The Quiller Wheel


Dear Artist,

My co-instructor here in the workshop on Vancouver Island is Stephen Quiller. He’s one of those laid-back artists who is maddeningly capable of making true visual magic. As well as that he’s a passionate communicator who really knows his stuff. All our artist clients feel his commitment to the knowledge that makes for quality work. “What a privilege,” someone gasped this morning while watching his demonstration.

Stephen has developed a circular palette that is laid out in the form of the color wheel. He calls it the “Quiller Wheel.” Working mainly with primaries and avoiding earth colors, sophisticated neutral tones can be achieved by mixing the obvious opposites. An educational as well as a working tool, this palette simply presses artists to a quicker understanding of the potential of color. I’m seeing students understand how to limit color ranges by predetermining complementaries as well as by monochromatic, analogous and tertiary color systems. I see student paintings with moods from somber to razzle-dazzle because the artists now know what they’re doing and are in control. Through the directions that go with the “Quiller Wheel” Stephen walks an artist through a value-intensity foundation which helps the eye to discriminate between harmonious and discordant colors and how to use grays to maximum benefit. Less-is-more, light-burn, halation, and other little-known but desirable effects become accessible to the perceptive artist. Deathly mud and the self-sabotage of color-gumbo are left forever behind. Here at Painter’s Lodge it’s an Indian-summer with bright butterflies emerging everywhere.

Beneath the high mountains of the coast range, to the muted sounds of fellow artists concentrating, I’m laptopping this on a rock in a seagull sunset on Discovery Passage. I feel like shouting: “Why doesn’t everybody know this stuff?”

Late Light on Poxen's Run by Stephen Quiller

“Late Light on Poxen’s Run”
watercolour, acrylic and casein
painting by Stephen Quiller

Best regards,


PS: “With the understanding of color you’ll express your personality and vision more richly and more powerfully.” (Stephen Quiller)

Esoterica: Stephen’s methods can be found in books he’s authored, including The Painter’s Guide to Color. His workshop information and other material including the “Quiller Wheel” can be found at

The following are selected responses to this and other letters. Thanks for writing.


Stephen Quiller
by Gwen Pentecost

Stephen Quiller has written my two favourite books. Although an oil painter, I find his exercises very helpful, and periodically when I’ve hit a snag I’ll take myself “back to school” with them. His workshops must be wonderful!

(RG note) Many artists wrote to ask how to get Quiller material. His site is here:  Keep in mind that he will not be back in his studio in Creede, Colorado until October 10, 2001.


Quiller in Maui
by Jean Bradley, Kauai

I was so excited to read your letter about Stephen Quiller as I will be attending his workshop on Maui next month. I purchased the Quiller palette and am studying his book, Color Choices. This book jumped out of the store and into my lap 3 years ago, but I’m trying to absorb the color palette now. It is so hard to change your whole palette, but I know it will push me through to a new level. This is such a wonderful, small world when artists share their passions and insights! My husband and I are both artists. Mahalo! Mahalo!


Dick Nelson
by Ellie Snyder, Kauai

Thank you so much for the Quiller material. Several of my friends and I are taking his class in Maui at the end of October. I have been using the wheel for a while and wonder why everyone doesn’t love it. It is so logical and fewer chances at sludge. I am currently taking a 10 week tri-hue course from Dick Nelson on Maui. (I fly over every Tuesday for the afternoon class.) He had taken from Joseph Albers and has developed a method for using only the same colors that printers do, yellow, magenta and cyan. It is a whole lot more complex to learn than Quiller’s, but extremely valuable. The methods he is teaching us (lots of glazing with pure colors) are intended to produce the most luminosity. Oh!! Looking on the web I found that you had a letter featuring Nelson on February 8, 2000. I would be interested in the responses to that one. Can you tell me how to get to specific responses?

(RG note) You can see my letter about color guru Dick Nelson at While we have response letters about his methodology, we have not published them as of yet. The Clickbacks were not instituted at that time.


Like me
by Moncy Barbour

Mr Quiller sounds so much like myself. Though as much as I hate Earth hues, I still like to go back to the Baroque night painters with such dark rich tones with their highlighted Earth Hues. It was once said of me that less is more. I really can not find a good reason to overwork a painting. I hardly ever abandon a work. I will make adjustments not to overwork, only 2 good strokes would be better than 10 misplaced strokes.


Icing on the cake
by Shirley Hatfield

Thank you for your timely letter on the use of “The Quiller Wheel.” I had forgotten that I learned to paint in the ’60s by use of the Primary colors only and did so for several years, before indulging in the purchase of sophisticated yummy colors that were available. I now look at these old paintings (hanging on the walls of my mother’s house) and see that in my lack of knowledge of mixing color, I turned out some very unique colors, the blue-green water of a harbor scene, the brilliance of the sails in sunlight, the purple of shadows. My Tuesday paint-buddy and I have been discussing the use of color wheels in our work today, both of us being self-taught, pushing us to rely on what really works… the Color Wheel. I don’t care what the know-how of more experienced artists, the color wheel is a true-blue solver of any problem. All the yummy colors are icing on the cake.


Not shabby
please omit my name

Perhaps I am doing o.k. with my teaching. I have been contemplating changing my teaching style, as I have wondered if I should be more structured. The class is nine three hours sessions. Every class begins with what seems to be total chaos and then settles into my giving each one personal instruction. The last fifteen minutes is a wrap it up critique of suggested corrections and accomplishments. Their paintings are not the least bit shabby. So onto the next week’s class wondering if we are supposed to be having so much fun. If you print this letter, please omit my name as I believe some of my students receive your letter and I prefer to be anonymous to my classes. I need my own private vent. I teach in a very structured Continuing Education system. They have been skeptical of my approach to teaching which varies week to week with no lesson plan. The students talk, laugh, chew gum and take ten regularly for a coffee break. The two classes of fourteen each are going strong and we usually have a waiting list. Plus, I received an award for Outstanding Instructor of Year 2001. We are trying to establish a permanent Senior Program at the college and I hang in there as I truly believe the seniors do benefit from these classes.

(RG note) I couldn’t resist putting this letter in because it sounds like what Stephen and I are doing except we don’t seem to get the Outstanding Instructor award.


Discovery Passage
by David Lloyd Glover, Beverly Hills CA, USA

For those lucky souls at Painter’s Lodge, there is nothing so stunning for colour and feeling than a sunset on Discovery Passage. No better place than this to truly understand colour. If you have yet to see it, make sure it’s in your plans. An experience for every artist is to soak up that crystal clear light and transfer it to canvas or watercolour paper. I miss that place very much.


A short discourse on the value of mud
by John Evans

To each his own… I happen to like mud.


Sharing the passion
by Jacques LeTourneau

The main value in workshops is in watching artists who really know what they are doing. Students, particularly young students in the regular school system are rather inclined to have instructors who are career teachers rather than career artists. For the most part successful artists like Genn and Quiller are doing workshops as a mode of sharing because they are passionate about what they do.


by Bernard Tessier

As a young person I know I could not possibly afford to go and stay in one of those luxury lodges that you talk about. I am simply left out of the circuit. Then again you are always saying that you have to do it on your own — so — I’m wondering.

(RG note) You have a good point. Many of the folks who go to these workshops are older and have already made their fortunes.


Workshop downside
by Faith Puelston, Germany

Because there are so few opportunities to attend art workshops here in Germany, I decided to spend part of my vacation on a 3 day course in the UK, painting watercolours. I’m moderately good at acrylics, oils and pastels, but wanted to see for myself how watercolours behave under the hand of a “skilled operator.” Suffice it to say that the course did not give me what hoped (expected?) it would. Most of the course was devoted to teaching people who had never held a brush or pencil before to do just about that. We “did” almost everything in those three days, including location work intended to produce finished watercolours!!!!! A snippit of colour theory here, a brief introduction to perspective there; composition, tone values, you mention it, we did it. Did I say watercolour? Well, we did learn to make a blob of French ultramarine look like a bit of sky (dry method and mine didn’t), and our tutor did show us his limited palette and urge us to throw away all our greens (I suppose he may have had a point, there). I waited in vain for demos of how not to drown one’s pictorial elements with enthusiasm and a surfeit of wetness, and after two days of theory and I don’t think I shall be going there again. The online description of his workshop was misleading on two counts: he said it was for all levels of ability, whatever that means, and he also maintained it was specifically a watercolour course. I was disappointed with myself, too. I felt helpless because I couldn’t do what I had come to do. As a result I have very little to show for the time spent there. I had this awful feeling of having wasted precious hours, and that’s what bothered me most. I went out and bought a stack of fabulous books on the subject and reading these has not made me into a watercolourist but taught me that “every road leads to Rome” (Alle Wege führen nach Rom is a very common German proverb), if only I had been able to discern what could have aided me in those 3 days! The tutor said he wasn’t really a watercolourist because he couldn’t get away from his illustrative tendencies. I fear I didn’t understand that statement. He used it to explain why he didn’t use much water. I have gone back to my old way of working. I tussle with about 4 or 5 ongoing projects and hang the more promising ones on the walls so I see them often. A moment comes when one screams for attention, then I stack it on my easel and ask it what it would like me to do next. This method works well for me, especially as people who visit sometimes react to them with “oh, you’ve finished that picture,” because in their logical minds, no one hangs up an unfinished one. Sometimes, looking at a picture I thought was unfinished, I have to agree. This system helps me to be self-critical, too. I don’t just hang canvasses. I also have pastels and drawings mounted. Now and again someone goes home with one of the displayed “items.” That’s good for morale, too! (I give them away).
And one day I try another watercolour, maybe.


Still learning new things
by Camille Van Daele

I want to thank you for your inspiring letters on the web, and also for your wonderful book “The Painter’s Keys.” I am 80, have been painting for 33 years and still trying new ways and learning new things. After reading your book, I very much wish I could see some of your work. Is it on the web?

(RG note) If you go to you can find a list of the wonderful people who handle my work. Most of them have excellent sites where my current work is often illustrated.


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