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Colour Blog #1

Updated: May 3, 2021

For the next few weeks, I am going to cover a bit of colour theory and ways of using colour in your art and environments.

Colour theory can be quite complex, but with just a few tips and an understanding of basic colour theory, you can manipulate this powerful design element for your own purposes. Let's start with the colour wheel - the tool which most artists refer to at some stage, because it holds information that can be key to manipulating colour with great results. We will look at the qualities of colours in following blogs, but for now, lets look at the colour wheel.

Attributed to Newton, the colour wheel, basically represents the colour spectrum, or what you see when a ray of light is split by means of a prism. If the wheel is spun very quickly, the colours visually combine and appear white.

As you can see from the diagram, there are three primary colours: red, yellow, and blue; three secondary colours: orange, green and violet; and the remaining six colours are tertiary colours.

The primary colours are the first colours - they cannot be mixed from any other colours, but they are the basis for all the other colours.

The secondary colours are obtained by mixing two primary colours together. The two colours that need to be mixed are indicated by the placement of the secondary colour required. For example, on the colour wheel, the secondary colour green is found equidistant spatially between blue and yellow. This tells us that green is obtained by mixing blue and yellow together.

The tertiary colours are mixed by mixing one secondary and one primary colour

together in the same way. For example, yellow-green is situated between yellow and green, which tells us that these are the two colours that should be mixed together to create yellow-green. If you want to go straight to mixing yellow-green, however, you could mix a small amount of blue with a large amount of yellow to get the same results.

So that they can internalise these mixing techniques, I usually get students to make their own colour wheel from a blank one. They begin by adding the primary colours in the appropriate places, then mix them to create the secondary colours and finally mix and paint in the tertiary colours. You can do this too by downloading and printing out the blank colour wheel attached to this post.

Colour Wheel
Download DOC • 91KB

The colours on the colour wheel are known as fully saturated, that is, they have had nothing added - no black, white or grey added to them; they are at their fullest strength. Colours with white added to them are referred to as tints, with black added are shades and with grey added are called tones.

NEXT TIME: Warm and Cool Colours.

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