How to Mix Paint Colors: Color Theory 101
The Basics: Hue, Saturation, Value and Temperature
The Color Wheel
The Color Wheel is a tool created to simplify the subject of color and to add visual aid when painting. Color wheels are very simple to use once you've got the hang of it. Color wheels communicate the primary elements of color; Hue, Saturation and Value.
The first type of information read on the color wheel is Hue. A Hue is a 'color family' such as blue, yellow, red-oranges, greens, etc. Hues are found around the edge of the color wheel and can be divided into primary, secondary and tertiary colors for color mixing simplification.
Next comes the Saturation of the color. Saturation refers to the purity of the color, or how bright the colors are. A good frame of reference for this concept is the difference in a sunny day and a cloudy day. The bright colors on a sunny day are likely to be more 'saturated' (meaning they are located closer to the edge of the color wheel) than the drab colors of a rainy day. However keep in mind that very few things are actually as saturated as the colors edge of the color wheel. Meaning that when it comes to mixing paint colors that are more lifelike, the saturation needs to be toned down. This is easier than it sounds!
*We highly recommend reading: Color Mixing Bible: All You'll Ever Need to Know About Mixing Pigments in Oil, Acrylic, Watercolor, Gouache, Soft Pastel, Pencil, and Ink By: Ian Sidaway. This is an excellent reference book, featuring numerous color mixing charts and color scheme suggestions.
Now go practice! Seriously.
Color Schemes: Finding Harmony in Color
Harmonious color schemes can be defined as a pleasing arrangement of color which stimulates interest in the brain. Artists have known about color schemes for ages, and learning how to choose the right colors in your artwork could make or break your career. One of the most important rules to remember when working with color is that your job as an artist is to trick the human brain into emoting a reaction; and one thing we know about the human brain is that they are both easily bored and easily overwhelmed. This is where color scheme and general color theory knowledge comes in, it is important to find balance and harmony in your artwork which will make your viewers' brains happy!
Analogous Color Scheme
An analogous color scheme consists of any 3-5 consecutive colors on the color wheel. Though, one should be cautious to only include one primary color in their selection. For example, a painting with the colors yellow-green through orange would exhibit an analogous color scheme.
Analogous color schemes are extremely pleasing because the close relationship of the colors is calming to the eye.
Complementary Color Scheme
Complementary colors are colors directly across from each other on the color wheel. Using complementary colors results in a high contrast and dramatic color composition.
This color scheme is used for dramatic effect. This is especially evident in some movies where complimentary light colors are used to light the cast members' faces.
Accented Analogous Color Scheme
Similar to an analogous color scheme, an accented analogous scheme adds a complementary hue to the palate. The idea behind this color scheme is that the main body of the painting is an analogous color scheme with a complimentary color for an accent.
Accented analogous color schemes are a great choice if you are looking for harmonious colors with a pop.
Split Complement Color Scheme
A split complementary color scheme is achieved by choosing 2 complements and substituting one of those for its neighbor colors. In the example above blue and orange were chosen, however the primary blue was substituted for blue-violet and blue-green . A split complement color scheme is great because it allows for the drama of a complementary color scheme without straining the eyes as much.
Rectangular Color Scheme
A rectangular color scheme, sometimes referred to as a tetradic color scheme, is a color heavy combination that works by combining two complementary color pairs. A color combination as complicated as this generally works best if the warm or cool colors dominate leaving the two compliments to accent the painting.
Use this color scheme for energetic and colorful compositions.
Triadic Color Scheme
A triadic color scheme, as inferred from the name, is based on colors forming a triangle on the color wheel. Because these color are spaced so far apart this tends to be a more vibrant color scheme.
As with other color schemes it is best to allow for one color to dominate the work and for the others to act as complements.