First Quarter Challenge – Making a Color Wheel

For the first quarter challenge I made a color wheel with colored markers. I also collected some color information from my studio journals of color wheels and scales I had done in the past. There were several comments that I hadn’t covered enough information about color in my first post and I will continue to add information as we go through the quarter. I think it is really hard to digest everything in one sitting so the color theory will be spread out over the quarter. I will be repeating some things of importance but as we have discussed over in the forum, it is easy to forget the terms if you don’t use them on a regular basis. So bear with me and I will try to explain color theory as I know it. One point that I didn’t make before that color mixing with light, paint and dye are all a bit different. So depending on the media you use, the results will not all be the same. Remember that you can click on any of the photos to enlarge them if you want a closer look.

Primary Colors on Color WheelI searched online for a blank color wheel and found this one shown above. It is from the site Color Wheel Artist and it has several free printable mixing wheels available. There are also lots more out there if you search for them. I printed a bunch out so I would have extras. I would suggest that you transfer the outline to a sturdier piece of paper such as watercolor or mixed media paper. All you have to do is put the printed wheel on a sunny window and put your heavier paper on top. You’ll be able to see the wheel underneath and will be able to trace it or just mark the corners. It really doesn’t matter if you stay within the lines, just getting the color on the paper is the important part. I used the computer paper but it got really flimsy when I was trying to mix the colors on the paper.

Primary Colors with Tombow Pens

For this color wheel, I used Tombow Colored Pens that are “blendable”. This set is called the “primary” set so it had the primary and secondary colors. The primary colors are red, blue and yellow. These are the colors that you can’t mix from other colors. So you need to start with the primaries to begin your color wheel. You can then mix from red, yellow and blue to achieve the remaining colors on the wheel. The hardest part here is deciding if you really have a primary yellow or primary red or primary blue. If you are mixing your primary colors and you come up with something different from what you expected, then you might not have a true primary color. When you are selecting your colors, look at what they are called. Most dyes and paints will have colors marked as primary.


As an example, if you take a look at Zed’s color wheel that she made from dyed wool, you will see on the left at least three colors that look “yellow”.  If the colors were viewed in isolation, you would probably label them as “yellow”. But when placed side by side and compared, one is primary yellow, one leans towards orange and one leans towards green. So compare all your yellows and pick which you think is the “primary” one before you start. The same with reds and blues. If you start out with a “primary” that leans to its secondary color, it won’t provide a pure mix of color and your secondary and tertiary colors will be affected.

Adding Secondary Colors to Color Wheel

Next I colored in the secondary colors which are orange, green and violet (purple). My pens had the secondary colors so I didn’t have to mix anything to apply the secondary colors. If you are using paint, you’ll need to start with the lighter color and add small amounts of the darker color such as mixing small amounts of red into yellow to achieve orange.  A mixture of blue into red creates purple and a mixture of blue into yellow creates green.

Primary and Secondary Colors

Depending on what media you are using, sometimes it is equal parts of primary colors that make a secondary color but that isn’t always true with paint pigments. Sometimes an equal amount of red mixed with an equal amount of yellow would not be a middle range orange but instead a red-orange. That is because the red overpowers the yellow in the mixture. So mixing a small amount at a time and testing on paper before applying the mixed secondary color to your wheel is helpful.

Testing Colors on Scrap Sheet of Paper

I used this blank piece of paper to try to mix colors with my pens. I have to say that this is where I ran into some problems. My paper was too flimsy and the pens didn’t really “blend” all that well. But I kept at it until I was able to achieve a fair representation of the tertiary colors.

Mixing Tertiary Colors and Adding to Color Wheel

Here is my final color wheel. The tertiary colors are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green and yellow-green. It helps if you label what media you used and what the color names were. Then if you want to repeat a color, you will be able to create it again. I would also recommend that you start a color notebook and keep your information all together. I have mine scattered throughout at least 7 different journals and it isn’t easy to find quickly. If you have all your color experiments in one place, you can use that as a resource when you are mixing colors in the future.

A short note about color wheels. I learned that yellow should always be at the top and the blue to the right. But that’s not the way everyone does it. I wouldn’t worry too much about color placement as long as your primary colors form an equilateral triangle in the wheel.

Here are some other color wheels that I have created over the years. The top right is dyed thread color wheel. The other two top photos show the difference in color mixing if you use a yellow that leans more towards orange compared to a primary yellow. The top middle photo is mixed with primary yellow and the top right is mixed with a “golden” yellow. Can you see how it mixes differently? The left bottom photo is a color wheel from cut out magazine colors. I can see now that my primary blue leans towards violet. The other two bottom photos are color wheels from two different textile paints that I use in my work.

Mixing Tints with Dye

I had several questions about colors such as pink and where they fit on the color wheel. A color with white added is called a tint. The photo above shows mixing dyes to achieve tints. Dyes are different from paints in that there is no “white” dye. Instead, the dye is diluted with water to achieve a tint and make a paler color. You could do this same sort of scale with wool. Start with the pure colored wool and add little bits of white at a time to achieve different tints. Tints are not always shown on a basic color wheel. Some of the fancier ones have tints in an outer ring surrounding the basic color wheel.

Mixing Shades with Procion MX Dye

This is a sheet I did about mixing “shades”. Shades are a color mixed with black. The photo shown above is done with dye and painted on to the paper. If you see the number on the left hand side, that is the number of drops of black added each time to achieve the changes shown. Again, shades are not shown on a basic color wheel. Sometimes you will see them in the center of the wheel moving towards black at the very center. This same sort of effect could be achieved by blending colored wool with black wool in incremental amounts.

Neutralizing Yellow with Complementary Violet

Many colors that you see are “neutralized” colors. To achieve neutrals, add in the complementary color. A complementary color is the one on the opposite side of the color wheel. In this examples, yellow and violet are used. Small amounts of the darker color violet is added into the yellow. Again the numbers represent the number of drops added. So to “neutralize” your colors of wool, mix in a small amount of the opposite color on the color wheel.

Color Study with Colored Pencil

Another fun exercise is to use the same colors but mix them in different ways. Here three colors are used: orange, light blue and blue. The top is a greater percentage of blue with a less amount of orange. The middle has black added and the lower has more white paper showing through. This could easily be tried in felt by not thoroughly mixing the fiber colors together and felting them in different proportions or on a white background or black background to see the differences.

primary colours by Lyn

Lyn from RosiePink made a wonderful color wheel out of wool starting from the primary colors above. You can read more about it on her post.

colour wheel by Lyn

The result is wonderful and she did this all by hand carding from the primary wool colors above. Great job Lyn!!

blended greens by Zara

So have you tried making a color wheel? I hope you’ll give it a try. And if you’ve already made a color wheel perhaps you can try mixing some shades, tints or neutralized colors. One of our forum members Zara worked on mixing some shades, tints and tones (mixing in grey) with green wool. You can read about it here. It’s in English at the bottom of the post.

I hope you’ll join in the color fun. If you have any questions, either leave a comment here or join us on the forum in our color discussion. We have been having a lively discussion and I think everyone is learning from the others experiments.

Isosceles Triangle

Next week, I will do a post about using  a color wheel to choose a color scheme. It helps if you have one made on paper so if you haven’t done that yet, give it a try!





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12 Responses to First Quarter Challenge – Making a Color Wheel

  1. Lyn says:

    Thanks Ruth – so many lovely examples demonstating your text – I’ve just learnt what ‘tint’ and ‘shade’ means and I’m eager to discover more.
    I’m going to have a go with adding increasing amounts of first white and then black to a primary colour – I’ll take some photos.

    (I accidentally did the colours on my fibre wheel in the right order – I just thought it looked better with the yellow at the top and the blue on the right!)

    • ruthlane says:

      Great Lyn – I look forward to seeing your tints and shades. I always love the shades as you get some interesting colors you weren’t always expecting.

  2. zararooke says:

    Thanks for walking us through this colour adventure Ruth! 🙂

  3. Lots of good information Ruth. I need to dye some wool before I can do much. .

  4. zedster66 says:

    I’ve got things to do but you just make me want to get my paints out and dyes, and blend some wool and root through my fabrics! Great post, Ruth 🙂

  5. luvswool says:

    Your various interpretations of color wheels have given me much to think about. My new paints and paper and brushes are waiting for me to figure out what to do with them.

  6. Leonor says:

    Great work explaining tint and shade, Ruth! That helped me a lot. Can’t wait to keep reading about this 🙂

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