“How to Color” – the Color Circle

Hi there coloring-friend!

This is the first part of my series on “How to color”. The section will introduce you to different techniques that will make your drawings unique and your coloring experience more fun. The new trend for adult coloring books has shown that it is not just a great way to occupy children with. Grown-ups can just as easily escape in the world of colors. It has a meditative effect because you focus on your picture and staying in the lines that takes over your thoughts of every-day chores.

FYI, copy the picture you want to color in so you can reuse it or give it to someone for a present. This way you will keep your coloring book clean to copy it as often as you like. If you are more advanced and you want the book to be your own works of art, then go ahead – but, here is a little challenge for you: copy one picture three times and color it using different colors (and optionally different materials). Do not use a color more than once in all of the three pictures. The result will make a great trilogy!

If you are a first-timer and want to get coloring, just sit down with your favorite pencils and don’t let any rules stop you. But, if you want to give your picture a special design, you can learn techniques such as layering, shading, and mixing colors for more variety.


colored samples

To challenge the mere aspect of coloring, you have to think in advance about the colors you want to use. When the picture you chose has many small elements, I would suggest using not more than three colors. Even though the areas are meant to be colored, you can leave a few of them white to take out the excitement of too much color, especially with highly contrasting ones (see sample, third butterfly). Also, don’t be afraid to use achromatic colors such as black or grey. By adding just one color to the mix it will stand out even more. It doesn’t always have to be all-color to make a picture interesting, as the second butterfly in my example illustrates. Black, white, and grey pictures can look very elegant, too. The first butterfly of the example shows that white can be expendable when you are using lighter shades in a group of colors that harmonize greatly to create contrast. For all of the examples I used only three pencils, but by varying the pressure of the pen on paper I was able to create more shades of each color.

To get you in the mood for learning more about coloring and the use of colors let me introduce you to the color circle!

The Color Circle


colors and emotions

Every person has a different perception of colors. While some might think of red as aggressive and negative, others (like me) perceive it as warm and comforting. The Design Originals “Color Animals Coloring Book” features a color pallet called “A Spectrum of Emotion”, which shows that certain colors express certain feelings. Take a look at the picture and see if you think the same about the combinations. Feeling should also decide about the colors you want to use for your pictures, but there is a kind of doctrine for artists on the harmonies of colors. The color circle is a great help to find matching colors and find out how to mix colors to create new ones. Here are the basics of color theory:


The facts:

  • Primary colors: red, yellow and blue (they cannot be mixed from other colors on the circle)
  • Secondary colors are mixed from the primary colors: orange (red + yellow), green (yellow + blue), and violet (blue + red)


    color circle (front)

  • Warm colors range from red-violet to yellow
  • Cold colors from violet to yellow-green
  • Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color circle, they are highly contrasting when used together and they can be mixed to create different shades.

There are million different shades of colors, but the primary colors are the basis to all of them. Black and white can be used to create different shades of one color, but they also create depth, a 3D-effect. As mentioned in the facts above, complementary colors can be used to create shades as well, this way the color will remain brighter. Black and white make colors fade, therefore you have to decide yourself which effect you want in the result of your picture.


color circle (back)

The triad marks three colors with the largest distance possible on the color circle. The primary colors, for example, are separated by three colors in-between, which means they have a high contrast to each other. The smaller a distance between two colors the better they harmonize.

If you want to use the color circle online you can find many different options that you can print out or use on your computer, for example the simple version by Johannes Itten. There is also a great version you can get online or at craft-stores that have resolvable layers to show you the results of mixes and relations between the colors. You do not have to use the circle, but it can help create great combinations to reach the best contrasts in your pictures.

Until the next “How to Color” article, get a sheet of white paper and try to play with the intensity of your colors by varying the pressure of the pen on paper and see what happens. Get comfortable using the color circle if you have trouble knowing which colors match.

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