Color Wheel for Painting

What is the correct color wheel for painting? It has been hotly debated for over a century, and everyone seems to have an opinion about what the “real” primary colors are. In the following post I hope to educate you about some of the theories about just which primary colors are the best to be used for painting, and why. Of course I also offer some of my own personal opinion based upon my own studies of color as well as my experience as someone who loves painting in oils.

tertiary colors

The first problem we run into when looking at the various color wheels which can be used for painting involves something called Tertiary Colors. Tertiary colors are created when one mixes a primary color (Red, Yellow, Blue) with one secondary color (orange, violet, green). Generally these are the colors located next to them on the color wheel.

They often have specific names which can get quite exotic such as Sea Green, or Azure. This is because often designers want to come up with a cool name for a color so they can market it better. For various reasons painters have been taught and told to use the RYB color wheel. A few reasons include the fact that artist materials which are available now used to have toxic compounds in them. Now with the advent of dyes it is easier to synthesize a color such as cyan. The one thing to remember however when using these colors is that dyes will fade with age, while real pigments (such as cadmium) have already stood the test of time for centuries. 

First we will be focusing on the Red/Yellow/Blue color wheel which is most often used by painters. In the color wheel above the Tertiary Colors shown are Yellow Green, Blue Green, Yellow Orange, Red Orange, Red Violet, Blue Violet, and Blue Green. This was widely believed to be standard colors to use for quite some time, and is still often used in Art Education up to this day.

old color wheel

An RYB color chart from George Field’s 1841 Chromatography; or, A treatise on colours and pigments: and of their powers in painting

Back in the 18th century the theories surrounding color theory were cemented in the idea that the RYB (Red/Yellow/Blue) was the way to go. These theories have since changed over the years, however the RYB color model is still often used in teaching painting, and color theory up to this day.

These theories were enhanced by 18th-century investigations of a variety of purely psychological color effects, in particular the contrast between “complementary” or opposing hues that are produced by color afterimages and in the contrasting shadows in colored light.

During the 18th century the theory of the RYB model was furthered by two great thinkers. They were Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and Michel Eugene Chevreul. They were both transfixed by what is called the Psychological effects of color, and obsessed with how our eyes perceive color. One of the main things they observed was how complementary colors (that means they are opposite each other on the color wheel) created afterimages in our brains when they were “burned” into our eyes. They were also interested in why shadows in colored light would create contrasting shadows. You can download Goethe’s The Theory of Colors here as I’ve uploaded it to this site. It is in the creative commons so there it has no copyright and is in the Public Domain.

After Goethe and his treatise on color, scientists moved away from the RYB color wheel and shifted towards a color wheel which most everyone sees every day. This is the Red, Green, and Blue (RGB) model which still dominates a lot of media to this day (Hint: It’s how your TV works). To understand how this color wheel operates we need to go back to the previous lesson, and further examine how different lights makes different colors as opposed to how pigments (or physical mixtures of color) differ.

In the previous lessons we have talked about Additive and Subtractive colors. Forgive me if I wasn’t clear enough before, but these lessons are meant to be sequential, and therefore sometimes I will withhold information so you can absorb it at different rates.

To put it simply, Additive Color is created by adding color. How do we add color? Well, by using light. That’s why if you get up close to a TV set you will see tiny little bars of Red, Green, and Blue. Learning about additive color is particularly important for those who use a computer to create their imagery, as they are dealing with a medium that is essentially based upon the glow of a computer screen.  Now, what happens when that person decides he wants to print out the image on his screen? The answer is that he will need to deal with another color wheel when the image is printed from a computer screen onto a piece of paper! This is because a piece of paper doesn’t glow, it’s reflecting light from a light bulb or the sun.  As we discussed previously, an object doesn’t hold a certain color because it reflects it, it is a certain color because it absorbs all the other colors in the spectrum. Hence the term, subtractive color.

So we, as painters, aren’t painting with light, we’re painting with paint. Hence, we need to use a color wheel which is specific to our needs. Let’s take a look at the two different types of color wheels. Check out the first one below. This is a classical color wheel which utilizes Red, Yellow, and Blue as the primaries.

There’s some nice oranges and violets in there right? Oh? What’s that, you want them to be brighter and more vibrant? Well, then you can use the Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow color wheel below.  CMYK is the color wheel which is utilized in printing, and has generally been regarded as the “true” set of primaries.

Subtractive Color Wheel

But there’s a few problems with this color wheel. Mainly, it doesn’t exist in nature (as in, natural pigments) as readily available as the colors which have been used for thousands of years. However if you want to oil paint with Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow then you can. But if you believe that oil paints will mix similarly to  a printing machine then you’re fooling yourself. As you have probably already learned, different colors and different pigments have different strengths and weaknesses.

By this I mean every color has different properties. In the printing process CMYK(K stands for black) are often used in transparent glazes. For instance, in order to make red in in CMYK printing you first print a tiny little magenta dot, and then on top of that dot is a yellow which is semi transparent. That’s how you make red. Now with oil paint let’s say that you want to paint a giant red object. If you were painting by utilizing the CMYK printing model you’d have to first paint an entire layer magenta, wait three days, and then on top of that you would glaze a bit of yellow on top of it to get your red. So yes, it is possible to paint with CMYK, but the simple answer is that it would simply take FOREVER to finish a painting, because we’re not machines, and paint takes a long time to dry.

So what do we do as painters? Which color wheel should we use? I would suggest that you (that’s right, you) find a palette that you enjoy working with. Limit it to no more than 10 colors, and get used to it. It takes a long time to learn how to properly mix and see color so find a palette that you feel comfortable manipulating. I know for me I like to use Cadmium Red Medium, Cadmium Yellow Medium, Pthalo Blue, Pthalo Green, Alizarin Crimson, Yellow Ochre, Ultramarine Blue, Raw Umber, Permanent Violet Medium, and Titanium White. And that’s what I’ve used for numerous painting tutorials that I’ve done. It’s a hybrid of both CMYK as well as the Old RYB models. With RYB it can be difficult to make a nice brilliant violet as well as green. So what do you do? You buy them 🙂 And if you want to try to paint with Cyan, Magenta, and Yellow then you can. These colors are generally referred to as Process Blue, Process Red, and Process Yellow. They’re dyes so they won’t last as long (meaning they’ll fade faster) as the classical pigments  but they could be interesting to experiment with. For me? I’ll stick to Cadmiums, Ultramarine, Titanium, and Cobalt. There’s a reason why they’ve been around for thousands of years.

Finding Inspiration and Documenting it in Your Blog or Your Sketchbook.

Lesson 2


This is an optional fist assignment just because I don’t want someone’s access to the Internet to effect their ability to use this book . Those who can’t make a blog will instead keep a sketchbook that also includes writing, and inspiration.

Now for those of you who have regular access to the Internet, and own a digital camera or scanner, you will be creating a blog. Relax, it’s not as hard as you think. I’m a big proponent of blogging your work because I think it is an excellent way of making a time line of your inspirations as well as your progress. Many of you may be terrified by the idea of creating and maintaining a blog because you don’t think of yourself as tech savvy. Trust me, if you can check email, you can create and maintain a blog. Instead of hitting “send” you will be hitting “publish”. I’ve also included a step by step at the end of this chapter for those who are completely new to the Internet as well.

In this lesson I want you to start researching and becoming familiar with what drawings and paintings you really love. If you don’t know where to start just go to wikipedia.com and type in “20th century art” (or whatever century you’re interested in) . If you already know about a movement of art (say impressionism, or surrealism) that you are interested in then search for pages about that. If you are lucky enough to live in a city with a big beautiful museum then by all means go! Most public libraries also have a gorgeous selection of art books. I’ve also included a list of interesting artists from all over the artistic spectrum available at painting-course.com/artists . So you have no excuse. Start finding out what art you are drawn to the most.

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Now that I’ve given you the “what” to do, I’m going to tell you the “why”. One terrible idea which has seeped into many people’s minds over the years is that it is bad to try and emulate someone elses art. Every semester I have another student who loves a certain type of art or artist but thinks it would be bad to try and emulate that persons style. As if they should just find their own style on their own. Let me tell you something. Just about every single great artist over the centuries looked up to someone else. Historically speaking previously students would apprentice with a master painter, they would try their best to learn all of their teachers techniques and they did countless hours of repetitive drawings and paintings. I’m not saying that your end goal should be to paint just as your idol, i’m saying that if you first emulate the paintings which you love the most, then you will naturally create your own style and vision as you become more confident.

Think of it this way. Im sure Wayne Gretzky and Michael Jordan had their respective idols they watched growing up. In classical music we don’t say someone isn’t a musician because they are playing someone elses music. In fact concert pianists are playing note for note what’s right in front of them. It’s their interpretation and technical abilities which makes them unique. You need to start thinking about painting and drawing in the same way.

In previous years one would have a sketchbook of thoughts, images, and sketches of inspiration. Today with the advent of blogs, it is much easier to categorize your interests and inspirations. Remember, this isn’t a course about just “learning how to cross hatch” , this is a course designed with the intention of getting you to create work that you are proud of. Work that says something about you and your interests. So the first step in that is to get interested in some of the art around you now! Also don’t be afraid to really hate something. You can appreciate art, but that doesn’t mean you have to like it.

  1. Ok, you’ve convinced me. So how do I make a blog?

The first thing you’ve got to decide is what you want your blog to be called. This can be more difficult than you think.

If you want your name to come up in google searches I suggest just using your first and last name as your domain name, such as www.jeremiahpalecek.blogspot.com (that was my first blog). If you have a common name and the address is not available then try using a hyphen, or dot between your first and last name. If you have a ridiculously common name you can also try something like XxJohnSmithxX or JohnSmith64.

If you want to create a more visionary name for your blog the first thing you will be doing is creating a mind map. A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. As you can see in the illustration below I’ve started with the central key word “painting blog” and from that I’ve brainstormed a bunch of words and ideas associated with painting. There’s “descriptions of paint” (flake, chip, burnt, canvas, drip, slop, wet, gooey) “Materials” (ink, acrylic, oil, brush, pencil, gesso) “Famous Artists” (Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, Van Gogh ) “Art I like” (Dutch Landscapes, Surrealism, Dada, Impressionism) and the final category “cool names” (spark, antiquity, ancient, glisten, robot, dust, space) I did this mindmap in 5 minutes and now I can just start combining the keywords I generated to come up with cool website names such as PencilSpark, DadaDust, RobotSlop, AncientFlake, or GooeyVanGogh. It’s that easy. Once you’ve got a name that hits you and you think “yeah, that’s sounds cool” go with it. You’ve just created a new online identity. You can post anonymously there if you are shy about your work, but trust me, as your blog begins to fill with content you will want to be more closely associated with it. It will be a sneak peak into your artistic inspirations and personal progress. After you’ve got a few finished pieces up you can print out your blog name on business cards and give it to friends. They’ll check back to see your progess. Trust me.

mind-map

Now that you’ve got a Domain Name* you’ve got to choose where you want your blog to be hosted. The best way to describe what “hosting” means is to compare it to parasites. Sorry. When a parasite infects an animal, the carrier is called the host. The host is the person carrying the parasite, on the internet, the host is the computer which hosts your data. Sometimes people forget that the internet isn’t some sort of ethereal netherworld. Every piece of data you look at when you are looking at a webpage is physically located on a computer somewhere. This generally costs money. However there are a lot of internet companies which will give you all the space that you will ever need for free. Amazing, isn’t it. Google’s Blogger.Com are the biggest however there are literally thousands of different websites giving away free blogs. I suggest looking at wordpress.com , blogger.com, tumblr.com , typepad.com , and livejournal.com.

The drawback of using a free site is that your Domain Name will include their’s as well. So that’s why you see addresses with .blogspot.com or .wordpress.com . It’s because those companies are giving away storage space for free. If you’re a little more tech saavy I suggest you look around at various blogging sites and choose which one you like the most. There are benefits and drawbacks of each. For this course I will be using wordpress as the default since it is the most widespread, sophisticated, and free blogging application available. It was also created by a large community of nerds for no profit. Which is pretty cool so they’re always the good guys to support.

*Domain Name refers to the name of the address you type into a web browser (such as Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox). For instance Google’s Domain Name is Google.com , My personal Blog Domain Name is Jersus.com

For those completely new to the internet I’ve created the following tutorial.

Once you get to any of these sites there will be extremely simple instructions to get you going. At Blogger.Com there is a big orange button that says “Create a Blog” , On wordpress.com there is a similar orange button which says “sign up now”. They are all pretty similar and most all of the blogging sites you go to will be screaming for your attention with a giant “CLICK ME!” button.

I am a big fan of wordpress personally so I’ll take you through the following step by step on how to get a blog up and running on wordpress within minutes.

First go to wordpress.com . You there? ok. Cool. See that big orange button that says “sign up now”. Click that.

start-a-blog

Now you get to this page. Fill in your information . Check that you’ve read the terms and conditions. Make sure “gimme a blog! (like username.wordpress.com)” is selected. And know that your username can be different than the website name. So you can just use your first name, or admin as your Username. Click Next.

get-your

robot-is-yours

Here you type in what name you will want for your web address. As you can see it put my Username in there as the default Blog Domain name. But you can change this and write in the name which you brainstormed using the mindmaps. You can also change the Blog Title to anything you want. If you want people to find your blog when they google your real name then put your real name in the Blog Title, for instance my Blog Title at Nerdkore.Com is “Original Oil Paintings by Jeremiah Palecek.”. If you wish you can put something more creative such as. RobotSlop’s Painting Paradise. Whatever you want. Just have the Blog Title say something about you! Then choose the language you will be blogging in. Choose whether or not you want your blog to appear in search engines (google, yahoo, msn, etc.). Then click Signup. and BOOM! It’s yours!

is-yours

Click on login, and it will take you to https://robotslop.wordpress.com/wp-login.php . This is the address you will use every time you want to login to your “control panel” (which you will see in a moment) .

login

Type in your Username and your Password, Click Log In, and the Control Panel page will open up.

control-panel

This is where you can control all of the information which will be posted to your blog. It may look complicated but you’ll only need to know a few places I’ll highlight which will get you up and blogging in seconds. Do you see where it says “New Post” on the top left corner. Click it.

dashh

That takes you to the page where you will compose your “post”. Think of a post as an entry in a journal. Type in a name for your first post.

new-posty

Then I want you to go where it says “upload/insert” (detail below)

upload

And click on the rectangular icon. (You’ll notice if you hover your cursor over it, it will say “upload image”.) This window will pop up.

Click on Select Files. And you’ll get a window popping up. Navigate to the folder which holds your images. This is the same as attaching an image or file to an email. Pick the file you wish to upload. And click “Open”.

add-image

The file will upload to wordpress’ server and you’ll see this window.

add-image-window

You can customize the alignment, and sizing if you wish. Now click “Insert Into Post” (bottom left). As you can see the image has been uploaded underneath your Title. You can click inside the rectangle and type some text under the image now. Then hit “Publish” which is located in the right sidebar.

publish

And that’s it. You’ve just published your first post with an image to the internet for all to see. Click on “View post” and you can see how the page is presented online. If you wish to change the look of your page you can click on “Appearance” (left sidebar) and further customize the look.

There you go. You’re a blogger now. So start archiving images of what inspires you, and let’s get down to the real business of learning how to draw, and then of course learning how to paint! This website is going to serve as your diary of progress.

For a list of previous students’ blogs please go to painting-course.com/blogs . To have your blog added to the list please email me and I’ll be happy to add it.

Go to Lesson 3 – Start Drawing!

Lesson 1: Learning To See And Draw

Learning To See And Draw

Welcome to Wonderland

alice-in-

“`Curiouser and curiouser!’ cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English); `now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet, they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off). “

Lewis Carrol, Alice in Wonderland

Introduction:

Learning to draw is a bizarre and wonderful process in the sense that in order to really learn to draw you have to first learn how to see differently. It means changing the way you look at the world. All the time. In this course you will not only be sharpening your drawing skills on paper, but you will also be practicing your seeing skills. You are on the pathway to becoming a painter, and the first step on that path is to become confident at drawing. Through these lessons you will learn to draw step by step by starting with the basics and moving towards more complicated techniques.

This course is meant to be used and that means you need to draw and paint in order to make it work. The lessons are planned to build upon one another. You are going to go from basic contour line drawings to finished oil paintings. Everyone comes into the course at different levels. Get comfortable with where you are, know your limitations, and start working at getting better. Drawing is akin to yoga in this sense. If you push yourself too hard and too fast, you are doing it wrong.

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How your brain draws

Certain activities cause changes in the way our brains work. There is an instrument called an EEG which measures different brain waves. In the photo below you can see a participant in a study which measures brainwave activity.

EEG_cap

(attribution http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Thuglas )

Our brains produce four major brainwaves. Beta waves are present when we are in a normal awake and conscious state. Theta waves appear when we are in deep relaxation or problem solving. Delta waves are present when we are basically asleep but not yet dreaming, and Alpha Waves are present when we are in a relaxed state yet still retain our sharpness and creative vision. Alpha Waves are where its at. You will not only improve your hand to eye coordination, but you will also learn how to get your brain to reach the Alpha wave state. Your brain learns these things step by step, much the same as one learns drawing or music.

A great example of an activity which requires a mastery of Alpha wave functioning is archery. When an archer pulls back his bow, closes one eye, and focuses on his target he may stop hearing the sounds and words around him. His fingers hold the string firmly. His breathing becomes more controlled and even. He calms his mind and this makes his aiming arm steady. He begins to visualize the arrow sailing straight into the big red spot. The bullseye wavers less and less as his finger tips begin to release the string. The string recoils and snaps forward. Splat. The arrow sticks into the target, and the archer begins to inspect his work.

This story encompasses all three of the major brain states. As the archer walks up to the line with his bow in his hand he is in Beta state. He is alert, conscious, and aware of his surroundings. As he pulls the string to his cheek he begins to slip into Alpha waves. He begins to relax and block out the sounds around him, yet he is still alert. Here’s the crazy part, the moment before he releases that string his brain waves dip dramatically, almost all the way down into a near sleeping state! It’s only for a split second, and then the arrow goes flying, and sticks into the target. He inspects the target to see if he hit the bullseye (Theta waves) then he snaps back to reality, and back to a Beta wave state.

When we draw we are going to be entering the Alpha and Theta lands. It’s a place that anyone who has a skill of any sort knows well. The basketball player throwing a three pointer with 2 seconds left, the concert pianist, the marksman, even the gardener or mechanic. All of these people have worked on a project so hard that they’ve completely lost track of time. I’m sure you have as well.

Think about a time recently when you’ve slipped into Alpha and Theta brain waves. Perhaps it was while fixing your vacuum cleaner, avoiding a deer in the road, or arranging a flower bouquet. Become familiar with what it feels like when you are in this state.

Learning To Play The Tuba

Everything you see through your eyes, all of the feelings, joy, sadness, whatever, your whole world comes from your consciousness. When drawing, you are simply trying to make this consciousness readable. It doesn’t need to be anything deep. It could involve something as simple as the way a guitar leans up against a windowsill. You are transmitting YOUR view of the world to others. Sure there are technical aspects, and training that will be involved in order for you to be able to measure accurately the distance between shapes. These fundamental aspects of drawing are teachable, and with practice, you will learn them. The question then, is going to be, Who Are You? Why do you want to make a mark on the world? What do you choose to draw?

This is the big thing that separates this book from others. I am aware that you want to “learn how to oil paint” and “learn how to crosshatch”. All I need to do is look at what people type into Google before finding my site. But these are just skills, they don’t really get to what making art really means. Of course we will go over all the skills you will need in order to become a sucessful artist. I will teach you some tricks, and new materials. But at the end of the day you also need to know WHAT it is you want to paint or draw. Through the following exercises in this book you are going to be exploring both your artistic vision as well as practicing exercises which will sharpen your eye and steady your arm.

Many people who are interested in art feel intimidated because the lines have been blurred as to what is good art and what is crap. During the 20th century what it meant to be a “painter” or “artist” changed drastically. Previously draftsmanship and craft were highly valued. However this is no longer the case. Many times concept has taken precedence over craft. This basically means that today we give as much importance to ideas as we do to aesthetic appeal. You, on the other hand, have already decided to pursue the path of becoming an artist working in a very traditional medium. Paint. The goal of this introductory course is not only to make you technically proficient (that just takes practice), but also to help you find what you want to communicate through imagery. That being said, there is nothing worse than knowing what you want to do, but not possessing the technical abilities to bring the idea to fruition. If you know exactly HOW you want to draw and paint, and WHAT you want to draw, then consider the following analogy.

Think of an instrument you have no idea how to play, for instance, a guitar. Now it is generally accepted that if you want to become great at playing the guitar, you have to practice hard. No one expects someone to sit down and start playing the guitar immediately. A person generally needs a teacher, or at least a book and a whole lot of passion. But what it comes down to is that people are playing (practicing) daily. When they’re not playing they may be listening to music and tapping out scales with their fingers.

In most drawing and painting or “art” (as it is so often referred to in the school systems) classes, many times teachers leave too much open to the students. They put too much emphasis on what the student is trying to express rather than addressing the fact that they may not even know how to get paint to stick to a canvas. The results are terrible paintings and drawings. No amount of pretense can make up for a poorly executed painting.

Let’s return back to our guitar player analogy. Imagine you are listening to someone playing the guitar and singing. The voice is off key, the strumming is out of sync with the tempo, the chords are clumsily played, but the lyrics are fantastic. Are you going to say “He’s a great musician!” just because the lyrics were great? Of course not. With music we put a great deal of importance on craft. A good guitar player’s fingers had to get calloused in order to push down the guitar strings. At first the stings clunk out, but then, with a little practice, it begins to get easier and easier. The same is true of drawing. It’s just practice. If someone tells me that they are a terrible drawer, I tell them that I can’t play the tuba, but I bet I could learn.

For some of you reading this book. You may already be comfortable with drawing, but find yourself coming up against certain stumbling blocks over and over again. You are going to learn to identify the problem areas of your drawings and become your own teacher. Even concert pianists practice scales. Drawing and Painting are no different.

Learn How to Draw and Paint: Start Today!

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Welcome to Painting-Course.Com. Here you will find lessons, exercises, and assignments to improve your painting and drawing abilities. Painting-Course.Com is 100% free Open Coursework online. You start when you want, and complete assignments, drawing, paintings at your own pace. Please take a tour through the different lessons and see what interests you. If you are ready to start learning how to paint and draw then click “Get Started Now!” in the upper left hand corner of the page. Get your sketchbook ready and let’s jump in!

The entire group of lessons are meant to be done in order and follow the same format of a year long course (or two semesters of work). If you’re willing to put in the time and energy that is required I would say that this course is the equivalent of a good foundation year at any respectable university. I studied at The Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, The Glasgow School of Art, and finished at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I currently teach Drawing for Design, Visual Culture, and Fine Art Reflective Case Study in Prague, Czech Republic.

How to Mix Flesh Tones

How to Mix Flesh Tones

In this painting video tutorial I go through the process of how to mix a good base flesh tone using only red, yellow, a touch of blue and white.  Many artists will buy pre-mixed flesh or skin tones in the tube. Here is a simple way that you can learn how to mix your own flesh tones. This awards you a greater variety of possibilities as there are a vast array of skin tones and colors present in all of the people in the world.

The basics outlined in the video above are as follows. You want to start by mixing red and yellow to get an orange color. Once your orange is mixed your going to dab in just a bit of blue to take down the intensity of the color. Now you should have what resembles a dirty orange. Now clean your brush and make another pile of paint  next to your dirty yellow of white. Slowly add the orange to the white (it is important not to add white to your pile of dirty orange). Now you can see that you can create an entire value scale of skin tones increasing in lightness just by adding white. If you want to darken the color you can add more red and blue to the color. If your color gets too violet then simply add some more yellow.

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