The Fundamentals of Color

Having a basic knowledge of the color wheel, knowing how colors mix, and function together is incredibly important for painting. Color theory can seem complicated, but we are going to break down the basics below.

Follow along with the blog to see more posts about color! 

  1. First things first, this is what a color wheel looks like! There are a lot of different color wheels out there, but this is a basic one that we created to make it nice and easy. This wheel has 12 colors, and we will break it all down below.

2. The PRIMARY colors are the ones highlighted above. They are Red, Yellow, and Blue. They are called the primary colors because they are the “first” in line when mixing colors. Primary colors can’t be mixed. All other colors are mixed using a combination of these three colors! PRO TIP: There are many different hues of these colors but you can’t MIX them. For example, you can buy a cobalt blue, phthalo blue, or cerulean blue (which all may look different); but you can’t mix those blues.

3. Next are SECONDARY colors. These are created when you mix two primary colors together. The secondary colors are Orange, Green, and Purple.

Red + Yellow = Orange

Yellow + Blue = Green

Blue + Red = Purple (also referred to as violet)

4. Next is TERTIARY (ter-she-airy) colors. Also known as intermediate colors. These are created when you mix a primary and a secondary color together. Tertiary colors are generally named after the two colors that create them.

For example: Yellow + Green = Yellow-green

PRO TIP: Tertiary colors often have shorthand names that we are more familiar with.

For example, Yellow-Green is often referred to as Lime Green.

Blue-Green is often referred to as Teal.

You get the gist!

5. Now, something that we mention a lot is COMPLEMENTARY colors. These are colors that are opposite from each other on the color wheel. True complementaries mixed together will “cancel” each other out to create a black or gray color. Since there are so many different hues/shades of colors, that can vary. Sometimes when you mix complementary colors they can create brown, so trying it out with the paints that you have is super important! It can easily become complicated the more shades of colors you have, but in general, when you mix two complementary colors you will get a gray or brown color.

Examples of complementary colors are:

Red + Green

Yellow + Purple

Blue + Orange

6. One last thing to know is the different between warm and cool colors. Cool colors are any colors that have blue mixed into them. PRO TIP: think of any colors that are associated with cold things. For example: ice cubes, the ocean, snow are all of blue/purple tones.

Warm colors are the opposite of this! Think of hot things. For example: fire, the sun, and are all variations of yellow/red/orange tones.

This basic overview is just dipping a toe into the pond of color possibilities! But we think it’s a great place to start.

Don’t worry about memorizing this information, just take these basics and try something new.

We recommend mixing a bunch of your paints together to see what you get, or creating a painting using only one pair of complementary colors, or a painting using only warm colors, etc.

Experiment, play, and have fun, because you never know what kind of amazing masterpiece you could end up creating.

Happy painting!