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Old 09-11-2019, 09:36 PM
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Confused About Color Wheel

The color wheel - the standard one that almost all painters would be familiar with - has me confused now. I studied physics in the 80's (1980's, wise guy) and I know light has almost everybody confused. Is it a particle, a wave - what is it? Well, visible light is a range of wavelengths on the electromagnetic spectrum. Below this range (infrared) and above it (ultraviolet), light isn't visible to the human eye. Most of us know this well already.
Here's my question - if visible light is a continuous range of wavelengths from red to violet, how does it get arranged in a circle sometimes? Red and violet as as far apart as can be on the light spectrum, but on the color wheel they are adjacent (with Red-Violet as a tertiary in between). I know light and pigments mix differently, but the final impact on my retinas is light and not pigment (hopefully). What's going on here? I hope the answer isn't common knowledge amongst 5th graders these days and I'm that dense.
See pic for the visual - and the image on the right is very useful for painting. I had it under glass as a palette for awhile, until the glass broke.
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Last edited by MarcF : 09-11-2019 at 09:39 PM.
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Old 09-11-2019, 10:12 PM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

Quote:
if visible light is a continuous range of wavelengths from red to violet, how does it get arranged in a circle sometimes?
All color wheels are the invention of man. They can be arranged in a circle, or an octagon, hexagon too. Some people make them up with visual complements at opposite sides, and some make them up with mixing complements opposing each other. Some contain magenta, but there is no magenta in the visible light spectrum. People just do what they want to do and then argue about why theirs is the "correct" wheel, though all are imaginary and conceptual. Color wheels do not exist in the real world, but they are useful, mostly for color mixing newbies, and for them the wheel where mixing complements are diametrically opposed is the most useful tool.

Last edited by sidbledsoe : 09-11-2019 at 10:19 PM.
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Old 09-11-2019, 10:16 PM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

I don't know but that never keeps me from giving an answer.

So here is my inelegant but possibly true explanation
If it wasn't round where would you put purple? Purple has no wavelength - it's a combination of red and blue wavelengths - so there's purple between red and blue joining the opposite ends of the spectrum.
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Old 09-11-2019, 10:39 PM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

Bongo - I think purple can really be seen as violet on the left end of the spectrum. But It's perplexing to me too. Hey I don't think wavelengths have to be adjacent to mix though. Dunno. Mystery. Especially, as sid says, it (the color wheel) doesn't actually exist. But even if it's man made - it DOES seem to work. As you go clockwise or ccw around the wheel, you're always getting closer to the next color and further from the previous at the same rate. Same with the spectrum going linearly. Maybe that representation is just as made up?
EDIT
NO WAIT! The visible spectrum is reality. You see it in prisms and rainbows very clearly. But you never see color wheels except in pictures, so sid is right!
WAY TO GO SID!!!!!
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Last edited by MarcF : 09-11-2019 at 10:48 PM.
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Old 09-11-2019, 10:55 PM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

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Originally Posted by MarcF
Bongo - I think purple can really be seen as violet on the left end of the spectrum.
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Sometimes people call violet "purple" because that's the closest color that exists as a light wave. But purple is a distinct color from violet. Doesn't show up in a rainbow or prism - because it has no wavelength, the wavelength of purple is zero. It only exists as a combination of two wave lengths - red and blue.

On your charts notice there is a purple on the color wheel, but none on the wave link chart.
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Last edited by theBongolian : 09-11-2019 at 10:58 PM.
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Old 09-11-2019, 11:38 PM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

You're right.
Purple is where the upper and lower ends of the visible spectrum would meet, if you wrapped it around to a cylinder.
Or, uh, a circle.
But purple does exist in nature - you're saying that it doesn't exist as a "pure color" I guess. You can certainly mix light as well as pigment and come up with purple. Which I see as purple. So it really is there. Kinda. It can't have 0 wavelength or you wouldn't see it and it would be below radio waves. Not possible. It MUST have a wavelength in the visible range.
EDIT
Wiki seems to agree with you.
Ok, I'm using the color wheel as intended - and learning about it as well. Painting one in watercolor as an exercise using only the 3 primaries. That's why this all came to light. I mean pigment. Oh dash.
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Last edited by MarcF : 09-11-2019 at 11:57 PM.
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Old 09-12-2019, 04:03 AM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

Hi,
There is a very common misunderstanding that each color has its own wavelength. The human vision is much more complicated. Many combinations of wavelengths can produce the same color perception. Look up the absorption spectra of pigments and you see several bumps outside the theoretical wavelength.
Magenta not in the prism spectrum? Wrong, as Goethe discovered. It depends on the experimental circumstances. Conversely, green is not in the prism spectrum in other circumstances.
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Old 09-12-2019, 08:05 AM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

The color wheel is an expression of color theory. Color theory, of which there are many, is just that, theory.

The ROYGBIV spectrum has seven colors in it because seven is a magic number. Indigo is there to make it "perfect".

Mixing colored pigments produces different results than mixing colored lights.

There are visual complements and mixing complements.

There are even different color wheels.

Use it as a tool if it helps you.

At heart the color wheel, and color theory in general, is a way of systematizing information. Something we humans love to do. We are pattern seeking animals.
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Old 09-12-2019, 11:25 AM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

Hue is the way in which we perceive not wavelength but a direction of bias in the wavelength composition of a light or the spectral reflectance of an object. With three cone cell types the possible directions of bias form a circuit, towards long, middle, short or long and short wavelengths, and we perceive this circuit of directions of bias (called dominant wavelength) as a circuit of combinations of red/green and yellow/blue hue-opponent perceptions. The linear spectrum is just the section of this circuit of hues that can be evoked by a single wavelength, i.e. excluding the purple hues that correspond to a bias towards long and short wavelengths.
http://www.huevaluechroma.com/014.php
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Old 09-12-2019, 02:52 PM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

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Originally Posted by MarcF
You're right.
You can certainly mix light as well as pigment and come up with purple.

If your mixing pigments to get purple use - Ultramarine Blue and Quinacridone Red - other reds won't make as bright of purple, other blues won't even make purple.
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Old 09-12-2019, 03:35 PM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

Bongo - I cheat and use Permanent Purple when I want purple, which so far isn't that often. I sure don't have that Red color you mentioned.
David - thanks for the explanation about direction of bias. Vision is certainly incredibly complicated.
I also want to say that, sure, humans recognize and even create patterns - but it's important to differentiate the two. We RECOGNIZE patterns when we speak, and when we see a rainbow. We know what we're talking about, and we know what a rainbow looks like, using pattern recognition. This is different from when we CREATE patterns (where they don't exist in reality) - such as when we see constellations and animal forms in clouds. So there are "real" and "imagined" patterns, it seems to me.

The color wheel seems more to me than just an abstraction that we can use as a handy tool. The way it wraps around continuously suggests that there is something fundamental about it. Think of the spectrum as a piano keyboard for a moment. If I play a scale from middle C to an octave above, I'm no longer at middle C. I'm playing the note C - a multiple of the frequency (Hz) of every other C. But they are not the SAME C! With the color wheel I can move cw or ccw at any point - for example between violet and red - which are as far apart as you can get on the visible spectrum, yet they seamlessly merge on the color wheel. I can go round and round (where she stops, nobody knows) and arrive at the same point.
(btw there IS an auditory illusion where it seems that a scale is continuously ascending but it never actually does, and it's done with overtones - thought I'd mention that - I can find it and link if someone wants).
I get fixated on stuff like this, but it doesn't stop me from using the color wheel and making art.
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Last edited by MarcF : 09-12-2019 at 03:41 PM.
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Old 09-12-2019, 05:13 PM
DaveCrow DaveCrow is offline
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

Diving down the rabbit hole of color theories, color wheels and other color spaces, color perception, etc is great fun.

I wonder how the world looks to those people who have a fourth type of cone cell, and to bees seeing into the ultraviolet.

Are there colors we can see that can't be mixed with any available pigments? Can they be mixed in some mediums but not in others?
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Old 09-12-2019, 08:39 PM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

There is a color that is available to every artist, that does not exist in the visible spectrum of light, and it happens to be the primary color, Magenta. If you doubt that fact, merely Google "Spectral Magenta", and a great deal of the addresses you will receive will confirm that fact.

Since Magenta is composed of equal reflectance (or transmittance) of both Blue, AND Red light, it can't possibly exist in the visible spectrum of light, because those two colors are located at the opposite ends of the visible light spectrum. Yes, those two wavelengths don't ever come into contact with each other in the spectrum of light. However, by bringing those two opposite "tails" of the visible spectrum together in a round, color wheel format, we can easily justify the existence of the primary color, Magenta. Without that round, distorted version of the visible spectrum of light, the primary color, Magenta would not exist!

And, since we all do realize that Magenta DOES exist, it requires a Color Wheel, or any sort of shaped wheel that brings the two end colors together to justify the existence of that color, and make it practical for use by those of use who use color pigments rathe than colors of spectral light.

As Sid mentioned, the "color wheel", as well as most color "models" are inventions of humans, and the reasoning behind the invention of a round, or triangle-shaped, two-dimensional, "color wheel" is quite sound, from both a practical, as well as a scientific standpoint.

But, one must be selective in picking a sound, representative color wheel, as most of those that are sold in art stores, don't even have the primary colors of Cyan, and Magenta located on them. That surely makes it difficult to use it as a real "tool", and such color wheels quickly become a useless "fixture" that generally serves more as a "decoration" for an artist who wishes to use it as a testament to the fact that he/she IS an artist, rather than as a real tool that can be used to predict color mixes from "ingredient colors".

So, basically, THAT'S why there are "color wheels".

I taught color theory, and application at the college level for 4 years, and without one of those "man-made" color wheels, the explanation of color behavior could hardly be explained from a scientific, and practical standpoint.

Just remember that without Cyan, and Magenta both being represented on color wheel, you may have a nice, pleasing arrangement of colors, but NOT a useable, workable, logical practical "color wheel"!

Check out Don Jusko's Real Color Wheel on the internet for a rather practical color wheel that can be used as a tool, rather than as a mere decoration for the wall in your studio. Even THAT wheel is slightly incorrect in the color that should be opposite primary Yellow, but is is one of the closest color wheels to being scientific in its nature.
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Last edited by WFMartin : 09-12-2019 at 09:08 PM.
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Old 09-13-2019, 03:59 AM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

Quote:
Originally Posted by WFMartin
Just remember that without Cyan, and Magenta both being represented on color wheel, you may have a nice, pleasing arrangement of colors, but NOT a useable, workable, logical practical "color wheel"!
There were - and still are - many artists who use RYB color wheels (which don't specifically discern cyan and magenta), to create wonderful art from a RYB-based framework. There are advantages and disadvantages to any color model or palette choice. As the artist, you choose the tool that best suits your purpose.
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Old 09-13-2019, 07:41 AM
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Re: Confused About Color Wheel

An interesting point noted here is the ROYGBIV color arrangement that was taught in elementary school containing two blue colors. This is actually not just to create a 7 letter acronym, it is distinguishing between two forms of blue, one that is leaning more toward green and another more toward violet. This distinction is important even today, as cyan is often called blue, but will definitely mix with yellow to make green while “indigo” will mix with yellow to make gray (as in the original post image showing blue and yellow as direct complements).

I often mix grays from yellow and “blue”, but always aware that the blue I am using is more like the above mentioned indigo, which leans heavily toward violet. Also be aware that the words we use for these naming conventions of color are simply human constructs as well, as such the meaning of them is based on human interpretation (a perceptional and illusive thing at best).
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