Beginning Drawing Lesson 5 – The Color Wheel

colored pencils

(Click HERE to download for printing)


The Next Element of Art: Color

In this lesson we are going to do two things:  we are going to add the next element of art, and we are going to add another medium… colored pencils.

We have already discussed three elements of art… line, value, and shape.

If you don’t remember what those are, refer to the previous lessons

The next element of art we will be discussing today is “color”.

Color is the element of art that is produced when light, striking an object, is reflected back to the eye. There are three properties to color. The first is hue, which simply means the name we give to a color (red, yellow, blue, green, etc.). The second is value, which is light and dark.  The last is intensity or saturation… how strong is the color… how intense.

Color helps add realism to your artwork, but it adds so much more:

Color adds emotion… it sets the mood for your artwork.

Color adds harmony to your artwork together…  think “color schemes”.

Color can define the focus of your artwork… color can set a visual path to your center of interest… it makes certain shapes stand out.

Sometimes color has meaning in itself…  green suggests life… white suggests purity.

Color can define the light source of your artwork.

Colors can be warm or cool.

Color creates depth and distance in your art work… it’s call “atmospheric perspective”.

I can think of lots of other examples… but most of all, remember this… color is a lot more important to your artwork than just deciding “what color should I make my tree”.


The Color Wheel

Artists use a tool to select and mix the colors they need for their art work… the color wheel.

The color wheel traces its origins back to 1666, and Sir Isaac Newton.  His color wheel is basically the same as we will be making today.

A color wheel is basically a chart used to display the 12 basic colors in a circular pattern which shows the relationships of these color to each other.

A color wheel is displayed in a circular pattern because there is no beginning point, nor does it end… it just keeps going ‘round and ‘round.

The color wheel can be used in color selection, mixing colors, and color schemes.

The first project for this week is to make a color wheel that you can keep handy to use in your artwork from this time forward.

Here is an example of a color wheel…


Notice the arrangement of the colors on the outside rim of the color wheel…one color flows into the next all the way around until you get right back to where you started.

Notice that I have pictured yellow at the top of my color wheel… but I have also seen it with blue or red at the top.  In fact, any color could be shown at the top.

Also, on my wheel the color goes from yellow to orange to red going to the right… but they could just as well go left.


Color Properties – HUE

OK, let’s break down these color properties even further…

The first property of a color is its HUE…  which simply means the name we give to a color.  There are 12 color displayed on our color wheel, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.  There are literally thousands of possible color combinations… but we limit it to 12 colors to make it manageable.

Blue is one hue, while blue-green and blue-violet are two totally different hues.

Blue, along with yellow and red are the PRIMARY COLORS… the colors from which all the colors in the rainbow can be mixed.

You cannot mix a primary color… that’s why they are primary… the first colors.

The second group of colors are the SECONDARY COLORS.  The secondary colors are made by mixing equal amounts of two primary colors.

Yellow mixed equally with red makes orange.

Red mixed equally with blue makes violet, or purple.

Blue mixed equally with yellow makes green.

So, the three secondary colors are orange, violet, and green.

You can also take this one step further…  when you mix a primary color with a secondary color, you get what are called TERTIARY or INTERMEDIATE colors.

These are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, and yellow-green.

So, that pretty well explains the first color property…. HUE.


Color Properties – VALUE

The second color property is VALUE.  Just as we had different “values” in our pencil shading, you can create different values with our colors, by adding white or black.

If you are using crayons or colored pencils, you add white by shading lighter and letting the white of the paper show through.  (Some colored pencil and crayon sets also have a white color as well).  If you are using paints or colored inks, you lighten the color by actually adding white.

The darkest values are made by mixing black with your color… more black equals a darker color.


Here is a color wheel diagram using ONLY different values of the color blue.

blue values

When working with colors, the pure color is called the HUE… adding white to a color is called a TINT…  adding black to a color makes a SHADE… here is an example:

Color Properties – INTENSITY

The last property of a color is the INTENSITY of the color… it is also called the SATURATION of the color.

An intense color is a pure color… NO graying of the color.

Here is a chart showing different color intensities…


An easy way to demonstrate this concept is to think about two yellow tennis balls… one is brand new and the other has been used for some time.  The new one is a bright and intense yellow…  the older one is grayed and not intense because it is dirty.

The next question to ponder is this…  how to you mix a less intense color?

Quite simply, you “gray” a color by adding its opposite on the color wheel.

When I say opposite, I mean straight across through the center.

For example, the opposite of yellow is violet…  the opposite of red is green… and the opposite of blue is orange.

As you can see, the opposite of every primary color is a secondary.

But what about the tertiary colors… do they have opposites too?

Just look at the color wheel…

  • The opposite of yellow-orange is blue-violet
  • The opposite of red-orange is blue-green
  • The opposite of red-violet is yellow-green



The assignment for this week is to make a color wheel chart that you can take home and use for future reference in your art work.  Just follow the steps below:

  1. Using the jar lids as templates, draw twelve circles onto a sheet of white paper.
  2. Label the circles with each of the 12 colors of the color wheel…

Yellow         Yellow-Orange     Orange       Red-Orange

Red             Red-Violet             Violet          Blue-Violet

Blue            Blue-Green           Green          Yellow-Green

 (You may abbreviate these color names… Y for Yellow, etc.)

  1. Color the circles with the circles with the appropriate crayons.
  2. Cut the color circles out
  3. Glue the color circles in the correct position onto your color wheel chart.


Here is the color wheel I made…


Color Schemes

A color scheme is the choice of colors used in a design or artwork by the artist.

There are four classic color schemes used by artists throughout the ages…  complementary colors, analogous colors, triadic colors, and monochromatic.

Next week we will look at putting the color wheel to work as we discover the use of these color schemes in our art work.