Using the Color Wheel

Contributor: Brian Anthony. Lesson ID: 11867

Why do certain colors just not look right together? There is a science to mixing and matching colors. Journey through an online interactive color wheel and give ear to the use of colors in your work!


Visual Arts

Fine Arts
learning style
personality style
Otter, Golden Retriever
Grade Level
Middle School (6-8), High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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Think about the last time you dressed up to go out. It might have been a trip to church, to a community event, or to the grocery store.

  • What did you wear?
  • How did the colors and patterns match or not match?
  • How did you make the clothing choices that you did?

Let's explore color and how colors work together.

Go out in public and observe how people dress.

Some people have an intuitive sense of what goes together and seem to meticulously plan out their wardrobe so that their scarf matches their socks, and everything in-between looks fabulous. On the other hand, there are those who struggle a little more to put together a nice look (or don't really care).

So much of it comes down to the information contained in a simple wheel: the color wheel. The color wheel is a tool that artists (including fashion designers) use to better understand how colors will interact.

You can use the color wheel both to understand and appreciate someone else's art work, as well as to plan and execute your own.

Take a look at The Interactive Color Wheel and pick out some important terms and concepts. As you look at the color wheel, hovering over the colors and other parts of the page to gather information. Then, answer the following questions.

  • What is the definition of primary color? What are the primary colors?
  • What is the definition of secondary color? What are the secondary colors?
  • Where does the complement of a color lie on the color wheel?
  • What is a complement?
  • What are the warm colors?
  • What are the cool colors?
  • What are the neutral colors?
  • Why do you think warm, cool, and neutral colors have those names?
  • Pick any color. What are its psychological effects according to the color wheel?

For more information, watch the video below.

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Finally, consider these questions.

  • How do you think the color wheel can help you understand works of art?
  • How do you think the color wheel can help you choose colors for a work of your own art?
  • How does the color wheel help develop a better fashion sense?

Now that you have a basic understanding of the color wheel and what you can do with it, in the Got It? section, you will apply your understanding to analyze works of art.

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