6. Color Wheel

6.1. Color circle

A color wheel (also referred to as a color circle) is a visual representation of colors arranged according to their chromatic relationship (Fig. 6.1.). Begin a color wheel by positioning primary hues equidistant from one another, then create a bridge between primaries using secondary and tertiary colors. These terms refer to color groups or types:

twelve color wheel

primary colors

secondary colors

Fig. 6.1. Twelve Color Wheel

Fig. 6.2. Primary Colors

Fig. 6.3. Secondary Colors

Primary Colors: Colors at their basic essence; those colors that cannot be created by mixing others (Fig. 6.2.).
Secondary Colors: Those colors achieved by a mixture of two primaries (Fig. 6.3.).
Tertiary Colors: Those colors achieved by a mixture of primary and secondary hues (Fig. 6.4.).

tertiary colors

complementary colors - red and green

analogous colors

Fig. 6.4. Tertiary Colors

Fig. 6.5. Complementary Colors

Fig. 6.6. Analogous Colors

Complementary Colors: Those colors located opposite each other on a color wheel (Fig. 6.5.).
Analogous Colors: Those colors located close together on a color wheel (Fig. 6.6.).
The color wheel can be divided into ranges that are visually active or passive (Fig.6.7.):

  • Active colors will appear to advance when placed against passive hues.
  • Passive colors appear to recede when positioned against active hues.
  • Advancing hues are most often thought to have less visual weight than the receding hues.
  • Most often worm, saturated, light value hues are "active" and visually advance.
  • Cool, low saturated, dark value hues are "passive" and visually recede.
  • Tints or hues with a low saturation appear lighter than shades or highly saturated colors.
  • Some colors remain visually neutral or indifferent.

color wheel displaying active - passive ranges
Fig. 6.7.

Color relationships may be displayed as a color wheel (Fig. 6.1., 6.7.) or a color triangle:

Painter's color wheel

Printer's color wheel

Fig. 6.8. The Painter's color triangle

Fig. 6.9. The Printers' color triangle

Fig.  6.10. Nine-part harmonic triangle of Goethe

The Painter's color triangle consists of colors we would often use in art class—those colors we learn about as children. The primary hues are red, blue and yellow (Fig. 6.8.).
The Printers' color triangle is the set of colors used in the printing process. The primaries are magenta, cyan, and yellow (Fig. 6.9.).
Nine-part harmonic triangle of Goethe   in Goethe's original triangle the three primaries red, yellow, and blue are arranged at the vertices of the triangle (Fig. 6.10.).. The other subdivisions of the triangle are grouped into secondary and tertiary triangles, where the secondary triangle colors represent the mix of the two primary triangles to either side of it, and the tertiary triangle colors represent the mix of the primary triangle adjacent to it and the secondary triangle directly across from it..
Goethe's original proposal was "to marvel at color's occurrences and meanings, to admire and, if possible, to uncover color's secrets". To Goethe it was most important to understand human reaction to color, and his research marks the beginning of modern color psycology. He believed that his triangle was a diagram of the human mind and he linked each color with certain emotions. For example, Goethe associated blue with understanding and believed it evoked a quiet mood, while he believed that red evoked a festive mood and was suggestive of imagination. He choose the primaries red, yellow and blue based on their emotional content, as well as on physical grounds, and he grouped the different subsections of the triangle by 'elements' of emotion as well as by mixing level. This emotional aspect of the arrangement of the triangle reflects Goethe's concern that the emotional content of each color be taken into account by artists (Fig. 6.11.)..


Fig. 6.11. Goethe's emotional aspect of the arrangement of the triangle


6.2. The clickable map

 (http://www.realcolorwheel.com/colorwheel.htm) shows the true opposition pigment colors for mixing neutral darks. It will be the new "basic" color wheel because the color oppositions are accurate. The revolution of color wheel, replace your old color wheel now. The old Red-Blue-Yellow and Yellow-Magenta-Cyan (Color Wheel Pro) color wheels are inaccurate for the pigment artists. Some examples of using are follow:

Rembrandt or Mussini Asphaltum. Transparent. Asphaltum is a very oily dark Brown that has an undertone that leans to Yellow. Asphaltum was originally a tar pigment, it should only be used as a top glaze because of it's oil content, even as a synthetic

2. Yellow Raw Ocher is opposite French Ultramarine Blue.

Mussini Yellow Raw Ocher, opaque

Blocks French Ultramarine Blue, Translucent

Mussini Yellow Raw Ocher, opaque

MMCC, Blocks French Ultramarine Blue, translucent


Green Earth Translucent

Blocks Venetian Red, opaque

Grumbacher Green Earth Translucent

Opposite color, Blocks Venetian Red, Opaque

This was the favorite combination of colors to lay out a portrait, back when "Green Earth" came in five or six hues as well as Red Oxide. There was a third color that was very important in this layout, Naples Yellow Opaque. Naples Yellow also came in at least six hues.

Fig. 6.12. real color wheel http://www.realcolorwheel.com/colorwheel.htm

6.3. Complementary Colors

We look at a color wheel to understand the relationships between colors. Analogous colors are positioned in such a way as to mimic the process that occurs when blending hues. The colors that are positioned opposite one another are complementary colors.

red and green

yellow-green and red-purple

purple and yellow

yellow-orange and blue-violet

orange and blue

red-orange and blue-green

Fig. 6.13. Complementary colors


“Complementary colors make a strange pair. They are opposite, yet they require each other (Fig. 6.13.). They incite each other to maximum vividness when together; and annihilate each other when mixed. ” (Johannes Itten).

As stated by Johannes Itten, complementary colors annihilate each other when mixed to create dark neutrals (Fig. 6.14.):

mixing fucshia and green results in a neutral

mixing orange and blue results in a neutral

mixing blue and yellow results in a neutral

Fig. 6.14.  

To call those hues in direct opposition to each other "complements of each other" is appropriate. Complementary colors bring out the best in each other. When fully saturated complements are brought together, interesting effects are noticeable such as vibrating boundaries. This may be a desirable illusion, or a problem if creating visuals that are to be read.

Vibrating boundaries may occur when opposing colors are brought together.

6.4. Perceptual Opposites

Every color has both a color wheel opposite as well as a perceptual opposite. Without a color wheel, it is still possible to find the opposite of a color and this is due to a phenomenon of our eyes. Due to the physiological differences between individuals, everyone's perceptions do vary the complements shown below are my own perceived opposites (Fig.3.15.):

source >> result

source >> result

source >> result

blue surce - yellow after image result

yellow surce - periwinkle after image result

green surce - mauve after image result

sky blue surce - peach after image result

orange surce - aqua after image result

purple surce - lime after image result

Fig. 3.15. Perceptual opposites

6.5. After Images

Color is light and colored objects absorb and reflect different wavelengths. Color is seen by the human eye because of the two light receptors - rods and cones - located in the retina of the eye. Rods and cones vary in sensitivity to different colors and light, and they convey the color of light to our brain.
When our eyes are exposed to a hue for a prolonged period, the rods & cones become fatigued. You might notice this if you are reading something on colored paper, and then look away—you often see the inverse, or complement, of the image. This occurrence can be advantageous if you are seeking the opposite, or contrast, of a color. This may be dismaying to a viewer if presented with prolonged exposure to colored screens or reading materials.
Every color has an opposite, and although individual's perceptions do vary, the range of after images seen is consistent.

Stare at this image for at least 20 seconds (Fig. 6.16.):

after image source
Fig. 6.16. Image

When finished, look on the white page of paper. What you see there is called an after image. This may be VERY faint; if you don't see anything, try again! This  is the image most people see (Fig. 6.17.):

after image result
Fig. 6.17. After image

These are the after image colors many/most people will see. People see the opposite colors or a negative image because staring at one color for an extended period will fatigue the eyes rods & cones. There is some constancy with after images as people see images within the same general hue families.
A more in depth explanation offered by Peter Kaiser, MD while at York University, CA: When you focus on a [strong stimulus], light sensitive photoreceptors (whose job it is to convert light into electrical activity) in your retina respond to the incoming light. Other neurons that receive input from these photoreceptors respond as well. As you continue to stare at the [strong stimulus] your photoreceptors become desensitized (or fatigued).
Your photopigment is "bleached" by this constant stimulation. The desensitization is strongest for cells viewing the brightest part of the figure, but weaker for cells viewing the darkest part of the figure. Then, when the screen becomes white, the least depleted cells respond more strongly than their neighbors, producing the brightest part of the afterimage.
Most afterimages last only a few seconds to a minute, since in the absence of strong stimulation, most nerve cells quickly readjust. Desensitization of the retina can be important for survival. A constant stimulus is usually ignored in favor of a changing one by the brain, because a changing stimulus is usually more important. But desensitization also leads to afterimages.
Afterimages are constantly with us. When we view a bright flash of light, briefly look at the sun, or are blinded by the headlights of an approaching car at night, we see both positive and negative afterimages. To prevent permanent damage to your eyes, NEVER look at any bright light source, in particular the sun.
The British psychologist Kenneth Craik burned a tiny hole in his right retina and permanently scarred his eye at that spot, when he stared directly into the sun for two minutes. DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME! For the first few days following his experiment--in which he wanted to find out whether such a lesion in the eye is visible--he saw a dim orange disk with closed eyes (positive afterimage) and a black afterimage with open eyes. Fortunately, after a year or so, Craik's vision at that location in his eye appeared to return to normal. His brain cleverly filled-in information at this damaged piece of retina.