Basic Colour Schemes

The colour wheel or colour circle is the basic tool for combining colours. Sir Isaac Newton developed the first circular diagram of colours in 1666. Since then, scientists and artists have studied and designed numerous variations of this concept.

The colour wheel is designed so that you can easily visualize the relationships between the primary, secondary, and intermediate/ tertiary colours. It also helps demonstrate colour temperature. As an artist, once you learn how the colour wheel works, you can use it to pick colours  that will look good together.

Primary Colours

Primary colours are the basic colours.  Theoretically, any other colours (hues to be more specific) that you see is build mixing these 3 hues but you can not mix other hues to create the primaries.

There are two commonly used definitions of primary colours, one is primary colours that you use for painting or printing (I will refer to it as painters’ primaries) and another is primary colours that create light.

When painters primaries are all mixed together, the theoretical result is black; Therefore pigment mixture is sometimes referred to as subtractive mixture.

The painters’ primary colours are red, yellow and blue (RYB). The colour wheel that shows the relationship between painters’ colours is therefore referred to as RYB or subtractive colour wheel.

Secondary Colours

These are the colours formed by mixing the primary colours. In RYB system, these are green, orange and purple. In the colour wheel, these secondary colours are in the middle between each primary colours.  In other words, to create each secondary colour, theoretically you need to mix the primary colour on its left with the primary colour in its right. For instance, to create green, you need to mix yellow with blue. Please use the image slide included in this lesson as a visual guide.

Tertiary Colours

Tertiary Colours are Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green
These are the colours formed by mixing a primary and a secondary colour.

Warm and cool colours

The colour circle can be divided into warm and cool colours. The colours on the red side of the wheel are warm; the green side of the wheel has the cooler colours.

More subtle colour temperature relationships are relative, meaning that each colour on the warm side of the wheel can be known as cool, and colours on the cools side of the wheel can be known as warm depending on the relationship to their neighboring colour. Colours from the same hue, for instance red, can also be warmer or cooler than one another.

Colour temperatures affect us both psychologically and perceptually by helping us determine how objects appear positioned.

Warm colours are vivid and energetic, and appear closer to the observer. Warm colours include red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colours.

Cool colours give an impression of calm, and create a soothing impression. They appear farther from the observer. Cool colours include green, blue, and purple, and variations of those three colours.  Purple takes some attribute of red while green takes some attribute of yellow. Blue is the only primary colour within the cool spectrum.

Neautral  colours: White, black, gray, tans, and browns are considered to be neutral. The meanings and impressions of neutral colours depend more so upon the colours around them.

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Comments (2)
  • October 26, 2016

    Interesting lesson. Thank you for sharing. Loved it.

    • Yola S. October 26, 2016

      Thank you

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