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Why are pencils yellow?

Why don’t the colors of our pencils change?” One day, you realize that the colors of the world, at least, change according to the time of the year.

How do you know? It’s because of the color wheel.

The wheel is made up of three simple colors—red, green, and blue—and a third element that is often neglected in the conversation about colors, the yellowish part, known as “transparent.” This yellow, which has the same hue and value as the other three elements of our color wheel, is what determines the colors of the outside of our pencils. (Think of the inside.)

The color wheel shows us the relative positions of each individual color in this world. For example, the rightmost column of the color wheel is red, the second green, and the third blue. As the years pass, each of these positions changes. (Think of a globe on the horizon.) You can see how yellow gradually develops as we move up the color wheel: by the second row of reds (right), the third row is blue, and so on.

It’s important to remember that each individual color on the surface of a pencil can be a subtle difference, like the color of your eyelashes. But if the pencil is a mirror of our world—or the mirror image of reality—that difference becomes apparent. Why? Because the color of the pencil is a visual indicator that the world has changed by the time you’re drawing your next sketch or page.

You may be wondering, “How can I know what a pencil is yellow and which pencil is green, if I don’t have a color wheel?” Well, there’s a simple formula: the number of shades of green; and an even simpler formula: the number of shades of red.

We’ll use red first, to illustrate the difference between green and yellow:

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First (green): The color, in its pure form, is called “green.” If a pencil color is completely green, it’s called “one-tone” or “white.” When drawing a green pencil, think of it as having the same shade of green on each of its three faces. In the middle of the green pencil, there is only white (or a “neutral” color) which allows the pencil to be used as a black, white, or grey/white.

(green): The color, in its pure form, is called “green.” If a pencil color is