Category Archives: COLOR THEORY


farmlandWell, I’m going to teach an art class again — thought I was finished with that, but guess it’s in my “blood.”  Beginning September 15 (Thursday) from 1:30 – 3:30, I will be teaching a class on how to compose a work of art at the Maumelle Senior Wellness Center in Maumelle.  This is a seven week class, and will include examples, critiques, information, exercises, and perhaps occasional homework.  Students will use their own materials, as well as materials provided by the instructor.  I’ve had many years of experience teaching this subject, both in high school art classes, children’s classes, and adult classes.  A lot of the lessons will be based on the blogs I’ve shared on this site.  Cost is $45, and there is a maximum of eight students so call MSWC as soon as possible, if you want to register  (501- 851-4344).   I’m looking forward to seeing you and sharing my understanding of composition and design principles.





First of all, I’ve had computer problems this week, so I’m late in posting this.   I’m back on track however!

If you divide the color wheel equidistantly, you will have a triangle  and thusly, a triadic color scheme.  This becomes a highly contrasting scheme and could be difficult to pull off! You will need to mix two of the colors together to make semineutrals.  Your scheme will be either warm or cool dominant depending on the intense color used.  If done well, you will have an exciting color composition.

Use of the three primary colors (red, blue, and yellow) become a triadic color scheme, but some of the other colors are easier to work with.  This first example is using Ultramarine Blue, Indian Red, and Hooker’s Green.  These correspond to blue-violet, yellow-green, and red-orange on the color wheel.  I didn’t use a lot of neutrals in this. so there’s a lot of intensity.


In this next example, I used Manganese Blue, Raw Sienna, and Violet.  These relate to blue-green, yellow-orange, and red-violet on the color wheel. I subdued the violet and raw sienna, so that the yellow-orange is dominant.  Which one do you like the best?  It’s a lot of fun trying out these color exercises, not to mention how much you learn from them.  If you’re interested in this, read Stephen Quiller’s book, Color Choices: Making Sense out of Color Theory.  That’s where I got my inspiration.



Split complementary

The split-complementary color scheme is just what it says:  the complement of one color is split on either side so that it is a 3-color scheme.  What happens is that one color temperature becomes dominant and the other is subordinate.  Another way of looking at is is to select three analogous colors and then look for the complement of the middle color.  In this way, a harmonious relationship is provided as well as an accent color that enlivens the composition.  This color scheme is found in nature most often with the hues blue, green, and orange.

To choose your colors, ask yourself what mood you want to convey.  Cool colors convey a feeling of peace and calm while warm colors could be used to show activity, vibrancy, brightness.   One or two colors could be neutralized while the accent color is used in its intensity.

In my first example, I used a split-complementary scheme of yellow, orange-red, and blue violet.  The analogous colors where used predominantly, and the blue-violet was subdued and used only sparingly.  It’s a hot summer day!


In my second example, I used a split-complementary scheme of red-violet, blue-violet, and yellow.  The warms are dominant, and the yellow is partly subdued.  A night scene is suggested.  This is a good exercise for you to try – let me know how it turns out!









     In this abstracted 16 x 16″ landscape, I was trying to use one of the six basic  value  schemes mentioned by Edgar Whitney.  The scheme was a little dark with a lot of light in medium values.  I seldom use this value scheme; that’s why I wanted to try it.  I also wanted to continue breaking up the picture plane into sections, but still be able to lead the eye movement to the center of interest (the barn in the upper right area).  As usual, I worked out the value and color scheme in my sketchbook and decided to use a split-complementary color scheme: blue, red orange, orange, and yellow orange.  The acrylic colors I used were Cadmium Orange, Hansa Yellow, Indian Yellow,  Thalo Blue, Prussian Blue, Raw sienna, Burnt Sienna, Cadium Red Light and Titanium White.  (At least, that’s what I think I used — hard to remember now!)




The colors featured here are blue-green, green, and yellow-green.  Colors that are next to each other on the color wheel present a very harmonious, related color scheme.  One color needs to be dominant, another as subordinate, and the other should be in between.  Lighter and darker values as well as their neutrals can be used.  The colors you choose can express different moods – for example, colors on the red side of the wheel can express warmth, joy, excitement.  Paintings in which the colors have all been neutralized can suggest a mood of a foggy, misty, or rainy landscape.  In the study below, I chose to use yellow, yellow-orange, and orange as my three analogous colors.  Yellow is dominant, orange is subordinate, and yellow-orange is the intermediate.

As it states on the left — use of analogous colors lead to a “harmonious but potentially boring” color scheme.  As you can see in my example below, it would be much better if another accent color had been used — maybe a bright blue for interest!  Remember, these are just studies — learning how to use different color schemes — don’t be tied down to them!

analogous barn



With Halloween on its way, I thought I’d post a couple of strange paintings I’ve made lately.  Both of these are in pastel, my favorite medium.  You will note that the image above is of the same barn that I’ve been using for the color theory exercises.  For some reason, I’m really fond of this scene.  However, I tried it in a different value scheme — one suggested by Edgar Whitney in his book on watercolor.  This value scheme is a lot of dark with a little light in mid-values.  I hadn’t used this scheme deliberately before, and it ended up as a night-time painting — even a little disturbing – who knows what’s lurking inside that old barn! The painting is 12 x 16″ and is unframed – price is $175.

The Stoic

I didn’t intend for this painting to be spooky, either; I was merely playing around with background color – using intense watercolors for the underpainting.  The bare tree looms up into the sky, and it looks like a skeleton against the sky, pleading for deliverance!  The name of this painting is The Stoic — 24 x 28″ framed and for sale at $475.


Using a monochromatic color scheme is one of the best ways to understand the use of value.  “Mono” means “one”, and “chroma” means “color,” so all you can use is one color with various tints, tones and shades for your painting.  If you add white to a hue (another name for ‘color’), it is called a “tint;” if you add gray, it is called a “tone;” and if you add black, it is called a “shade.”  So all you have is the darkness and lightness of the color for variety.  Sometimes I like to do monochromatic underpaintings for my pastel works – the underneath color sets the mood for the rest of the painting.

To further complicate things, every color has its own value. For instance, yellow is a light value, purple is a dark value.  Greens and oranges are middle values.  You can see this best by looking at colors through a red glass (or a green glass if looking at red hues).  You will be able to see the relative value of the colors that way.mono

Here is the color wheel image sectioned off so that only a blue-green hue is selected.  You can see that the tints and tones are much muted.

In the example below, I have used the same subject as in the complementary color example, but with a monochromatic color scheme of blue with whites, grays, and blacks.  The time of day seems to be early evening, with perhaps a little light left in the sky.Monochromatic

Try this exercise if you like and let me know how it turns out.  I highly recommend the book by Stephen Quiller, COLOR CHOICES; MAKING COLOR SENSE OUT OF COLOR THEORY, which I used in my exercises.


A good way to plan a composition is to use recognizable color schemes.  Each color scheme has its own appeal and mood.  As I wrote about previously, complementary colors are those opposite each other on the color wheel.  Complementary color schemes can be pretty chaotic unless one color is used as a predominant, and the other is subordinate.  I used a simple composition in the following watercolor studies (5 x 7″) to show how value, intensity, dominant and subordinate color affects the mood. 

Comp1 STUDY I  

I used blue as the dominant hue in this first small study in values from light   to dark.  The complement, orange, was used as an accent.  The study seems to suggest evening with some light from the sinking sun.


I reversed the colors in this second small study, using orange as the dominant and blue as the subordinate colors.   The oranges are used in a variety of values from light to dark, and the accent of blue is used both dark and light in the foreground grasses and in the tree trunks.  A little blue can also be found in the texture of the barn. Do you see the difference in the mood?


REDGREENColors that are opposite each other on the color wheel, such as red and green, are said to be “complementary.”  Notice that that is not “complimentary.”  These colors complement each other, acting as opposites.  If they are used next to each other, the contrast is intense and disturbing.  If one color is mixed with another, the colors blend into each other and are neutralized, or grayed. 

Yellow, red, and blue are said to be primary colors, because the pure color cannot be obtained by mixing.  The secondary colors are green, orange, and purple.  Tertiary colors are yellow orange, red orange, red purple, blue purple, blue green, and yellow green.  As any grade school student knows, secondary and tertiary colors are mixed from the primary colors.

The complement of red is green, the complement of blue is orange, and the complement of yellow is purple.  But what are the complements of the secondary and tertiary colors?  You can figure this out without looking at the color wheel in this manner:  If you want to know the complement of blue-green, think – the complement of blue is orange, and the complement of green is red, so the complement of blue-green is orange-red.   Likewise, the complement of red-purple would be yellow-green.  Understand?

In the next post, I’ll show examples of a small watercolor in complementary colors.


COLORWHEELHere is an example of the well-known color wheel.  I painted this in watercolor several years ago, and it still comes in handy in composing works and in teaching students about color.  The colors to the right of the wheel are said to be “warm” colors, and the colors to the left are said to be “cool” colors.  The outer circle represents the undiluted color, the first inner circle represents what happens when white is added to the major color, and the inner circle represents what happens when colors opposite to each other are mixed.  The hues (colors) thus mixed are neutralized.

The hue at the top of the circle is yellow, to its right is yellow-orange, then orange, then red-orange, then red.  Continuing around the rest of the circle is red-purple, purple, blue-purple, blue, blue-green, green, and lastly yellow-green.  I’m sure most of you already know about this, but I’m starting out with the basics.  In the following weeks, I’ll elaborate and show examples of different color schemes that can be produced from the knowledge of the color wheel.

There are other versions of the color wheel and later on, I’ll write about some of those as well. So please follow my blogs for the next month or so to get the “whole picture!”