Do you know how to create a colour wheel, and find colour relationships? Do you know how to place colour on a drawing or painting and not make mud?
This post will show you how to get to know your coloured pencil colours by completing a colour wheel. It will also show how to find specific colour relationships by making and using colour relationship templates.
Completing colour wheels is not just for coloured pencils
It is also possible to complete this exercise with other mediums. But, please note that it is preferred that the medium applies neatly into the small sized colour wheel spaces.
Searching for the colour of a shadow
One of the most difficult things I found as a learner was – what is the colour of a shadow?
This question stumped me in my art application. It seemed I couldn’t visually grasp what makes a shadow. What colour should the shadow of a green capsicum be?
I drew a grey shadow, but this just didn’t fit the image – it looked flat and dull. What did I need to do to see the shadow’s colour? How did colours relate to each other?
In my quest to find colour relationships, I sought instructions from books and courses.
I learnt the basics of colour. I learned that two primary colours make a secondary colour, and a primary and secondary colour make a tertiary colour. However, I did not learn how primary, secondary and tertiary colours related to each other.
Next up, I bought a colour wheel, but it did not help me understand colour relationships either.
Complete a Complementary colour wheel
It is at this point that I came across a complementary colour wheel in Janie Gildow and Barbara Benedetti Newton’s publication “Colored Pencil Solutions Book”.
The complementary colour wheel encourages students to get to know their individual coloured pencils by completing a complementary colour wheel. Students draw coloured pencils in varying pressures, and at a lighter pressure on the opposite side of the wheel. Opposite colours on the colour wheel are complementary colours.
It is worthwhile if you can get your hands on a copy of the ‘Colored Pencil Solutions’ book. You can learn skills by using the book.
Gather the coloured pencils to complete a colour wheel
You can read about how to organise coloured pencils by type and lightfastness in one of our blog posts.
If you followed the steps outlined in the post, the next process to fill in a complementary colour wheel is simple. This is because your coloured pencils have already been sorted by type and lightfastness.
Please note that the exercise below requires 48 coloured pencils (4 of each primary, secondary and tertiary colour groups) – excluding black and white.
The pencils used need to be of the relevant colour group to which they will be applied on the colour wheel. They do not need to be from the same pencil type or lightfastness.
How to visually see your coloured pencils in a colour wheel
To see your coloured pencils in a colour wheel – you need to make a colour wheel. Simply follow the steps from 1 – 12 below.
Complete a colour wheel
1. First, draw a circle template.
Get a strong (400gsm) white sheet of paper (A4), compass with pencil and draw a large circle. Draw a circle 10cm from the centre.
2. Draw a circle inside the large circle.
Next, reduce the compass size by 2 centimetres, to a size of 8cms. Draw a circle inside the 10 cm circle.
3. Draw a second circle inside the reduced circle.
Reduce the compass size again by 2 centimetres to a size of 6 cms. Draw a circle inside the 8 cm circle.
4. Draw a third circle inside the reduced circle.
Reduce the compass size again by 2 centimetres to a size of 4 cms. Draw a circle inside the 6 cm circle.
5. Draw a fourth circle inside the reduced circle.
Reduce the compass size again by 2 centimetres to a size of 2 cms. Draw a circle inside the 4 cm circle.
After these steps, your colour wheel should look like the image below.
5 circles on a page. The largest circle is 10 cms from the centre, and each other circle is reduced 2cms from the next. e.g. 8cms, 6cms, 4cms, 2cms.
6. Divide the circles into 12 triangles.
Space the triangles evenly around the circle. Start with drawing a vertical and horizontal line through the centre of the circles.
Draw two more lines along the length of the circle so that each quarter has been drawn into thirds.
The image below shows what the colour wheel should look like after step 6.
7. Divide each colour wheel’s triangle evenly into 4 lines to the centre.
These smaller triangles should be evenly spaced in each triangle.
A circle 10cms wide consisting of 4 inner circles. 24 lines are drawn from outer edge to edge through the circle centre.
8. Mark the top of each triangle according to the colour wheel.
The top of the triangle is the top of the colour wheel.
This is: red at the 12 o’clock position, mark the 1 o’clock position as red orange, 2 o’clock as orange, 3 o’clock as orange yellow, 4 o’clock as yellow, 5 o’clock as yellow green, 6 o’clock as green, 7 o’clock as green-blue, 8 o’clock as blue, 9 o’clock as blue indigo, 10 o’clock as violet and 11 o’clock as violet-red.
9. Gather your coloured pencils
Gather the colour pencil set you would like to create the colour wheel. Choose 4 pencils from each of the 12 corresponding colour groups outlined in step 8 above on the wheel.
10. Mark the colour wheel template with pencil colour identification
Write the number of the coloured pencil on the top of the space which it will fill.
11. One by one, fill in the whole line corresponding to that pencil.
Start by filling in the most outer space with the colour pencil listed for that row.
Apply 2 or 3 layers to ensure that the colour is fully saturated in the most outer space of the triangle. In the second outer space colour 1 or 2 layers.
Colour in again with a lighter pressure in the next inner space.
Follow the colour across to the opposite side of the wheel.
Draw with a lighter pressure in the inner space opposite on the wheel.
Finally place a very light application of the colour in the second most outer space on the opposite side of the wheel.
12. Repeat this process around the colour wheel.
You will notice that as you get to the second half of the wheel, you will cover over pencil that was provided on the opposite side of the wheel.
This is the complementary colour. You have just made a visual colour relationship.
The resultant colour is the mixture of two complementary colours. You will notice that they are muted colours. Depending on their intensity, they would mix to a dull brown. See an example of a completed colour wheel below using Caran d’Ache Pablo, and Faber Castell Polychromos pencils.
Complementary colour relationship
A complementary colour relationship is one of the simplest to remember.
Complementary colours are those that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.
The mixture of two complementary colours makes brown. However, depending on the amount of complement colour used, it is not just ‘brown’ that is being made, but rather it is a muted version of each colour. Each of these muted colours provide depth. This is illustrated in the completed colour wheel above.
Other colour relationships
After completing this exercise, I continued to learn about other possible colour relationships.
I learnt there are 6 colour relationships (10 if analogous are listed separately). These are:
Monochromatic – (this is differing shades of one colour on the wheel)
Split complementary – (3 colours – one colour each side of one colour in a complementary colour group – forms an ‘Y’)
Analogous – 2, 3, 4 and 5 – (colours beside each other on the colour wheel – can be 2, 3, 4 and less so 5)
Double Split Complement (or Tetrad Square)- (4 colours – each colour each side of each colour in a complementary colour group – forms a thin ‘X’)
Tetrad (2 colours apart on the colour wheel – forms a thick ‘X’)
Triad (3 colours apart on the colour wheel – forms a thick ‘Y’)
How to recognise an appropriate colour relationship
When I used the colour wheel completed in steps 1-12 above, it was difficult to visualise an individual colour relationship other than monochromatic or a complementary colour relationship.
Until other colours on the colour wheel were removed, I could not truly appreciate a colour relationship.
I decided then that I needed to isolate unnecessary colours from my view.
How to isolate unnecessary colours
In order to isolate colours that are not part of a colour relationship – they must be removed from vision – and the best way to do this is to cover them. How do you cover the unwanted colours?
The simplest way was to recreate the colour wheel template outlined in steps 1-6 above. Once created, the triangles that relate to the colour relationship are cut out.
The idea is to create a new circle template for each colour relationship. This circle template will cover the completed colour wheel and only show the colours necessary for the relationship.
These are the steps to isolate colours that are not in a colour relationship.
13. Create another circle template.
See steps 1-6 above.
14. Write the name of the colour relationship being prepared on the paper outside the circle.
Mark the name of the colour relationship this template will create. Mark the relevant triangles which will be removed. This step helps to identify what pieces to cut.
15. With a craft knife or scissors, cut out the corresponding triangle as specified in the template.
16. Repeat this process for all the templates you require.
17. Place the template in an A4 laminator sleeve and laminate the page.
It is possible to use the colour relationship template without lamination. However, it may be that the template can scratch along the colour of the colour wheel, or the template could rip with repeated use.
18. Use the template
How to use the template?
This is the easy part. Place the template over your completed colour wheel to see how the colours relate.
You may be considering a project and are thinking about the colours to use.
Simply place a colour relationship template over the colour wheel and move the template around the wheel to see how a colour relates to another in that relationship.
Keep trying the other relationship templates and move them around the colour wheel to see how they relate.
19. Many colour options now available
By following the process above, you will now have found many possible colour relationships to apply to your artwork.
Using your new colour relationship templates
I use the complementary colour template in all pictures I create.
An artist at any level can see how to create an artwork without risking colours becoming mud.
While this can happen in practice, it is helpful to refer to the colour relationship and colours as you proceed in your project. It helps to keep reviewing the relationship on the colour wheel and monitor colour application.
Colour relationship applications beyond coloured pencils
This exercise works with other mediums.
Colour pencils are transluscent – in that colours mix as they are layered on a paper. Yet, this process also works with colours that are not transparent – but mix together.
I created a colour wheel for other mediums. This process helps me understand how each of the individual brands colours interact.
I use the same colour relationship templates over those mediums colour wheels.
The steps above are those that I took to get to know the effect of one colour on another, and what would be the best colour to use against another colour.
A colour relationship example
Below is a picture I created using the tetrad colour relationship.
The colours are violet, yellow, red orange and green blue. These colours are two apart on the colour wheel. I used the complementary colour wheel so this picture also takes in the complement of the colours.
Do you like the picture below? This image is available for sale on a range of products.
I now know that the colour of a green capsicum’s shadow is the capsicum’s colour and its complement – in this case – a mix of green and red.
If you have time, I encourage you to get to know your coloured pencils – or any other medium by undertaking this exercise. Steps 1-12 above will help you understand your colour pencil’s application. Steps 13-19 will help you choose the best colour relationships to complete your drawing or painting.
Understanding colour relationships will allow your creativity to set sail!
This is an updated version of an original post published on this website in February 2019.