Understanding the Color Wheel
Mastering color in painting is often a matter of combining a willingness to experiment with mixing colors as well as understanding the color wheel and color theory. Most artists develop their own color mixing chart—or several—and work on recognizing color relationships (primary, secondary, tertiary; complementary colors; warm vs. cool colors) and how colors vary in tone and intensity. Color is one of the most expressive aspects of painting, as well as one of the most subjective.
This topic page will guide you through art color basics by linking you to handy resources and videos that will help you along the way to being a master.
The key to mixing color is understanding the various aspects that make up any given shade: hue, chroma, and value. Put simply, the hue is what a layman might call the color itself; the chroma is the degree of saturation, and the value is the degree of lightness or darkness.
Learn to read these three parts of a color, and you will be a much better painter already. In fact, all it takes to mix is three colors and an understanding of hue, chroma, value and tint strength.
Without any background in painting, it can be easy to assume that similar colors produce similar results when mixed. In fact, the opposite is true. It’s essential to understand which kind of black to mix with the shades with which you are working, and how to sculpt nuanced shadows without allowing them to be overpowered by your blacks. Read more in Color Theory Made Easy.
Basic color theory begins with understanding primary colors.
Color theory for pastels
Many artists become confused about how color theory applies to painting pastels, since those paints are technically not being mixed, but layered. It’s a pertinent point, but just because they’re not being mixed doesn’t mean that a thorough understanding of theory isn’t absolutely essential. Understanding complementary colors allows pastel artists to produce pleasing results, and it’s even more important in pointillism.