CalArts: Funds. of Graphic Design-W3: 3.6 The Color Wheel

So far we’ve looked at the Color Spectrum but now we’re gonna look at the Color Wheel.

If you imagine that you took the color spectrum, which is basically going from left to right in a strip.

If you took that and bent it around into a circle so that your red, the start of the color spectrum, matched up all the way around through the color spectrum. 
Matched up at the end to the violet, the far end of the color spectrum. 
You’d have, this is a color wheel instead of a single linear spectrum.

Analogous Colors.

In the color wheel, colors that sit next to each other are called Analogous Colors.

And these are basically colors that if they were in the true spectrum they’d be gradations from one pure color to another color.

But here we’re dividing them up into more solids just to limit the amount of information that we’re looking at.

These Analogous Colors would be very similar to the colors they are sitting next to. 
And none of this is very different from looking at the color spectrum as a strip.

What makes the color wheel more interesting is when you start to divide it up and rotate parts of the color wheel.

So, if you imagine you were to cut a central circular strip from the color wheel

And then you were to rotate that 180 degrees, you’d get something like this.

So what we’ve done here is taken a segment of each piece of the color wheel and paired it up with its exact opposite.

So if you look here we’ve taken a segment of the red, rotated it 180 degrees, and now it’s paired with the green down here. Whereas the green has moved up 180 degrees and is paired here. And these pairings of opposite colors is quite confusing, but they’re actually called Complementary Colors.

Complementary Colors.

And what that means is that these two colors combined effectively would almost cancel each other out.

If you think about the colors being black and white, they would form together to make a neutral 50% gray for instance.

But these complimentary colors, they can be really useful as a starting point for thinking about color palettes.

And even a simple color wheel like this one I just made quite quickly can be really useful in terms of just pairing up colors and being able to quite quickly look at how sets of colors would work together.

Which colors might go well with other ones which might be contrasting, complementary.

And even by just changing this, you can see here keeping the cools with the cooler colors, the warms with the warmer colors

versus what we were talking about earlier, which is having something like this, which is much more contrasting pairs of colors.


Another thing that I like to do with color wheels is to just set them up so that they work as a series of tints with the same color.

And again, part of what’s useful about this is just being able to mix and match different tints, to kind of rotate them in this case, and to see which colors match up with which other ones where things might start being interesting,

and start to help you begin to think about color palettes that you might be able to use or to pair two or three different colors together thinking about how they might work.

Not just in terms of hue as we saw in the earlier color wheel but also now in terms of value as well.

And obviously there’s plenty of programs on the computer that have color tools where you can really control and manipulate the color wheels and look at various different palettes and the creation of those palettes.

And also import pre-existing palettes or palettes that have been made by other people for certain moods or for certain uses.

But for me there’s something still quite nice about really just playing with these really, basic aspects of value and of hue.

And just looking at the difference of, difference between them and building your own palette rather than just kind of just accepting what already exists.

And if you have time, something that is also quite interesting to do, is to make this color wheel by hand, not to make it on the computer as I did.

But actually to paint it as a physical cobble wheel. And you learn a lot about pigment and about paint just by purely mixing the paint and applying the paint. 
And it forces you to really look at color quite closely. 
And by looking at it closely, that’s how you learn about it.