How to create a color wheel chart with watercolors

Let’s face it, color mixing can be a challenging skill to master as a beginner! I found that using a color wheel chart helped me a great deal. I used it as a reference tool to understand the connections and relationships between different colors.

What is a color wheel for?

A color wheel chart is a tool used by artists to better understand different colors and how they relate to each other. Color wheels can make a huge difference in learning about the fundamental basics of color mixing.

In this post, I take you step by step on how to create your color wheel. First, I go through the basics of how to read a color wheel. I then discuss three different versions, one with warm and cool primary colors, one with warm primary colors, and the last one with cool primary colors.

Please note: This article may contain affiliate links. If you choose to purchase something I will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you! You can learn more by reading the full disclosure here.

What is a color wheel chart?

The color wheel is a visual representation of the different relationships between colors. It is also a very useful tool and reference guide when it comes to understanding the basics of color mixing.

The color wheel consists of primary, secondary, and tertiary colors:

Primary colors: These colors cannot be mixed with any other color, however, any color can be mixed using them. They are yellow, blue and red.

Secondary colors: These are colors created when mixing two primary colors, they are green, orange, and purple.

Tertiary colors: Colors mixed using a secondary and primary color. These are yellow-green; blue-green; yellow-orange;

Complementary colors– These are colors that sit opposite each other on the wheel. Green and red; Purple and yellow; Blue and Orange. When you mix complementary colors together you can create neutral tones (grays) and earth tones (browns).

Analogous colors– These are colors that sit next to each other on the wheel. For example, next to the red-orange is red and orange. You can create a sense of harmony when using analogous colors in a painting.

Read more about complementary and analogous colors here.

How to create a color wheel with warm and cool primary colors:

What you will need:

  • 2 Round objects- You can use a bowl, compass, or round object to create a circle. You’ll need two sizes, a big circle and a smaller circle within the big circle.
  • Pencil/eraser- To draw the wheel and the outline
  • Ruler (optional)- to draw the different sections in straight lines if you prefer
  • Brush- to apply the paint. The size of the brush depends on the size of the paper so choose what feels comfortable
  • Watercolor paper– Hot pressed will work the best, however you can also use cold-pressed
  • water jars- to clean off your brush
  • Watercolor paint- You’ll need a warm and cool version of each primary color, I’ve included the table below to show you different examples of warm and cool primary colors from different brands. The pigment number is also included so you can compare it with your colors.
Warm colorsCool colors
YellowNew Gamboge
Cadmium yellow Deep
Indian Yellow
Hansa yellow deep
Quinacridone Gold
Hansa Yellow Light (PY3)
Cadmium yellow light (PY35)
Lemon yellow (PY 175)
Aureolin
BlueUltramarine
Indanthrone Blue
cobalt blue
Pthalo blue
Prussian blue
Cerulean blue
RedPyrrol scarlet
Cadmium red light
Vermillion
Rose madder
Alizarin crimson
Examples of warm and cool primary colors

Step by step process

1. With your round object start by drawing a circle on your paper. Then draw a slightly smaller circle within the big circle. It should look like a donut.

2. Continue by dividing the donut into 15 sections, making sure you leave a little space between each section. It doesn’t have to be perfectly even. (Refer to the diagrams below)

3. Label each section with the colors you’re going to fill. Start with 6 sections. Place each primary color next to each other and three sections between the different primary colors(diagram below for reference).

4. Next, label where each secondary color will go (orange, green, and purple). Orange between the warm yellow and warm red. Green between the cool yellow and cool blue. Purple between the warm blue and cool red. Finish off by labeling the tertiary colors. (Yellow-orange, orange-red, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green).

Filling in the sections:

5. Now it’s time to fill in the colors. Start by filling in each of the warm and cool primary colors. Next, mix equal amounts of the primary colors to fill in the secondary colors.

  • Warm red + Warm yellow= Orange
  • Warm blue + cool Red = Purple
  • Cool blue + cool yellow = Green

6. Finish off by mixing and filling in the tertiary colors.

  • 75% warm yellow + 25% warm red = Yellow-orange
  • 25% warm yellow + 75% warm red = Red-orange
  • 75% cool red + 25% warm blue = Red-purple
  • 25% cool red + 75% warm blue = Blue-purple
  • 75% cool blue + 25% cool yellow =Blue-green
  • 25% cool blue + 75% cool yellow =Yellow-green

How to draw a color wheel outline

The image below shows the final result of making a color wheel with warm and cool primary colors!

Now that we’ve covered the step by step on how to create a color wheel, let’s talk about the different variations!

Creating a color wheel with 12 colors

To create a color wheel with 12 colors, you will need three primary colors instead of six. You could use three warm primary colors, three cool primary colors, etc…

How to create a wheel with warm colors

To create a color wheel with warm colors only, you will need to use three warm primary colors and divide the wheel into 12 sections instead of 15.

The image below shows an example of a color wheel created using warm primary colors:

How to make a color wheel with warm colors

You can see how using warm red and yellow has resulted in creating saturated oranges. Meanwhile, the greens and purples in this wheel are muted.

How to create a wheel with cool colors

To create a color wheel with only cool colors you’ll need one of every cool primary color (cool red, cool yellow, and cool blue). You can refer to the table above, which lists examples of cool primary colors.

The image below shows an example of a color wheel with cool colors. In this version, you can see how the greens are much more saturated than compared to the greens in the warm color wheel. The purple, however, is still not a saturated version. This is because you need a warm blue and cool red to make a saturated purple. To understand this in-depth you may want to read this article.

Buying a color wheel

Instead of making a color wheel, you can also purchase a labeled color wheel diagram. You can get a pocket-sized version, standard and classroom-size versions. Check out the color wheel here.

Tips on how to mix the color you want?

To mix the color you want, you can use the color wheel as a reference tool. Start by estimating the position of that color on the wheel.

Is that color secondary or tertiary?
If you’re trying to mix a secondary color you’ll need equal amounts of the primary colors on either side of the secondary color(according to the color wheel). If it’s a tertiary color, you’ll need to add more of one of the primary colors to the mixture.

Is it a neutral color?
If the color you’re trying to mix is a shade of brown or gray, you’ll need to mix all three primary colors or two complementary colors.

Is it warm or cool?
If you’re trying to mix warmer colors, you’ll need to use warmer primary colors when mixing. For example, if you’re trying to mix a warm olive green, you may use a warm yellow (gamboge) with a warm blue (ultramarine). Whereas if you’re trying to mix a cool green, you’ll need a cool yellow and blue. If you want to learn more about warm and cool colors in-depth, check out this article here.

How saturated is the color?
If the color you’re trying to mix is muted then you may need to mix its complementary color to reduce the intensity.

The color wheel can only take you so far when it comes to mixing colors. It’s a useful tool to help us understand how colors work and with a color wheel, you can learn about the basics. However, if you truly want to learn how to mix the colors on your palette, then you will need to try mixing colors yourself. Color mixing charts are an excellent way to help you practice and record the different colors you can mix.

Mixing three primary colors

Compound color charts are used to record the different results you get from mixing three colors at different ratios. The image below shows an example of one. If you want to learn how to read and make one click here for the full tutorial.

If you want to learn how to make your own mixing charts check out this post where I take you step by step. I also cover how to read and understand the chart.

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