Watercolor Basics: Color mixing exercise - color wheel

Color wheel in watercolor


Here is a simple and easy exercise to learn and practice the medium of watercolor painting. Doing this project you will learn some techniques used in watercolor painting and get the feel for how water color works.






You will need the materials to do the exercise.

1. A graphite pencil: H to HB is best. In watercolor we sketch the drawing lines as light as possible so the lines won't distract the painting later on. I like to use a mechanical pencil to keep the line as thin as possible.





2. An eraser.



3. Watercolor brushes: I will use a white synthetic sable bright no. 8 for this exercise. We'll talk more about brushes in future lessons.

4. Watercolor Paint. Today we will use red, yellow, and blue,  the three primary colors in color theory. Depending on what brand you get for your watercolor, you will see slight different color quality. One brand’s Cadmium Yellow might be lighter than the other.It doesn't matter which brand of watercolor you use or what type(tube, pans...etc) for this exercise. The main point is to practice the feel of watercolor mixing.







I am using Sakura watercolor tubes, and I am using Carmine for my Red, Deep Yellow for Yellow, and Cobalt Blue Hue for Blue.


5. Palette: My palette is a folding one, and I already have some leftover color laid down on the palette from a previous painting. Please ignore all the other colors I have shown. In this exercise we will only use the three primary colors.

6.  A piece of watercolor paper: I use a cold press 90lb watercolor paper. Again, You can use whatever paper you like as long as it’s watercolor paper. You do need watercolor paper that will  absorb the paint and strong enough to handle the water.

7. A cup to clean the brushes.

8. A paper towel or a cloth: to absorb the excess water from brushes.

The Sketch







Draw out the sketch of the color wheel with 12 colors spots on a piece of watercolor paper with a graphite pencil. Remember to keep the lines light as possible.


Primary Colors

I start with yellow, because yellow requires clean water so as to not muddy the color and keep it clean. While I have the clean water I mix the yellow with a little water with the brush on the palette. In the exercise we want more pigment than water to have more saturated colors on our color wheel. Don't use to much water. Otherwise, the color will appear too light.

Use paper towel to wipe out excess water on the brush. 

Fill the top field of the color wheel with yellow.

Repeat the process for red and blue, and the primary colors are complete.

Secondary Colors







For the secondary colors, I will start with orange by mixing red and yellow on my palette until I get the orange I want. 


You can have another piece of paper to test out your color on it, to gage of how accurate is your color before to paint it onto the color wheel. I repeat the process for the other secondary colors. 

To create green, I will mix blue and yellow until I am happy with the green. 

To create purple, I mix blue and red until I am satisfied that I have the correct purple.

Once you have done that, the secondary colors are done.

Now we must wait for those colors to dry before we start the tertiary colors, so that the wet colors won’t bleed into each other.


Tertiary Colors

The tertiary colors are the last colors to paint in on the color wheel. After waiting for the other colors to dry I will begin mixing the tertiary colors on the palette and testing them on another piece of paper.  Once I get the color to be the right hue I paint it in between the primary and secondary colors. 

Like when painting the secondary colors, I will only use the three primaries to mix the tertiary colors.
Painting these colors takes practice and patience, but after a while you will be able to create an accurate color wheel using watercolor.


The finished project.
Watercolor color wheel
Article by Hsuan-Chi Chen