The first colour wheel generator was invented by English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton in the 1660s! While experimenting with sunlight and prisms (triangular objects made up of a transparent material, like glass), he noticed light refracted a spectrum of colours like a rainbow. Newton believed the rainbow of colours shared a harmonious relationship. By scientifically establishing our visible spectrum (the colours we see in a rainbow), Newton laid the path for others to experiment with colour in a scientific manner. His work led to breakthroughs in optics, physics, chemistry, perception, and the study of colour in nature.
As a fine art artist and illustrator, I appreciate the power of colour; it can be impressionistic and emotional. But the science of colour isn’t something I can truly comprehend. And, in fact, the first introduction I had using a colour wheel, I had absolutely no idea how to use it! I remember attending my very first art class as an adult and being asked to use the colour-wheel theoretics to mix colour with my brushes, I was completely lost! The art teacher was flabbergasted, and I was embarrassed! I remembered saying “I can’t be an artist because I don’t understand the colour wheel, and I won’t be able to mix beautiful colours to paint with.” Interestingly, during the next art class, I began mixing colours and the teacher said, “see…you know how to mix colours, just trust your intuition!” And, so I did! I think intuition plus practice has allowed me to become a better artist when working with colour, and although I have a better understanding of the colour wheel today, I rarely use it as a tool when creating digital artworks.
So, what is a colour wheel in art? Essentially it is a prop or tool with a visible spectrum of colours arranged in a circle which helps you see the relationship or connection between colours. It’s a very handy tool which can help you mix colours for design or composition aesthetics. The colour wheel is made up of primary colours – which stand as their own original colour, secondary colours – which are created by mixing primary colours together, and tertiary colours – which are created by mixing primary and secondary colours together. The colour wheel truly is a great tool in understanding ‘colour theory,’ which can help artists and designers find harmonious colour combinations based on the geometric relationships represented on the colour wheel combinations.
Grasping ‘colour theory,’
the principles of colours, can be a huge advantage when working with colour. Without extensively going into details, most of us learnt some basic colour theory of primary colours at school. Colour theory also involves colour values like lightness or darkness. You can change a colour’s hue, tint, tone or shade. An example is adding white for tint for a pastel colour result or black for a shade to darken a colour result. Or, if you add grey to a colour it creates a tone, it can lessen the brightness of a colour. By adding the dimensions of tints, shades, and tones, the colour wheel is expanded. Also, colour theory allows you to build a monochromatic colour palette by taking any colour and adding varying degrees of black, white or grey. Or, build an analogous colour scheme, which is a group of 3 colours next to each other on the colour wheel generator, like red, orange and yellow. But the most exciting part of colour theory for me as an artist is complementary colours. At the heart of colour theory, complementary colours are the opposite hues on the colour wheel and, when pairing colours, you can find harmony through choosing complementary colours. The common saying “opposites attract,” I think is absolutely true when working with colour. Complementary colour schemes can result in high contrast colour combinations that can really make colours bright and pop out.
I love working with colour, and although I work intuitively, practice and familiarity of the colour wheel and theory has been very helpful. I think the most exciting part of my creative process is when I have to choose a colour palette for my design! Check out my portfolio of art to see a range of colour combinations that I hope brings harmonious vibes to your eyes!
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