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Links to Resources

Munsell color wheel notations

Gamblin Munsell Notation

Windsor newton indicates that a hand painted color chart is best

Munsell color explorer to match any paint manufacturer to the wheel

Handprint pigment color wheel


There are all these videos and tutorials and books about color out there. Some of them are helpful, some not. 

But the reason why we keep searching through all this information about color is because we want to do one thing. 

We want to match the color we SEE, in that tree, or that face, or that kittie.

With OUR paint! On our canvas.

And do it without having to spend a ton of time learning color theory.

That’s what I want to do, help you match color easily, and do it without any fluff, just pure value, so let’s get into it.

Physical or digital color wheels are great. They can teach you the principles of color theory but none of them will match what your oil paints look like. 

Color System

So we need to have a color system that will show us where to plot our paints on our own customized color wheel.

For example: Where does Hansa Yellow Medium go? Where does Alizarin Permanent go?

Why is this important? 

Because, if we have OUR colors plotted on a wheel we can ask some questions about the color we want to make, then reference the wheel and it should point us directly to tubes of color in our paint box.

The color system we’re going to use is the Munsell Color System. Because it was built for paint and it takes the properties of color (hue, chroma, value) and assigns each one a number so we can easily put it where it goes on the wheel. 

AND because Gamblin, the paint I love to use, has every one of their colors notated with this system. Making it super easy to build your own color wheel with gamblin paint.

But don’t worry I have a resource that you can reference to match most of the oil paints on the market with the munsell notation. So you can follow along with many of the paints you have.

Which begs the question. What paint brand do you love to use most? Let me know in the comments.

But let’s get back to the color wheel that we are going to make. Because I want to show you an example of how the color wheel works.

Using color system Banana Matching example 

If I’m trying to match the shadow side of this banana. I can look at the color wheel and start with the closest color I have. Hansa yellow medium. We just identified the first property of the color we need which is hue.

Then we ask 3 simple questions.

Does it need to be lighter or darker? (value)

Does it need to be more intense or less intense? (Chroma)

Does it need to be more red or more blue? (Warmer or cooler)

In this instance the Hansa Yellow Medium needs to be darker, less intense and cooler to match that banana’s shadow. So then we try to find the color on our wheel that will make the Hansa yellow medium darker, less intense and cooler, all at the same time.

Any of these colors will do that!

Another example of how I use this color wheel is finding out how to best neutralize a color. 

Using our Hansa yellow medium again I can see that I could neutralize this color with any of these colors that are closer to the center of the color wheel or opposite Hansa yellow medium on the other side of the wheel.

If I was using a store bought color wheel I could gain an understanding that blue will neutralize yellow but which of the blue paints that I own will neutralize a color the way I need. Store-bought color wheels can teach you color theory but they will not show you how to practically apply it to the paint right in front of you. They are too generalized.

If we make it ourselves it’s customized for us.

In essence what we’re making is a basic color wheel but because it’s customized for us  it is infinitely more useful.

Making our own wheel so we can do the same as the banana example

Now let me show you how to make a color wheel just like this.

Here are the materials you will need.

  • Foam core board. Or any board really. I just like foam core boards because they are super light and easy to cut.
  • Neutral gray acrylic paint. Or you can make your own with white and black gesso. This is the perfect background for any color because it doesn’t interfere with your judgment of the color. Don’t use white, black or any intense colors. You want the colors you add to the board to stand on their own without any interference from the background.
  • Your oil paints.
  • A pencil.
  • A ruler.
  • A knife.


  1. Cut the board into an 18 inch square
  2. Find the center of the square by drawing lines from each corner.
  3. Put a very small hole in the center.
  4. Paint your foam core on both sides. To prevent too much warping.
  5. After it’s dry measure out from the center 8 inches all around. If you have a really big compass this step is much easier.
  6. Connect the lines to make a symmetrical circle.
  7. Repeat this for 7 inches, 6 inches, 5 inches, etc… until your last circle is one inch in radius.
  8. Now bisect your entire color wheel.
  9. This is the tricky part. As best you can divide each quadrant of the outer circle into 5 sections with 4 marks. This doesn’t have to be perfect, just eyeball it.
  10. Then draw lines from each of those marks through the center of the wheel to the opposite outer edge.
  11. Repeat for the other two quadrants.
  12. Notate each point around the outer edge of your color wheel with the munsell color notation. Starting with 5R then all the way around the circle. See a link in the description for an example you can print out and follow.
  13. Lastly, each concentric circle gets its own number from 2 to 16. These are indications of saturation. 2 is the closest to gray and 16 being the closest to pure super bright awesome color.

Whew! That was a lot! But trust me. It’s worth it. You will make this once and use it for the rest of your life. 

The fun part is matching your oil paints to the munsell color notation then placing a circle on the wheel with very small text of the color name. 

You do this by looking at the Munsell numbers for each tube of paint. For this example we will use cadmium red light. The notation for it is 5r with a saturation of 16 so it goes here.

Repeat for all the paint tubes you own.

Once you’ve plotted all your colors on the wheel now you can start opening tubes of painting and placing the colors on the wheel. 

Use a clean brush for each circle of paint. We want these to be as pure as they can be right out of the tube.

A few weeks after the paints have dried you can go over each one with a small dab of varnish to bring the luster of the paint back and see its true value, chroma and hue.

Then you just hang your color wheel on the wall in your studio and use it for every painting.

When you buy a new tube of paint, add it to the chart!

The next step of this journey into color is to get painting. But if you’re lacking the motivation to get painting, or need some ideas of what to paint I’ve got the perfect video for you right here.

Thanks, have a great week!

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