The colours of the rainbow

I’m back teaching my weekly group, after my eye surgery. My vision is slowly improving, so things seem to be going the right way.

This week, part of the session with my Watercolour Improvers group will be devoted to the use of colour, to give atmosphere and interest to a painting.

Colour wheel
A twelve-point colour wheel showing the three primary colours and three intermediate secondary colours

I’ve prepared a twelve-point colour wheel, which you can see here, to show the relationship between colours. As you may know, there are three primary colours, yellow, red and blue, from which all others are derived. On the wheel you can see the three primaries, and three secondary colours between each of them. So for example yellow has secondary colours of orange-yellow, orange, and red-orange. These colours are referred to as analogous, because they all contain yellow so they have a close relationship to each other. A painting constructed with a palette of analogous colours will have a strong feeling of harmony within it. An example of such a palette would be one using raw sienna and burnt sienna. The colours do not have to used at their full brilliance for them to be analogous, but they need to have a common primary colour, in this case yellow.

Another way of creating harmony in a painting is to use complementary colours. These are colours which are directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, for example blue and orange, or yellow and purple. Despite being very different, they seem to work well together and their intensity is enhanced when they are side by side. As before, the colours don’t have to be fully saturated for the effect to work, they can contain neutral elements within them but still be effective. I’ll be using a palette of complimentary colours in a painting that my Improvers group will be tackling and I’ll post it here once we’ve completed it.