Studio Musings

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Color Wheel - One Big, Happy Family

Basic twelve-step Color Wheel

Everyone's seen at least one Color Wheel in their time, likely you've seen a half dozen or so.  Most have a lovely rainbow of colors like the one above.  We have:
  • The primary colors: red, yellow, blue.  
  • The secondary colors: orange, green and purple/violet.  
  • Then there are the tertiary colors, sandwiched between the primaries and secondaries: red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet. 
You know the drill.

However, the Color Wheel itself isn't the purpose of the exercise.  Rather, it's simply a tool to help us better understand the Relationships between the various colors on the wheel.  Because all the colors  on a particular wheel are defined by their relationships, you could say that they are one great big color family, bound by a number of familial traits.

A particular color wheel, familial traits, you ask?  Yep!

The colors are linked by the traits we looked at in earlier posts  - Undertones, Value, Intensity and Color Temperature. 

This means that you can play with varying these traits uniformally around the color wheel to study and develop alternate Color Families.  The key is to change them uniformly while obeying a few simple rules, so that the color relationships always remain the same.

For instance, yellow is always the lightest color and violet the darkest in terms of value on any given color wheel.  So if you decide to create a color wheel of pastels, you'd need to keep this in mind.  If violet somehow ended up lighter than the yellow, it simply wouldn't look right for that color wheel.

Three Rules (or Strong Suggestions) for Color Wheels:

1) Value: As noted above, purple is always darkest (has the lowest value), while yellow is always lightest.  Also, the red and green should have approximately the same relative values.

2) Color Temperature: Orange is always the hottest color in any particular color wheel.  Blue is always the coolest.  Again, if you create a color wheel that breaks this rule, it simply won't look right.

3) Intensity: All of the colors in the wheel should have approximately the same relative intensity.

In the traditional color wheel pictured at the start of this post, all of the colors are fully intense versions of their base colors.

my stab at an Earthtoned Color Wheel
my stab at an Earthtoned Color Wheel
But you could easily create alternate color wheels.  For instance:

If you wanted to make a color wheel of Earth Tones, you'd likely want to look at less intense, warmer versions of each of the colors.  You might or might not mess with the values.

In the color wheel of pastels I mentioned earlier, you would lighten (raise) the value of each of color, while making sure the value relationships between the different colors remain constant. Because, of course, constancy is essential to any good relationship!

You could even make a color wheel of neon colors, were you so inclined.  So long as you work within the basic relationship rules, you're good to go to build a spiffy new, custom-made color wheel.  


And since I'd love to see more participation with this series, I'll issue a challenge.  If you put together your own unique color wheel in any medium (beads, paint, paint chips, yarn, etc), name it, photograph it and either email it to me or post it on my Facebook page by September 11th (my anniversary) I'll enter you in a drawing to win the beaded bead pendant from my most recent Bead Soup.  I'd love to hear from you!

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