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Understanding watercolor wheel and color mixing

When I started first with watercolours, I like to play around with colors by mixing them in various combinations. Sometimes I end up in mess by adding two or more colors to create desired color. Mixing too many color pigments results in dull and faded color. So I suggest If you are a begineer in water colors to learn color mixing before started painting.

Gradually I learn how to make watercolor wheel, and proper color mixing.

12 color Watercolor  Wheel

Why to make Watercolor wheel?

Watercolor wheel is always the first step for learning proper color mixing.

On google you will find different versions of a watercolour wheel. You can also make your own version. Watercolour wheel is the  fundamental tool for color mixing. It gives us way to foresee the results of mixing the different color pigments together.

Watercolor wheel is based on primary colors. The color wheel will teach you how to make secondary and tertiary colors quickly, and help you expand you mixing range by quickly identifying complementary colors.

Before seeing how to make a watercolour wheel , lets see some of the important concepts and terminology.

Primary colors

Watercolor wheel is based on three primary colors

  1. Yellow
  2. Red
  3. Blue

These are located at equal distances around the wheel with yellow at the top.

Refer 12 color watercolor wheel picture above

Secondary colors

There are 3 secondary colors

  1. Orange
  2. Purple
  3. Green

Secondary colors are made by mixing one primary color with another in equal amounts.

e.g 50% yellow and 50% red = orange

50% yellow and 50% blue = green

50% blue and 50% red = Purple

Secondary colors are located at equal distances from each other, and the primary colors in color wheel. i.e refer 12 color watercolour wheel picture above.

Tertiary colors

  1. Yellow-orange
  2. Red-orange
  3. Red-purple
  4. Blue-purple
  5. Blue-green
  6. Yellow-green


Tertiary colors are created by mixing a primary color with an adjacent secondary color. So for example yellow mixed with orange = yellow-orange. There are a total of 6 tertiary colors on the color wheel, all located in the gaps between the primary and secondary colors. The naming convention for tertiary colors always begins with the primary color name + the secondary color name:

3 primary colors + 3 secondary colors + 6 tertiary colors = a 12 color wheel

Refer 12 color watercolour wheel above

Complementary colors

Colors that are directly opposite each other on the color wheel are known as complementary colors. When you place these colors side by side in a painting they create the strongest amount of contrast. Two complementary colors will enhance each other and produce vibrant and exciting results.

Watercolor wheel

For eg. Yellow and purple, orange and blue, green and red are complementary colors.


Analogous colors

Colors that sit side by side to each other on the color wheel create a color harmony known as analogous colors. These color hues are very close and together they create smooth and calming combinations.

For eg red,red-orange, orange, yellow-orange are analogous colors.


How to make 12 color watercolour wheel

Materials Required:

  1. Watercolor tubes
  2. Palette
  3. Round brush size 6
  4. Watercolor paper 300 gsm 100% cotton
  5. Two water jars
  6. Rular , cd
  7. Pencil


Note that paint names differ from one watercolor brand to another. To identify equivalents in another brand of paint, you can try to match the pigments they contain in the paints I’ve used. 

Here I have used Camel artist watercolours 12 shades

Primary colors used from this are:

  1. Gambodge hue
  2. Scarlet red
  3. Cobalt blue hue

By convention yellow is always placed at the top of the wheel. After that, you’ll find that red and blue are inconsistently placed on either side of the wheel.

Getting started:

  1. Draw the layout of your color circle onto watercolor paper with a pencil. A lot of people use a CD as a template. You can use a CD, a protractor and a ruler .
  2. Start by painting the 3 primary colors. Try to keep the toneof each color the same. Don’t forget to clean your brush thoroughly when you move on to the next color. Use the positions P1P2 and P3 indicated in picture.
  3. Next mix and paint the secondary colors in positions S1S2and S3. Make sure to mix a big enough puddle of secondary colors and reserve some for the next stage.
  4. Lastly mix the tertiary colors and place them in positions T1T2T3T4T5 and
  5. Position C0at the center of the color wheel mixes the three primary colors in equal parts yellow, red and blue. This is the theoretical “black” but which usually results in a brown or grey color depending on the pigments in your paints.

For beginners I suggest camels artist watecolor paints,  but you can find excellent alternatives from Winsor & Newton or M Graham which are professional artist paints and costly compare to the former.

And you are done with your color wheel.