Understanding Colour


The 3 basic colours are called primary colours. These are ‘pure’ colours (in other words, they cannot be mixed from any other colour combination).

They are: Blue, Red and Yellow

Between the primary colours, you find Orange, Green and Purple. These are called secondary colours. They are made up by mixing equal parts of two primary colours.

Red + Yellow = Orange
Yellow + Blue = Green
Blue + Red = Purple

By mixing any primary colour with an equal part of the secondary colour next to it, you create tertiary colours and increase the basic colour wheel to 12 colours. 

Red + Orange = Red-Orange
Yellow + Orange = Yellow-Orange
Green + Yellow = Green-Yellow
Green + Blue = Green-Blue
Blue + Purple = Blue-Purple
Red + Purple = Red-Purple

The 12 colour wheel, consisting of 3 primary colours, 3 secondary and 6 tertiary colours is the most useful way to get to know your colours.


For us, these 2 sets of colours have familiar associations:

Red/Yellow/Orange = Warm colours associated with heat, sunlight/fire/desert - these 
colours tend to be vibrant and jump forward.

Blue/Green/Purple = Cool colours associated with cold, sea/sky/ice - these colours 
tend to be calming and soothing on the eye and tend to recede.

A picture painted in all warm or all cool colours will be dull and flat. All paintings need to have a balance of warm and cool colours. For example, the background should consist of a cool colour while the picture is a warm colour, this will tend to stand out better.


These colours appear opposite each other on the colour wheel. The importance of complimentary colours, lies in the way the colours react to each other. If you place complimentary colours next to one another, the one colour intensifies the other. Red looks redder next to green, blue more vivid next to orange and yellow much brighter next to purple.

Red is the complimentary colour of green
Blue is the complimentary colour of orange
Yellow is the complimentary colour of purple


When any PRIMARY colour is mixed with an EQUAL part of it COMPLIMENTARY SECONDARY, a grey or brown is produced. Example - Red + Green = Dark Brown By varying portions of colour, you can produce a range of subtle tones which can vary from a cool grey to a subtle brown. Example - Red + Green + Lots of yellow = Mustard. Try it for yourself, using any colour from the colour wheel.


* If you mix 3 primary colours, they produce black
* Never mix too much paint at a time, unless you are tackling a large project
* Always make sure your colours are properly mixed before you begin (otherwise
you will have streaky paint instead of a solid colour.)
* You can neutralise a colour by adding transparent white or tint darker by adding a
LITTLE black.
* you can make colours pastel by adding opaque white

Colour is a very personal thing. Some people opt for vibrant colours, while others choose more subtle colours. Whatever, your choice, experiment with various shades and always write down the colours you have used, as you will not always remember, should you wish to paint the same colour again.


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