dark, add more red. If your purple is too reddish/pink, add more blue. The purple you create should be visually balanced between red and blue.

Paint a 1/2 to 1 inch solid purple circle on the color wheel between the red and the blue circles, in the eight o'clock position. Repeat step 3 and clean the brush. The purple circle should be large enough to touch or nearly touch the edges of the blue circle and the red circle.

Mix together some yellow paint and some red paint on your palette by dipping the paintbrush into the yellow paint and smearing a separate blotch of yellow paint onto your palette. Then pick up a tiny bit of red paint with your paintbrush and smear the red paint into your separate blotch of yellow paint. Mix them together to create orange. If your orange has too much yellow, add red. The orange color should appear to be a perfect balance of the two colors combined; it should not appear to be more red than yellow or more yellow than red.

Paint a 1/2 to 1 inch solid orange circle on the color wheel, in between the red and the yellow circles, at the twelve o'clock position. Repeat step 3 and clean the brush. The orange circle should be large enough to touch or nearly touch the edges of the red circle and the yellow circle.

Mix together the yellow and blue paint on your palette by dipping the paintbrush into the yellow paint and smearing a separate blotch of yellow paint onto your palette. Then pick up a tiny bit of blue paint with your paintbrush and smear the blue paint into your separate blotch of yellow paint. Mix them together to create green. If your green has too much blue, it will be too dark. In that case, you should add more yellow. If your green has too much yellow, it will be too light. In that case, add more blue.

Paint a 1/2 to 1 inch solid green circle on the color wheel, in between the blue and yellow circles, at the four o'clock position. Repeat step 3 and clean the brush. The green circle should be large enough to touch or nearly touch the edges of the blue circle and the yellow circle.

Gently and carefully blend together the edges of each of the color circles to see the way the primary and secondary colors mix to form the tertiary colors. To do this, use your clean paintbrush to smear the edges of each circle. Clean the paintbrush as you switch from smearing one pair of colors to smearing another pair, so that the colors don't contaminate one another.

About the Author

Leslie Rose has been a freelance writer publishing with Demand Studios since 2008. In addition to her work as a writer, she is an accomplished painter and experienced art teacher. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in art with a minor in English.