Learn how to choose paint colors to create beautiful, harmonious paintings

  • How do we choose paint colors for our new painting? There are so many colors to choose from! We would like to use them all.

When I was learning to oil paint I didn't know what colors to use. So I just used the colors the instructor suggested.

Then someone gave me a calendar with watercolor paintings. Up until that time my main painting medium was oils.

The watercolor paintings were so intriguing and I wanted to try them. So, I jumped in full-force!

  • Someone else gave me a rectangular watercolor palette and I filled it with lots of paint colors.

The rectangle shape was a bit cumbersome. It was hard to locate the colors. I was always hunting for the colors.

So, I got a round palette.  The colors were arranged like the color wheel. It held thirty eight colors.

  • I started buying watercolor paints and filled the new palette with lots of beautiful colors. It was easy to organize and find the colors in the new palette.

But ... it was still confusing ... there were so many colors!

hmm... how do we choose colors for a painting?

Studying the work of professional artists and reading everything about how to choose paint colors, gave me some revelations.

The revelations were;

  • Too many colors in one painting create discord and confusion.
  • A painting with fewer colors is more harmonious.
How-to-choose-paint-colorsWe can do a painting with only 3-4 colors.

do we want color confusion or harmony?

Using too many different colors in one painting can cause confusion. All the variations of color don't give the eyes a place to rest.

Even if all the colors are all very attractive, they won't all work well together in one painting.

The viewer's eyes jump from one color to another in a disconcerting manner. Fewer colors in one painting create peace and harmony.

I came up with a plan ---

get ready to choose paint colors

About 30 years ago, I learned this method of choosing the colors for each individual painting. Today the method still works for me.

we need a color wheel

Make a color wheel. Poster board or any heavy type of paper will work fine for making a color wheel.

I used watercolors to make my personal color wheelMake a color wheel from our paints.

Paint the color wheel with the colors we use the most.

There are twelve colors on the color wheel, a warm and cool version of each of the six basic rainbow colors.

There was still a debate in my mind about exactly which colors to use. The colors out in the middle of the wheel were some of the alternate colors still on my palette.

This is the color wheel I made over thirty years ago. It's a little worn, but I still use it today for selecting the colors in my watercolor and oil paintings.

next, make color scheme templates

  • Cut out color scheme templates the same size as the color wheel.

Professional artists often use these eight color schemes.

These are the templates I cut out of newsprint years ago. Today I still use these same templates to choose the paint colors for each individual painting.

Complimentary color scheme
Double compliment color scheme
Choosing colors with a split compliment color scheme

the following two schemes are the ones I use most often.

The compliment plus half left color scheme is one of my favorites.
My other favorite color scheme is the compliment plus half right.
A triad color scheme uses the primary colors.
Semi-triad paint color scheme
Analogous paint colors are next to each other on the color wheel.

how to choose paint colors for a painting

First - Most artists have a good idea of what they want to convey in each painting. Do we want a happy or sad painting, a bright or somber one, do we want nature's natural colors, etc.

So, we choose the main color in the focal point according to our reasons for doing the painting.

Second - Start looking for the painting's second color. Place each color scheme template, individually over the color wheel.

Turn each template so the selected focal color shows through a cut-out in the template.

Use the painting scheme templates to select colors for the painting.Start selecting the colors.

Choose the second color. It will almost always be a complimentary color.

The only exceptions would be in the monochromatic and analogous color schemes.

A scheme with complimentary colors will make it easy to mix neutral, dark colors for the painting.

We mix black, brown or grey from the selected color scheme. The mixed colors will always harmonize with the rest of the painting.

They won't look out of place because they came from the original color scheme. Plus, we can save some money because we don't have to buy any neutral colors.

Third - Choose an additional color. This color will normally be used in the smallest amounts in the painting.

Get more hints on how to paint a good painting.

Some painting color schemes may include another color or two like the analogous scheme.

an example of selecting paint colors

How-to-choose-colors-for-a-painting

Here is how I chose the painting color scheme for the turtle painting.

First, I chose orange-red for the focal point, turtle. I used Burnt Sienna for the orange.

Second, the compliment blue-green was the perfect color for the tropical water. Mixing the two colors made the dark colors for the turtle and the ocean floor.

The third color, yellow was great for the sunlight areas of the painting.

After we select a painting color scheme, we will know what colors to put out on our palette.

get ready to paint

  • Paper clip the template to your color wheel. Only the selected three or four colors will show. Refer to it and lay out the colors on your palette.

Keep the color scheme in sight while painting, as a reminder to not use any other colors. If we want more colors, mix them from the selected colors. 

A color scheme of limited colors will keep us on track, so we don't paint confusing colors. It will make a painting that displays cohesiveness and color harmony.

Today I still use the same color wheel and templates to choose the colors for my paintings.

If it works for me, it will work for you!

choose paint colors like the professionals.

  • Make a color wheel from your paints.
  • Make and use the templates to choose your color schemes.
  • Enjoy the pleasure of painting beautiful things.

we can create harmonious paintings!



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