The Colour Wheel

The Colour Wheel

Introduction To Our Colour Theory Blog Series

Hi, and welcome to our blog. We're a small art shop near Barcelona, Spain. Hosting a blog about art has been something we wanted to try our hand at for quite a while now, so we're very excited to have you here with us!

Our first blog post covers the foundational topic of the colour wheel. Having a good grasp of the colour wheel is essential for all artists, hobbyists and professionals alike.

And understanding this topic well will also allow you to progress onto the more advanced topics. This will come in handy because this first blog post is part of a bigger blog series about Colour Theory, which will tackle more advanced topics like Colour Theory and Neutral Colours in future posts.

So without further ado, let's get going!


Why knowing The Basics Of Colour Theory Matters

I'm sure you already know that colours play an all-important role in art. They change the way your artwork is perceived - is felt even - by your viewers.

But why is this?

Let's have a look at some of the ways that colours, whether it's in an artwork or elswhere, impact the viewer:

  • Different colours have a different physiological effect: warm hues raise our blood pressure while cool shades lower it.
  • Colour interactions, such as two strongly contrasting colours, calm or stress the viewer visually as different combinations put our eyes to work differently.
  • Colours carry cultural meaning: our cultural background changes the meanings and emotions colours cause us to feel.

The above is definitely not an exhaustive list. Colours have many more impacts on the the viewer which is why it is so important for artists to have a good understanding of colour theory. And no better place to start than with the colour wheel!


The Colour Wheel

The colour wheel depicts the basic hues of the colour palette. Warm colours like red, orange, and yellow occupy one half, while cool colours such as blue, green, and violet reside on the opposite side.

Classic Colour Wheel

The colour wheel allows artists to easily spot which colours carry maximum contrast with one another, and which colours flow smoothly into each other.

We already mentioned that a soft contrast has a visually calming effect whereas a strong contrast causes visual stress and fatigue. But colour contrasts also psychologically impact viewers as soft contrasts feel relaxing while strong contrasts feel energizing.

The colour wheel is also a great tool to find colours that "match". There are many various different patterns, and many of them even have fantastic names, such as "Monochromatic colours" and "Split-Complementary colours". Sneak preview; in our next blog post we'll explore these patterns and in greater detail.


Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Colours

The colours on the colour wheel can be divided into 3 groups: primary colours, secondary colours and tertiary colours.

The primary colours are red, yellow and blue. These colours can not be created by mixing other colours together. Primary colours are vibrant and using them in your artworks sets a bold and energetic mood.

Primary Colours

Secondary colours, like purple and orange, are created by mixing primary colours. Primarily using secondary colours will give your artwork a balanced feeling.

Secondary Colours

Finally, tertiary colours are created by blending a primary and a secondary colour or by blending two secondary colours. A few examples of such tertiary colours are teal and burgundy. Tertiary colours create a feeling of subtleness and sophistication.

Tertiary Colours


Putting Your Knowledge To Practice

It’s all good and well knowing about the colour wheel and primary, secondary and tertiary colours, but how do you put this knowledge to practice? That is; how can you use it in your art?

Well, there are several ways you can apply your newfound knowledge to use. A few suggestions:

  • A colour study is small painting or sketch where you experiment with different colour schemes. The goal is to get a better idea which colours would work well for the real work you're about to make. A good understanding of the colour wheel will allow you to choose colour combinations that work well more efficiently.
  • Visual anchors are the parts of your artwork that just draw your viewer's attention. It's important to choose their colours well - and this is where your colour wheel expertise comes into play - because these focal points guide the viewer's eyes and thoughts as he takes in your work. Tip: primary colours pull your viewers attention the most, so make sure to use them amply for your visual anchors.
  • When mixing colours, knowledge of the colour wheel is indispensable. We all know that a mix of red and blue creates purple - and don't need a colour wheel for that. But when we mix secondary and tertiary colours, the wheel becomes a very useful reference.



So, now that you know all about the colour wheel and the primary, secondary and tertiary colours, what's next? Well, if you're curious, you can already head over to the next post in this series in which we'll be exploring colour harmony.

But we actually encourage you to take a step back from reading our blog and instead start practising. A good one to begin with is making a few colour studies using mostly secondary and tertiary colours - which you mixed together yourself of course. Or you could revisit your past artworks and review the usage of strong and weak contrast in them.

We hope you enjoyed the read. See you at the next one :)
Back to blog

Leave a comment