Illustration Tutorial: The Color Wheel

Andonella shows us a simple way to understand color and how to use a color wheel to improve our illustrations.

Color is an essential part of any artist’s work, but to use it effectively, you need to understand it first. The color wheel is a useful tool that will help you do just that. It usually takes the form of a circle. Around the circumference, you can identify the primary colors and see how they mix together to make the secondary and tertiary colors.

Andonella, who teaches the Domestika course, Introduction to Illustration of Characters with Gouache and India Ink, is here to give you some tips on how to create a color wheel from scratch. You will be able to use it to choose color palettes for your illustrations.

Steps for creating a color wheel:

1. Get a blank sheet of paper or card and draw a circle (or create your own circular shape)

The color wheel doesn’t have to be an exact circle, however it’s better that it maintains a circular shape. This will help you to see how the colors mix together and identify complementary and analogous colors. In fact, Andonella encourages you to design your own unique color wheel like this one, which takes the shape of a flower and has 12 petals (three for the primary colors, three for the secondary colors, and three for the tertiary colors).

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2. Distribute the primary colors around the circle and leave an even space between them

The primary colors are always the starting point of a color wheel – they are red, yellow, and blue. Leave the same amount of space between each of them. In this case (if we are following Andonella's example and drawing a flower with 12 petals), you would need to leave three spaces (or three petals).

If you are going to use gouache, like Andonella, it’s recommended to use a mixing palette so that you can prepare the color mixes properly in advance. It’s also advised that you have a paper towel (or a serviette or a cloth) as well as a piece of scrap paper (which you can use to try out the colors before adding them to the wheel).

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3. Mix the primary colors to create the secondary colors

The secondary colors are those that are made by mixing 50% of one primary color with 50% of another. That’s how you get the next colors that you will be adding to the wheel: green, orange and purple.

Leave a space between each of the primary colors and the secondary colors. Next, we will mix these colors on our palette. You will need to take extra care with the color yellow, as it is the most difficult to mix correctly. In order to get orange, we mix yellow and red; to get purple, we mix red and blue; and to get green, we mix yellow and blue.

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4. Mix the secondary colors to create the tertiary colors

The tertiary colors are those that are made by mixing 50% of one secondary color with 50% of one primary color. That’s how we create the intermediate colors, which sit between the primary and secondary colors. The combination of yellow and orange makes yellow-orange; red and orange makes red-orange; red and violet makes red-violet; blue and violet makes blue-violet; blue and green makes blue-green; yellow and green makes yellow-green.

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5. Add labels to your color wheel so that it serves as a helpful guide

Once you have your color wheel ready, you can add labels to it so that it serves as a helpful guide for your future projects. Andonella recommends that you also note down possible color combinations such as analogous colors and complementary colors.

The analogous colors are those which are touching in the color wheel, in other words, they are neighbors. An example of analogous colors are yellow, orange-yellow and orange. The complementary colors are two colors that sit directly opposite each other in the color wheel, like yellow and violet; blue and orange; red and green; or yellow-green and red-violet.

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Once finished, keep this color wheel close-by so that you can use it for your designs and illustrations. It will help you to combine colors, decide which tone is most suitable, and also propose new mixes that will give surprising results. Learn more of Andonella’s tricks for elevating your creativity with your illustrations in her course, Introduction to Illustration of Characters with Gouache and India Ink.

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