Choosing Pastel Colors with the Color Wheel - dummies

Choosing Pastel Colors with the Color Wheel

By Sherry Stone Clifton, Anita Marie Giddings

Part of Pastels For Dummies Cheat Sheet

When working with pastel (or any art medium), a color wheel is a tool you should be familiar with because it helps you understand hue relationships and choose colors for pastel compositions. The following color wheel and terms can help you select colors for your artwork:


  • Primary hues: Red, blue, and yellow. Theoretically, all other hues are made from these hues.

  • Secondary hues: Violet, orange, and green. Secondary hues are a mix of two primary hues and situated halfway between those primary hues on the color wheel.

  • Tertiary hues: Red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. Tertiary hues are a combination of a primary hue and a secondary hue.

  • Analogous hues: Three to five hues next to each other on the color wheel, such as red, red-orange, orange, and yellow-orange.

  • Complementary hues: Hues directly across from each other on the color wheel, such as red/green, violet/yellow, and blue/orange.

  • Warm/cool hues: Warm hues include the hues from red through yellow and yellow-green on the color wheel. Cool colors include the hues from blue-green through blue to violet on the color wheel. The leftovers — red-violet and green — appear warm when surrounded by cool hues and cool when surrounded by warm hues.

You can use the color wheel to help you determine colors for your pastel composition two ways: when choosing colors for modeling (giving realism to) individual objects and when choosing the overall patterns of colors in the composition. For example, understanding the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors helps you blend pastel colors to make new colors you don’t have in your pastel palette (such as creating just the right orange out of red and yellow. You can also choose a set of analogous hues, selecting a color for the body of the object and then hatching (stroking) cooler and warmer colors from nearby on the wheel into the shadowed and lighter areas