Getting to Know the Colour Wheel | Coloured Pencil Guide

May 06, 2022


Today, I wanted to share something that I’ve found really useful when it comes to picking which colours I’ll be using for a coloured pencil drawing, and that’s a colour wheel. Now, I am not a technical person at all. I shy away from anything that’s got numbers or is even remotely technical, but I have found colour wheels so helpful in the past that, even if you’re like me, I’m sure you’ll find them useful too. 
Below are details of what a colour wheel can help you with, and what I take into consideration when using my own…
Knowing Which Colours Go Well Together

The colour wheels I bought were from Amazon and came as a pack of two (which is particularly helpful for me as, if I lose one, I’ve still got one to hand!), and what I really like about them is that they have two different sides. You have one side that shows you your complementary, split-complementary and triadic colours, and the other that shows you your values and what to expect when you mix certain colours. 

Looking at the complementary colours is really useful when you’re trying to pick two colours that will look good together and (you guessed it) compliment each other. For example, if you’re creating an art business and you’re trying to decide on your branding, picking complementary colours may be worth considering. They look great side by side and have the high impact effect that you want from your branding. 


Creating Shadows


I always used to find it incredibly difficult to create shadows, especially in some of my orange-coloured animals. Normally, I’d pick a complementary colour to create my shadows but, when it comes to a colour like orange, picking the opposite colour on the colour wheel isn’t going to give me the effect I’m looking for. Orange and blue are complementary colours, and when you mix the two together, you end up with green. 

So, what I do is I’ll take my colour wheel and look at the split-complementary and triadic colours. For orange, this gives me a blue-violet and a blue-green, or violet and green, and I tend to sway towards the violet colours. So, I’d be looking at using a coloured pencil like Sepia 10%, Violet Brown or Ultramarine Violet, knowing that they will give me a much better result when it comes to shadows. 


Determining Values


Colour wheels also include a section showing values, going from one, which is 100% black, to ten, which is 100% white (although I disagree, and see it as more of a grey colour!). Now, while I find it really useful for helping me to work out what my values are, it can be a bit tricky when you’re using colour. My top tip would be to convert your reference image into black and white and use that version of your photo to determine the values. Knowing where to add your darks and lights is going to really help with the overall realism of your piece. 


Mixing Colours


Then, we come to understanding what results you’ll be left with when you mix certain colours. Now, you have to take what the colour wheel shows you with a pinch of salt and know that the mixed colours it shows you are not going to be a perfect representation of the combination of two coloured pencils, as there is such a wide range of different coloured pencils available and a vast selection of different shades of the same colour. For example, in my coloured pencil collection, I have multiple shades of yellow, including a yellow with a green tint, or an orange tint, or a very red tint. If a colour wheel was to include every shade of every coloured pencil, it would have to be absolutely enormous! 

However, what a colour wheel does give you is an idea of what the basic colours will look like when mixed together. If you mix blue-violet and red, you’ll get a stronger shade of purple. If you mix violet with yellow, you’ll get a bronze-brown. Mix yellow-orange and black, and you’re left with green, as black has a touch of blue. And, so on, and so forth. 


Colour wheels really are incredibly useful tools. I use them in my teaching to help strengthen my students’ colour theory, and they’re definitely worth having to hand when you’re drawing. It is important that you don’t expect too much from them; they’re not going to be the answer to all of your colour theory woes. Practice and experimentation are still going to be your best friends, but introducing a colour wheel into the mix will help to build your understanding of how colours work together and will help you gain confidence when it comes to picking colours.  
If you’d like to buy a colour wheel, you can use my affiliate link to buy one here.

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