Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Color wheels and why I prefer the CMY color model

Soft Pastels on Velour

In my watercolor and acrylic painting classes and workshops I teach with only three colors--cyan, magenta, yellow--plus black and white, also known as CMY primaries from which you can create all other colors. 

In my opinion, the best wheel to purchase  is from The Color Wheel Company™, a local firm out of Philomath, OR.  I know you probably have one of these tucked into a drawer somewhere. If you're like me, I buy supplies thinking someday I will need them, and then I totally forget to use them or more commonly these days, forget where they are.

In the examples below I will be using these wheels, which will make it convenient for you if you already have one or you are looking to purchase one. So let's now look at two specific wheels: the traditional  and the CMY wheels.

Traditional Wheel
The traditional color wheel has been the customary one taught in grammar school: the primary colors are red, yellow and blue.  Below is a shot of the front part of the traditional wheel.

As you can see, yellow heads the wheel. That's a good method as it is the lightest color. Now draw your attention to the red on the left side and the blue on the right side. They are your primaries. 

Notice just below the yellow is a blue tab and further down, you'll see green. That's because by moving the upper wheel to a particular color, you can see what happens when you mix the two. Thus yellow and blue make green. When you place red under orange, you will get a reddish orange. 

Also this wheel is great for mixing complementary colors (those that are opposite each other on the color wheel), which are usually earth and grayish colors. Here's an example. I placed the yellow tab up against the violet, both of which are complementary colors. Notice what color appears: brown.

But there's more to this wheel than just mixing colors. It also offers definitions of colors from what are the primary colors to values, including a value scale.

Flip the wheel and you'll find another panel that moves around the colors. But this side shows color relationships and more definitions. 
Starting with yellow, that's the pure color, you will see three other colors below it:  tint (color, plus white), tone (color, plus gray)and shade (color, plus black). By the way, please note that yellow and black make a wonderful olive green. 

You also can find more definitions and in the center a good visual example of the complementary, split complementary colors and triads.

CMY Wheel--Process Colors
While the traditional wheel has served me and the rest of the art community well all these years (modeled after Issac Newton's prism), I did have trouble with it, especially when mixing red and blue for purple. Invariably, I didn't put the right colors together, creating a muddy, reddish brown. (Some reds have a bit of yellow in them, blues can be a bit on the purple side. Combining those caused my problem.)

I don't remember when it happened,  but I eventually discovered the CMY model. It uses the same colors that reside in your color printer--flip the top and you'll see those four colors: cyan, magenta, blue and black (white is the color of the paper, just like in watercolor).

Furthermore these are the same colors that commercial printers use. Look at any magazine or colored brochure and you're looking at a combination of just these colors. When painting in oils and acrylics, you use white for blending and representing the white in say clouds, waterfalls, etc. 

Now I have to admit that this three color, plus black and white method needs practice. I didn't learn it overnight. Just like anything else it takes time, thought and work. But there's one thing to consider, instead of buying 20 colors (hmm, well I have a whole drawer full), you only have to buy five and they make as many colors as you want. 

What's more, once you get used to the system you'll never want to go back. I've had several students who have resisted using this model. In fact, I had one student sneak in her own favorite brown instead of mixing green and red to make hundreds of muddy, deliciously gorgeous earth colors.

So how does the CMY wheel look as opposed to the traditional one? There are some surprises. Let's see.

Side A The front of the CMY primary wheel shows the key color. Going back to yellow again, the arrow is pointing to the color combination. In this case, it is C0 M0 Y100, which means you use 100% yellow to create this color. Different colors appear under yellow. These represent what happens when you combine your complement  color (blue) with yellow. The first tier is 90% yellow to 10% blue, 80% and 20% on the next tier.

Now I hear you saying, wait a minute, yellow and blue make green. Not necessarily on this wheel.

Let's dig a little deeper. Notice the primary colors on this wheel are yellow, cyan and magenta. Each color has it's own proper name and paint number:

Cyan PB15:3: Phthalocyanine Blue
Yellow PY 3: Lemon Yellow
Magenta PV122: Magenta

As I've discussed in other postings, the letters and number appear on your painting tube. They tell what formula was used to make this paint.

Please notice that the secondary colors are not necessarily green, orange and purple, but green, red and blue. WHAT! you say. How does this happen? Let's take red. When you move the color wheel (side A) to red, you will find the following mixture: C0 M100, Y100.  For me, that would be too orange-like. I usually place a smaller amount of yellow into the magenta and can get a wonderful fire-engine red.

The same type of formula is stated for blue: C100 M100 Y0. By equally mixing the cyan and magenta, I don't necessarily get the same blue, so I fiddle around until I do get what I want. Although it sounds frustrating, it's not. In fact once you get your hands on these three colors, plus black and white, you'll have lots of fun!

Side B
The other side of the wheel gives you all sorts of color combinations and hints on how much can be added to reach your goal. Unlike some artists, I really like adding black and white to my color mixes. They both add so much variety. However, as I said before, in watercolor you must use the paper as your white (unless you want to use gouache, which I may cover down the road.)

Okay, maybe I have left you completely confused. I hope not. But if you want to learn more, here is a great video from Art School Graphics: It's only part one, but it will give you a better idea of the process.

But never fear, I will be offering a video of my own regarding color mixing with the CMY wheel in the next issue. Until then, here's what's coming up in my studio this fall.

Fall Classes and Workshop 2018

Please note, I have cancelled the November, Beginning Acrylics, workshop and replaced it with Mixing Acrylic Colors using the CMY model.

Glastonbury Studios Classes
Five-Week Session I1
Begins Week of September 30

Pencil to Brush
Autumn Still LifeEvery Tuesday morning
10 am to 12:30 pm
$80 Wait List

The Morning Draw
Autumn Still Life
Every Wednesday morning
10 am to 12:30 pm
$80 Wait List

Art Journaling New!
The basics:
sketching with pen,ink and watercolor
Every Thursday morning
10 am to 12:30 pm
$80 Spaces still available

Studio Workshops
All studio workshops are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Includes most supplies and lunch
Class size is limited to ten students.
Pre-registration is required.
Only payment reserves your seat.
Cost is $85.

Cherries done in Brusho
Friday, September 7
Watercolor painting with Brusho®
See video

New! Saturday, November 10 
Mixing acrylic colors using CMY Method
(Acrylic painting cancelled)
See article in this newsletter

Ireland in September 2019

Here's the plan so far. We will visit Dublin, Galloway, Belfast (Titanic Museum) and Cork (Blarney Castle) the first week of September 1-8, 2019. Details will come soon. We'll enjoy lots of time sketching loads of street scenes, old castles, pubs, and terrific landscapes!  If you're interested let me know by email. I'll put you on the Ireland mailing list. I should have more definite info by October.

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