Sunday, 27 May 2012

Traditional Colour Wheels

Colour Wheel  2
Winsor Yellow, Winsor Blue (Green Shade) and Permanent Rose
Watercolour on Paper
9cm x 28cm (7.5" x 11")

I’ve been living in a hotel this week and it has given me the opportunity to follow another of Maggie Latham’s Exploring Colour in Watercolour tutorials.

Her first tutorial explores traditional colour wheels.  You divide a circle into 12 sections, pick a yellow, a blue and a red to act as primary colours and paint them them at 1 o'clock, 5 o'clock and 9 o'clock. You mix the secondary colours (green, orange and violet) and paint them midway between the primaries. You mix the tertiaries (yellowy green , bluey green, etc) and paint them between the secondaries and the primaries. Finally, you mix all three primaries together to create a variety of neutral browns and greys.

I am surprised how much I learnt from this simple exercise. There are the simple practicalities about mixing big enough pools of the primaries to mix the secondaries and tertiaries. I also learnt about paints I've been using since I started painting.

Colour Wheel 1
Indian Yellow, French Ultramarine and Permanent Alizarin Crimson
Watercolour on Paper
19cm x 28cm (7.5" x 11")

Colour Wheel 1 (Indian Yellow, French Ultramarine and Permanent Alizarin Crimson) are stalwarts of my palette. I always thought they were bright colours until I painted Colour Wheel 2 (Winsor Yellow, Winsor Blue (Green Shade) and Permanent Rose). I knew these colours were brighter, but I am amazed by how much they leap off the page. The secondaries and tertiaries are vibrant, but the neutrals are not very neutral. Unless you get the colours perfectly balanced, one of them jumps to the front and shouts look at me.

The colours in Colour Wheel 1 are more subdued, but the neutrals are more sophisticated and easier to achieve - these are colours that are going to discretely slip into the background of a painting.

Colour Wheel 3
Transparent Yellow, Cerulean Blue and Windsor Red
Watercolour on Paper
19cm x 28cm (7.5" x 11")

Colour Wheel 3 (Transparent Yellow, Cerulean Blue and Windsor Red) was a revelation. I’ve only used Cerulean Blue in very pale washes. Maggie mentioned that it granulated, but it is crazy. It doesn’t want to mix with water or any other paints. All the mixes with Cerulean are highly granulated. If you are looking for a smooth wash, they are a disaster. If you are trying to create texture, this might be just what you want.


  1. I love the fact that you have taken time to do several versions of the traditional colour wheel. The information gathered from each different set of primaries (as you point out) is information that you can only gather by painting and exploring pigments. So glad you posted these.....

    1. Maggie,

      Thank you. I enjoyed painting them and I am looking forward to the exercises from tutorial 5.

      All the best,