Colour Wheel — The Fundamentals of Colour Theory

Whether you are a visual artist or an entrepreneur thinking about building your brand, this article is useful for you! Fundamentals of the colour wheel and colour theory.
Colour wheel and colour theory | artroom 22 | Magazine #44 cover

The purpose of colour theory ranges from renaissance fine art to modern commercial advertising. Since colours affect our mood and perception, it is important to master the colour wheel. Whether you are a visual artist or an entrepreneur thinking about building your brand, this article is useful for you.

Here, you will learn about the colour wheel. In particular, the fundamentals of colour theory, colour mixing, important terms, colour temperatures and colour scheme. Now, let’s begin!

The Colour Wheel

First of all, there are three categories on a colour wheel, such as primary colours, secondary colours and tertiary colours. In traditional colour theory, primary colours (i.e. red, blue, yellow) are the three pigment colours that cannot be mixed or formed by any combination of other colours. All other colours are derived from these 3 hues.

On the other hand, secondary colours are the colours formed by mixing the primary colours. For example:

  • Purple = red + blue
  • Green = blue + yellow
  • Orange = yellow + red

Likewise, tertiary colours are the colours formed by mixing a primary and a secondary colour. For example:

  • Vermillion = red + orange
  • Marigold = orange + yellow
  • Chartreuse = yellow + green
  • Turquoise = green + blue
  • Indigo = blue + purple
  • Magenta = purple + red

1 - Colour wheel and colour theory | primary colour wheel artroom 22

Important Terms of Color Theory

When describing colours, these terms form the foundation of understanding in the world of colour theory.

Hue, Value and Saturation

Hue is the first item we refer to when adding in the three components of a colour. It is also a term which describes a dimension of colour in its purest form, such as “yellow”. It essentially refers to a colour having full saturation.

Next, value refers to the lightness or darkness of a colour. It indicates the quantity of light reflected. Saturation (also called “chroma”) defines the brilliance and intensity of a colour. For instance, high saturation means the colour is really bright. Conversely, desaturation means the colour looks washed out.

Tint, Shade and Tone

These terms are often used incorrectly, although they describe fairly simple colour concepts. If a colour is made lighter by adding white, the result is called a tint. If black is added, the darker version is called a shade. And if grey is added, the result is a different tone.

2 - Colour wheel and colour theory | impotant terms artroom 22

Color Temperatures 

The colour circle can be divided into warm and cool colours. Draw a line through the center of the wheel, and you will be able to separate them. From the colour wheel below, you can see the warm colours comprise reds, oranges and yellows. While the cool colours are purples, blues and greens.

Here is a tip for you, opposite temperatures can create visual contrast and have different psychological effects. Warm colours appear bright, cheerful and full of energy, whereas cool colours appear calm, serenity, mysterious and even gloomy. 

When you recognise that colour has a temperature, you can understand how you should decide the colour for your brand and artwork. Bear in mind that, choosing all warm or all cool colours in a logo or on your website can impact your message.

3 - Colour wheel and colour theory | colour temperature artroom 22

Colour Mixing and Colour Harmony

Do you know that colour is perception? Our eyes see something, for example the sky. Then, data sent from our eyes to our brains tells us it is blue. In fact, objects reflect light in different combinations of wavelengths. Our brains pick up on those wavelength combinations and translate them into the phenomenon we call colour.

Color can be your most powerful design element if you learn to use it effectively.

With an understanding of essential terms and the various hues defined by the colour wheel, we can begin to employ colour harmoniously. Being able to use colours consciously can help you create spectacular results. In colour theory, harmony refers to different colour combinations that can be utilised in an aesthetically pleasing manner. This is where colour theory is finally put into practice through design and composition. See how this artist combines colour to spill her artwork with childlike simplicity, playful spirit and innocence!

Using colours harmoniously engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it is either boring or chaotic. At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information.

At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can not stand to look at it. The human brain rejects what it cannot organise and what it cannot understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Colour harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order. This is another example of how the Iran artist using colour composition to create a harmonious artwork with patterns and shapes.

Do you know that, people decide whether or not they like a product in 90 seconds or less. 90% of that decision is based solely on colour.

Color Schemes

By selecting the right colour scheme, you can create an ambiance of elegance, warmth or tranquility. Or you can convey an image of playful youthfulness. Here, we will show you some references to the colour wheel. You can then choose an appealing colour scheme for your art or help build your brand.

4 - Colour wheel and colour theory | Colour schemes artroom 22

SCHEME 1: Monochromatic scheme

Using one hue and adding white, black grey to create tints, tones and shades. See this monochrome painting by an airbrush artist.

SCHEME 2: Complementary colours

Color sitting across from each other on the colour wheel. Putting a great contrast and visual interest. However, take note that they can easily overpower each other so it is important to use them carefully.

Examples: Red and Green, Purple and Yellow, Orange and Blue

5 - Colour wheel and colour theory | compliment colour artroom 22

SCHEME 3: Analogous scheme

2 – 4 colours next to each other in the colour wheel.

SCHEME 4: Triadic scheme 

3 colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel.

SCHEME 5: Split-Complementary scheme 

A base colour and the two colours adjacent to its complementary color.

SCHEME 6: Tetradic scheme

Four colours arranged into two complementary pairs.

SCHEME 7: Square scheme 

Four complementary colours evenly spaced around the colour wheel.

6 - Colour wheel and colour theory | Analogous colour artroom 22

Finally, why should you care about colour theory?

Three words to conclude the answer: branding, marketing and sales

With this basic knowledge about colours and colour schemes, you are ready to make effective branding decisions. Like what colour your logo should be. If you are a visual artist, by mastering the colour theory can effectively convey your message through your artwork. Or the emotions that colours evoke in a buyer and the psychology behind colour choices.

Colour theory is both the science and art of using colour. When you understand the colour wheel, it can help push your art and your brand to the next level! If you are a self-taught artist, here are some tips for you.

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