The Color Wheel vs Visual Spectrum – Artists Need Funding

I have been creating art competitively since I was a young girl. I am near 30 now and if you can believe it or not, it wasn’t until recently that I learned the artist’s color wheel! Shading came naturally to me as I studied realism. I never really thought about color. I just used black. This may be appalling to a skilled artist but I admit, I come from a formal science background. I learned white was the reflection of all the colors in the visual spectrum and black was the absorbance of all of them. If you’re an individual artist, check out grants at One of the most important parts of being an artist is being a business man or woman.


If you’ve studied physics too, you’re familiar with ROYGBIV. If you haven’t, this may sound like gibberish. ROYGBIV is an acronym for colors that are visible by the human eye: Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet. Physicists look at color as reflections of high or low frequency light.  Reds and oranges are low frequency; blues and violets are high frequency. Infrared light is so low frequency, and Ultraviolet light is so high frequency, they exist outside the visual spectrum.

The Color Wheel

Artists look at colors as complementary or not. But, they too, acknowledge the visual spectrum. To put it simply, imagine what is known as “Indigo” on the electromagnetic spectrum is known as blue-violet. I recently learned that blue, yellow and red were artist’s primary colors. This means that no other colors can combine to make these colors. And confusingly, for physicists, primary colors are red, green and blue. These are defined as the colors which, when combined, reflect white. So naturally, then I learned the artist’s color wheel, I was befuddled.

For an artist, the secondary colors are orange, green, and violet. These are created when combining two primary colors. For a physicist, secondary colors are a combination of 2 primary colors, as well. It’s just, the colors that result are different: Red and green make yellow! Red and blue make magenta! And blue and green make cyan! For an artist, blue and green simply make blue-green. For physicists, colors are the reflection of light at wavelengths approximately from 400-700 nm.

Secret Language of Color

If you’d like to learn more about how color is viewed in this natural world, check out the following book: Secret Language of Color: Science, Nature, History, Culture, Beauty of Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, & Violet. In this book, you will learn about the physical and chemical definition of color.

Shading and Tinting

I recently did an exercise where just by using the ARTIST’S primary colors, I created tinted and shaded colors. This means, I lightened or darkened the primary and secondary colors by adding white or adding complementary colors. Shading in the art world leads to brown, not black! As you recall, I was shading by adding black! This was a physicist’s way of thinking. The proper way of shading is to add the complementary color. So now, when I want to shade a large green leaf (my favorite subject is foliage), I will add red, not black.


As an artist who’s displayed at a handful of venues, I’ve also learned that every artist is their own business man or woman.  MWBEzone is particularly meant for minorities and women in business. If you’re an artist, check out MWBEzone for grants for individuals. There are numerous grants geared towards individual artists.

About the Author: Sabeen is currently an MPH student with a history in Mass Communications. She is currently writing for and its affiliates.


6 thoughts on “The Color Wheel vs Visual Spectrum – Artists Need Funding

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