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Painting for Beginners: 6 Basic Color Schemes In Art For Harmonious Paintings

What are color schemes in art?

As a beginner artist, you have to understand the properties of color (hue, saturation, and value), and how to use them harmoniously to create beautiful paintings. The basis of understanding the hue property of color lies in the color wheel, and various color schemes in art. Color schemes are also known as color harmonies. These are well recognized sets of hues that blend well to create beautiful artwork, that have been used through the centuries.

How many color schemes are there?

Altogether there are eighteen color schemes, or harmonies, in art. As a beginner you don’t need to know them all. Some useful ones that are easy to understand and use for beginners are: Balanced, Analogous, Basic Complementary, and Split-Complementary.

What are the three basic color schemes?

There are three Balanced color schemes in art: primary, secondary and tertiary. As you can see in the color diagrams below, the hues are spread evenly around a wheel. Artists use color wheels as a way to arrange colors according to their relationships. When you set up your painting palette, having them arranged around the wheel makes it easier to find and mix your colors.

Primary colors

The most basic color scheme in art has just three colors, or hues: red (R), blue (B) and yellow (Y).

primary colors wheel

These are called the three primary hues because they are pure, they cannot be created by mixing other colors. Together they are called a primary color harmony.

Secondary colors

Secondary colors are created by mixing the primary colors in equal parts. There are three secondary colors. Orange (YR), Green (G), and Purple (P).

secondary colors

Orange is created by mixing red and yellow colors. Green is made by mixing yellow and blue colors. The third and last secondary color is purple which is created by mixing red and blue.

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These colors are known as a secondary color harmony.

Tertiary Colors

tertiary colors

Tertiary colors are the third level of hue. They are made by mixing equal parts of one primary and one secondary hue, and are named after the parent hues. For example: green plus yellow makes green-yellow (GY), red plus purple makes red-purple (RP) and so on.

The tertiary color harmony has 12 tertiary colors. The three primary and three secondary colors, plus blue-green, blue-purple, red-orange, red-purple, yellow-green, and yellow-orange.

Advanced color schemes in art

We have already seen the three balanced color schemes (primary, secondary, and tertiary). Here are three more important color schemes in art for beginners.

Complementary harmonies

Complementary color harmonies and hybrids of these harmonies are probably the most important harmonies of all. This is because a fundamental aspect of painting involves the contrast of opposites: warm against cool, light against dark, loose against tight, large against small, and so on. When you place complementary colors next to each other, you create a very strong contrast where the colors appear more vivid and brighter.

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The above diagram illustrates the Basic Complementary harmony, which consists of two hues opposite each other on the color wheel.

Split complementary harmonies

split complementary

This is a split complementary harmony, where one of the two complementary hues is replaced by the two hues immediately either side of it on the color wheel. For example, the split of the yellow-violet complementary harmony is the yellow-red violet-blue violet split complementary. Conversely you can keep the violet and use the violet-yellow orange-yellow green split complementary harmony.

The use of complementaries adds excitement to a painting and is a means by which you can emphasize certain parts of the painting in order to communicate the main idea or concept of your painting.

Analogous color harmonies

Analogous harmonies use colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel, such as red, red-orange, and red-violet. These harmonies are simple to apply since all the hues are closely related.

analogous harmonies

Some more examples are:

  • yellow, yellow-green, and green
  • violet, red-violet, and red
  • red, red-orange, and orange
  • blue, blue-violet, and violet.

Analogous harmonies often convey a feeling of quiet and rest.

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