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8 Color Theory Exercises to Improve Your Paintings

8 Color Theory Exercises to Improve Your Paintings

color theory exercisesA commonly reported concern among painters is all about choosing the right color scheme for a new painting.

Though painting techniques create various effects that matter when you work on your project, they are not alone.

These techniques can easily be overshadowed if you are to choose the wrong colors.

You might even end up sending a completely different message by accident.

There is a reason why happy paintings are so seldom created using only shades of gray.

Color theory absolutely matters when it comes to yielding the results with your painting that you want.

This is in part why Pablo Picasso has an entire section of his career recognized for his color choice.

In order to paint the beautiful images that you hold in your mind or see before you, you need to understand color scheme.

The best chance that you have when it comes to going about this is using the color wheel to help with color scheme exercises.

Color is something that any painter should have a solid grasp of if they hope to fully understand their craft.

Using these fun and easy exercises, you can expand your knowledge of color wheel painting.

You will even learn to make the colors that you want for your painting needs!

If you’re interested in painting, check out our other painting-related content:

color theory exercise - make a color wheel

Make Your Own Color Wheel Color Theory Exercise

In order to fully grasp the theory behind the color wheel, you will want to begin by understanding it in its simplest form.

You can certainly do a quick internet search and be presented with thousands of images of slightly different color wheels.

However, the best way to learn about the magic of colors and color theory is to create your very own version.

Starting with the basics, you will want to focus on the primary colors: red, blue, and yellow.

For traditional models, you will want to make your yellow the northernmost point on the color wheel.

The red will fall towards the bottom right, and the blue will counter it on the bottom left side of your color wheel painting. These colors will act as your base for all future color creation.

Now, either using the mixed paints that you have or by purchasing a set of basic paints, begin to place your greens, oranges, and purples around the wheel.

Do this until you have a complete circle that goes from yellow all the way around to green.

This will demonstrate the differences between one color and the next.

Now, you will have created your first color wheel for reference!

The result should look something like this.

Create Your Own Colors

Now that you have your basic color wheel that you can refer back to, you can make your own complex version.

It is time to create your very own color wheel using your paints and mixing abilities.

Begin again with your primary painting colors.

Start by mixing the paints two at a time.

Mix your blue with yellow, your red with yellow, and your blue with your red.

The results should be green, orange, and purple.

These results are called secondary colors, which is the result of mixing any two primary colors.

From this point on, any two colors that you mix from your creations that are not the byproduct of mixing two primary colors will be what is considered a tertiary color.

This is the direct result of mixing any color with a secondary or tertiary color to create a new one.

You can do this for as long as you want to create a collection of colors.

Continue to mix your colors, then organize your creations to fill out a completely custom color wheel from them.

You will notice that depending on what colors you mixed, the combination will determine where each new color is placed.

Do not worry if it doesn’t come out perfectly the first time. It is all a part of the learning process.

color theory exercise - color matching

Reinvent The (Color) Wheel

Since you have mixed all kinds of fun colors, it’s time to see how well you can color match them in this color scheme exercise.

For this painting exercise, you will want to print out a fairly complex color wheel of your choosing or simply pull one up on your trusty phone or tablet.

Once you have found a color wheel with various tertiary colors, you can begin to practice color matching.

You will want to look at the location where each color falls, and try to mix your own paint colors to create something of comparable appearance.

Given the differences in paints, it is important to recognize that you might not be able to get every single one to match perfectly.

Try your best to see how well you can mix your own colors to create the general color that you are aiming for.

This is a great way to practice mixing your own paints to get your preferred colors instead of relying on buying premixed ones.

Premixed paints can be very expensive.

They also do not give you the opportunity to test your artist’s eye in the same way that individually mixing your colors will.

color theory exercise - complimentary colorsThe Complementary Color Experiment

Learning how to mix your colors is an important step towards understanding how to use them to yield the best results and a fantastic color theory exercise.

Opposites on the color wheel will succeed in bringing out the most of the color that you are trying to highlight.

This is the true art of contrast, and is how many artists succeed in creating stunning visual effects.

It is also effective for creating shadows.

The opposite colors themselves are called complementary colors.

Common complementary colors include red and green, orange and blue, or yellow and purple.

In order to understand the power that complementary colors have over one another, you will begin by putting them together.

This will help you understand how vivid their contrast truly is.

You can achieve this either by placing them side by side in a striped pattern, taking care not to mix them.

You can also use the darker option as a base then apply the brighter of the two on top in any shape to see how the color pops.

When you are done, recreate this with colors that are not considered complementary to see the true difference.

You will notice that a yellow star on a purple background is much brighter than a yellow star on a red background.

This is why the color wheel is so important when choosing how to color your paintings.

It can completely change the overall effect.

Try Out Analogous Painting To Learn The Power Of Hues

For this project, you will focus on using similar colors on the color wheel to create an analogous color scheme.

An analogous color scheme is one composed of different shades of colors that are close to each other on the color wheel.

An artist might use various shades of blue and purple to convey the shadow of a city in a river.

These colors suit each other well because of their similar bases that allow them to almost never clash.

The results of choosing these analogous colors as a basis for your painting can be exceptionally visually stunning.

You will want to take different shades of a similar color and then begin to paint a picture using only those colors.

Though some analogous paintings use other colors beyond the initial set, we will not for this exercise.

For the sake of understanding the power of similar colors to create textures, you will want to focus on one set alone.

A good way to practice this is by creating textured leaves in a tree using greens and yellows.

Another is by using shades of other colors to take any image and make it look as if it was filtered through a colored lens.

Seeing the way that using similar colors impacts a painting can be helpful for you to learn the true power of hues.

Learning About Creating Lights and Darks To Master Tone

In order to best understand how colors can be altered, you will want to practice making lighter and darker versions of a color.

It is a common belief that the fastest way to make paint darker or lighter colors is the addition of white or black paint.

This is simply not true.

The results yielded by this actually tend not to be what people are actually looking for.

While adding white paint to red paint will make a lighter red or a pink color, it is far form perfect.

The reality is that you will be making a white color that has been tinted by the other color.

Instead, you will want to create an equally bright and lighter version of the original.

In most cases, this will result in more of a pastel than a light red.

Adding black to a red color to make darker red is more likely to create a red muddled color of either black, gray, or brown.

Though you can use white and black when mixing, they should always be used sparingly.

You should have a full understanding of what happens when you apply them to another color for best results before using them.

To create a lighter or darker color, you will generally want to add a lighter or darker color from the color wheel.

This might mean adding an orange or a yellow to a red.

It might mean mixing in a purple to soften the orange hue, or it could mean mixing it with something darker like a blue or violet.

The real trick here is applying very small amounts of a new color at a time.

This will give you complete control over the new color.

It might take some time, but with practice it will start to become more instinctual for you as you learn how colors mix.

color theory exercise - shades of grayShades of Gray Color Theory Exercise

Since the creation of gray is the most simplistic color scale that you can make, it is a great place to start.

Further, it is most beneficial for a starting place when it comes to learning about value.

Value is how light or dark a specific color is.

To create a perfect gray scale , you will only need black and white paint.

Gradually alter the ratio of black and white with your paint to create a series of lines in gray that range from light to dark.

Your scale should be white on one side and black on the other side.

Continue to experiment with mixing these colors until you have a reasonably smooth transition from white to black using only shades of gray.

This is a fun way to very simply practice various paint ratios.

After you have completed this, you can use this as a reference to create other scales using other colors.

The gray scale will help you to ensure that your color tones are in line and making a smooth transition.

This will help to create low key and high key paintings by allowing you to see where the colors truly lie on the spectrum.

It is also a very calming and methodical process.

Learning the Impact of Color Values When Painting

With your newfound or existing understanding of color, you can try to create both low key and high key paintings.

This will help you further understand the relevancy of value within a painting.

To create a low key painting, you will want to use colors that are on the darker side.

Most low key paintings work within the darker range, with the lighter colors in the piece falling around mid-level for value.

On the other hand, a high key painting will focus on the higher or lighter end of the value scale.

This means that the majority of colors used will be very bright for light colors.

The darker colors will fall into the same mid-range that was the brighter end of the low key painting.

After you have completed both, you will note the ways that color value can change the tone of the piece.

By practicing operating within these ranges, you will begin to see the true impact of values when it comes to painting.

Seeing the power you can convey when using only a small section of the range is eye opening for most painters.

The results are truly beautiful, and it is a really great way to understand the importance of understanding how to use the color wheel.

There are many techniques at your disposal.


If your primary goal is to become a better painter, then there is plenty of benefit to learning these color theory exercises to improve your use of color.

Understanding colors and the dynamic results that they can yield will help you to gain a more comprehensive understanding of painting as an art.

It will also help you to relay more complex images to your audience through the utilization of color theory.

Whether your goal is simply to make a beautiful painting or to create a complex piece of art that must be speculated about to fully understand, color theory is a great tool to build up your skills as an artist.

Do you know what an anagolous color is?

Painting Exercises FAQ

How can I improve my painting skills?

The straightforward answer is by painting more. There is no way around it. If you want to improve your painting then you have to paint more, and the exercises within this article will help guide you to improve.

Do you have to know how do you draw to paint?

No. However, knowing how to draw is a huge asset that will help you learn how to paint faster.

What does loose brush strokes mean?

It means keeping your painting arm, wrist, and hand loose. This results in your brush strokes not being too stiff. When your brush strokes are too stiff, your painting will not look natural.

What skills are needed for painting?

You have to know how to convey shapes and forms and make them look 3D on a 2D surface. You also have to know how to light objects, use color, create compelling compositions, blend and create different values with paint.