Spinning the Color Wheel - mixing colors

Spinning the Color Wheel – Mixing Colors (part 2)

Colors are always relative to their environment – the very same hue can appear both dull or brilliant, depending on the surrounding colors. In the first part of the tutorial Spinning the Color Wheel – Basic Color Theory I showed you how to construct the basic color wheel (go and check it out if you missed it). In this part, we will take a look at the most common color combinations, so you have a starting point in building your palettes.

Start Drawing

I usually start out with a very rough sketch. I know I want to draw something colorful, so I can play around with color combinations and showcase the most common ones. Eventually, I settled on the girl with rainbowy hair :) yes, very original, I know, but it’ll do.

My final artwork uses most of the colors on the wheel – so it is indeed colorful. In the final stages I decided to tone it down and go for a “bright lights” approach, where all the colors fade and get pastelated. I did that because it simply felt too colorful – this might happen when handling color schemes rich in primary and secondary colors.

Drawing Rainbow Hair

My progress, from rough linework to final image

Like I was saying in the Color Theory Basics article, primary and secondary colors are only found in small amounts in nature and they do have a tendency to “jump off the page”, and in this case, it wasn’t in a good way.


Color Combinations

I try to keep my layers as well organized as possible, so I can change things up quickly. The following mixes are only made through color balance layers and color overlay layer styles – the little miracles of Photoshop. When you are actually mixing paints, you don’t have access to such wonders, so it is a lot better to learn how to use color properly. Using Photoshop’s tools is by no means cheating, it is only a (very helpful) part of the learning process. If you keep your layers well organized, you can try out this little experiment with any artwork. Just mess around with color balance in Photoshop and see what you can come up with, you may be surprised.



The monochrome color scheme – a bit dull, isn’t it?

The monochromatic color scheme uses only tints and shades of the same color. It is the most basic, but it does tend to be a bit lifeless. A good linework is essential if you want to use a monochromatic palette – using only one color doesn’t mean your artwork needs to be flat, so watch your values carefully.

Analogous Colors

Analogous Colors

For the analogous color scheme, I went for warm yellows and oranges.

The analogous color scheme is similar to the monochromatic, in that it doesn’t stray too far from the dominant color either- it uses it’s adjacent colors. In this case I used tints and shades of orange and yellow to complement the girl’s skintone and I think it works quite fine. By using the adjacent colors to the dominant, the artwork gains contrast and brilliance.

Complementary and split complementary

Complementary Colors

Complementary colors – Hello high contrast!

Complementary colors are placed opposite of each other on the color wheel. By using complementary colors you can easily achieve great contrast, especially if you pick a dominant color and only use the complementary color for accents. In this case, I picked yellow and purple, and you can actually see how the yellow strands of hair enhance the purple, framing her face.

Split Complementary

Split complementary colors – Hello harmony :)

The split complementary color scheme consists of using a dominant and the two colors adjacent to it’s complementary color. In my example, the hair looks more natural, while still keeping the beautiful contrast between orange (the face and lips) and the blue-purple/blue-green for the hair.

Triadic and Tetradic Colors

Triadic Colors

Triadic colors look more balanced. The overall combination has less contrast than the complementary color scheme.

The triadic color scheme uses three colors equally spaced on the color wheel. This color combination is a bit less contrasting than the complementary scheme, but the colors harmonize each other, so that the artwork looks balanced. In my example, the hair looks good, the colors blend harmoniously, but I cheated a bit on the yellow and kept her skin tone more towards orange. You still get the point :)

The tetradic color scheme consists of two pairs of complementary colors. I tried to showcase it in the final example, but I went all the way and basically used the entire color wheel. Using all four colors in equal amounts is not recommended, better stick to one dominant color and use the rest for accents, or do what I did and push back the colors, so that they are easier on the eyes.

Tetradic Colors

Tetradic Colors – or going nuts on the color wheel :)


Of course, you can  combine colors any way you like – but the most important aspect to keep in mind is that they need to complement the subject matter of your artwork. In a future article we will discuss mood, atmosphere and temperature, and how color can shake things up in an instant.

Until then,  tell me about your favorite color combination. Do you  go for high-contrast complementary schemes, or more mellow analogous colors? Or maybe you prefer to go all out in tetradic combinations? Drop me a comment and let me know!

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  1. Pingback: Spinning the Color Wheel - Basic Color Theory | Arid Glamor

  2. Deepika

    I really loved it,AWESOME

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