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Color & The Color Wheel


Artistic Support program

Color is an element of art

  • A Color Wheel is an exceptional tool for teaching students about color theory and how colors relate to one another. The first circular color diagram was created by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666.
  • Color wheels start with the three Primary colors: red, yellow and blue (typically located at the 12:00, 3:00, and 9:00 positions of a circle). Then the secondary colors are added: orange, green and purple (with green located at the 6:00 position). Secondary colors are made by mixing primary colors.
  • To illustrate how a Color Wheel is created, talk about the color wheel while you paint one, mixing the colors and showing students how to make the secondary colors. 
  • Discuss the concept of Color Schemes (described below), explaining the various groupings of colors.


Color Wheel: a circle with different colored sectors used to show the relationship between colors.

Primary Colors: red, yellow and blue. The colors from which all other colors are created by mixing.

Primary colors Red Blue and Yellow

Secondary Colors: green, orange and purple. Colors created by mixing primary colors only.

Secondary Colors Purple Orange and Green

Intermediate Color: a color created by mixing a primary color with the secondary color next to it; also called a tertiary color; intermediate colors include red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet.

Color Schemes:  groupings of colors that are related on the color wheel.

Analogous Colors: Colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel. For example, red, orange, and yellow are analogous colors. If mixed, these colors tend to make variations of the original colors.

Analogous colors red orange yellow

Analogous colors purple blue green

Analogous colors red purple blue

Analogous colors blue green yellow

Complimentary Colors: Colors that appear opposite to one another on the color wheel. These colors compliment one another and are often used together in order to create a strong visual impact (one example is the UW Husky colors). Sometimes also called contrasting colors. If mixed, complimentary colors tend to create "muddy" tones such as black, brown, or gray.

Red - Green

Blue -Orange

Purple - Yellow

Complimentary colors connected with lines

Warm Colors: a group of colors on the color wheel that are associated with warmth, such as red, yellow, and orange (and variations on these colors such as pink, red-orange, etc.). In art, warm colors appear to advance toward the viewer.

                            Warm colors red orange and yellow

Cool Colors: a group of colors on the color wheel that includes blues, greens, and violets. In artwork, cool colors appear to be farther away from the viewer.

                                     Cool colors violet blue green

Sample Projects

Additional Recommended Reference Materials

Mouse Paint book by Ellen Stohl Walsh.

Printable Color Wheel Worksheet (blank for students to complete).

Please note:  Resources and lesson plans provided here are intended for non-profit use only. Use of these materials for commercial purposes should give attribution to the Issaquah Schools Foundation and be accompanied by a nominal donation at www.isfdn.org/donate. Thank you.

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