When it comes to the topic of color mixing, the use of color wheels is a common approach that some find helpful. However, while they can be an effective way to visually perceive the relationships between different hues, their utility as a guide for artistic endeavors is limited. Indeed, in this discourse, I shall elucidate the various reasons why color wheels fall short when it comes to the intricate task of mixing paints.
Perhaps you, dear reader, are currently encountering some difficulty in combining shades such as purple or brown. In the event that you are not interested in perusing the rudimentary details on the inner workings of color mixing, I urge you to feel free to skip ahead! Nevertheless, before delving into the inadequacies of traditional paint mixing techniques that rely upon brushes as their modus operandi (which, may I add, can be exorbitant), let us first establish what a color wheel is and how it functions.
What Is a Color Wheel and How Does It Work?
A color wheel is a circular arrangement of hues that are divided into twelve sections. At equal intervals around the perimeter of this wheel, three primary colors are situated, which are capable of being combined to produce the secondary colors that reside in the intervals between them. Furthermore, by adjusting the ratios of these primary colors, one can create personalized tertiary hues. For those of you who may be feeling inspired to embark on a creative exploration, ponder for a moment the myriad ways in which one may approach the task of breaking down each step from initial combination to final realization. The possibilities are seemingly boundless, and the outcomes that emerge may be quite unpredictable.
Types of Color Wheels
There are two primary types of color wheels – one for mixing paints, and another for the primary colors of light. The distinction between these two lies in the method of color mixing.
Additive color mixing, as seen on digital devices such as computer screens, televisions, and smartphones, creates a brilliant and radiant display of colors. The process involves adding different colors of light together to form a new hue. However, it is important to note that the rules of additive color mixing do not apply to the other type of color wheel.
Subtractive color mixing, on the other hand, begins with a white light source, and filters out certain parts of the spectrum to achieve the desired shade. The outcome of this method of color mixing can be vastly different from that of additive color mixing, and therefore, the rules cannot be transposed.
For those familiar with image editing software such as Photoshop, it may come as no surprise that mixing red and green results in yellow. However, in the realm of painting, this is not always the case. The outcome of mixing two different paints can be unpredictable and subject to a wide range of variables. Even after trying it out, the result can still be a mystery.
Painters Use What Color Wheel, Anyway?
While the color wheel, which is comprised of red, yellow, and blue, is widely used by painters, it is not necessarily the most accurate representation of how subtractive color mixing works. In this article, we explore why the color wheel may not be the best tool for color mixing and provide alternative recommendations for artists looking to create their masterpiece.
Step 1: The Color Names on the Wheel are General Terms
The colors on a typical color wheel are basic and broad in their definition, making them a less precise tool for artists. For instance, “blue” is a general term that doesn’t provide much guidance when there are so many shades to choose from. Fortunately, art supply stores offer a wide range of hues, making it easier for artists to find the right color for their project.
Step 2: The Primary Colors on the Wheel are Inaccurate
The colors of paint are infinite, but it’s important to understand that some colors are better suited for mixing with others. For example, while Ultramarine Blue is a popular color on the color wheel, it may not always produce the desired results when mixed with other colors like yellow or red, resulting in a duller green hue. On the other hand, Phthalo Blue is a versatile color that works well with a variety of other hues, such as yellow, to produce vivid greens.
Step 3: No Equation for Tinting Strength
When mixing colors, it is not always true that equal amounts of primary and secondary pigments will produce the best results. Some colors, like Phthalocyanine Blue, have a stronger tinting strength than others and can easily overpower other colors in a mixture. To avoid this, artists must be mindful of the tinting strength of each color they use and adjust accordingly.
Step 4: The Wheel Doesn’t Consider Masstone or Undertone
The hue of a color can vary depending on its masstone (its dominant color) and its undertone (its secondary hue). For example, Phthalo Blue may appear dark and moody when applied heavily, but when applied thinly, its lighter side may come through more clearly. This is an important consideration for artists working with transparent paints, as the mass tone of the paint can show through if it is applied too thickly.
Step 5: The Wheel Doesn’t Show How to Neutralize Colors
To neutralize a color means to make it less vibrant. When painting, it is often necessary to use duller hues to create contrast and prevent a mixture from becoming too saturated. However, the color wheel does not provide guidance on how to neutralize colors. To achieve this, artists must experiment with mixing compliments that create a gray or near-black hue when combined.
An Alternative to the Color Wheel: A Limited Palette and Mixing Chart
Instead of relying solely on the color wheel, artists can benefit from using a limited palette of two or three colors and practicing mixing them together. This approach simplifies the decision-making process and eliminates many possibilities, increasing the chances of getting the right mixture. Artists can also use a free color mixing chart that provides specific color names and guidance on how to mix them. Additionally, the Pantone Color App can help artists determine the availability of their desired colors and make the process even easier.
The art of blending pigments is a challenging task, fraught with numerous missteps. However, these blunders are merely an integral aspect of the educational process. The pursuit of a harmonious hued mixture doesn’t have to be a haphazard affair – there exist crucial instruments that can impart a deeper comprehension of the behavior of paint when combined and applied with precision, even if mastery requires patience and perseverance.