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The Colour Wheel

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Colour Wheel
The Colour Wheel can help us understand the use of colour in art, illustration and design.
The Colourwheel shows primary, secondary, tertiary, warm, cool and complimentary colours as used in colour theory when painting. In painting these theories apply regardless of the media.
Often called a colourwheel, colour circle, color wheel or colorwheel

It may help to read this page in conjunction with the 'Colour'  and 'Colour Mixing' pages.

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primary colours of the colour wheel

Primary Colours

The three hands on the colour wheel 'clock' indicate the three Primary colours. Red, Yellow, Blue.
In theory mixing two colours together, that two of the hands on the colour wheel point at, will give the second colour, i.e. in between the two hands or pointers.
These are referred to as the Secondary colours. Yellow and Red will give an orange, as indicated. Blue and Yellow will give a green and Red plus Blue will give purple.

For more information about mixing these colours and the results you can expect please click the link.

secondary colours of the colour wheel

Secondary Colours

This time the hands of the colour wheel 'clock' point to the Secondary colours. These are Orange, Green, Violet or Purple. The colour either side of the hand/pointer will be the colours used to make the Secondary colour as explained above. A list of suggested colours can be found by clicking the link.

Tertiary Colours.

If you mix a Primary colour (Red, Yellow or Blue) with it's adjacent Secondary colour on the colour wheel this will give a Tertiary colour, classed as third in order. For example if you mixed the Primary colour Yellow with the Secondary colour Orange, the Tertiary colour would be Yellow Orange.

warm colours of the colour wheel

Warm Colours

These are the warm colours of the spectrum from red through orange to yellow. You can use a small amount of a warm colour to warm the temperature of a cool colour and vice versa. The warm colours tend to come towards you, or feel closer to you, and come forward in a painting.

To see an example of this have a look at the warm colour of this painting. If you want the overall 'feel' or colour temperature of the painting to be warm, then use colours within this section of the colour wheel. An aspect to be aware of is that, the colour within a painting can affect the viewer in many ways emotionally, psychologically and mentally.

Use this knowledge in your work to advantage. For instance, cool blue colours to show distant land and a warm brown for land near the viewer. Cool colours for some could equate to serenity and red to anger!

cool colours of the colour wheel

Cool Colours

The cool colours of the colour wheel tend to go away from you, or feel distant to you and recede in a painting. As with the warm colours, you can use a cool colour to change the temperature of a warm colour, just use it's opposite on the colour wheel. An aspect to be aware of is that, the colour within a painting can affect the viewer in many ways emotionally, psychologically and mentally.

Warm and cool colours can be placed opposite each other to give temperature contrast within the painting. To see an example of this have a look at the cool colour of this painting.

You can use warm and cool colours side by side to contrast with each other

complementary colours of the colour wheel

Complementary Colours

Complementary colours are opposite each other on the colour wheel, as shown by the hands on the colour-wheel to the left. These same two colours that are opposite each other, when put side by side, contrast with each other. In the viewers eye they appear to give movement to the painting, unless used indiscriminately, in which case they can give an unsettled and disagreeable feeling.

Complementary colours when mixed together produce a neutral or grey colour, sometimes with a leaning towards one colour. Clean neutral colours come from two single pigment colours, to learn more about this click the link. To see an example of this have a look at the complementary colours used in this painting.

You can use the complementary colour, of another colour, to dull and darken the original colour instead of using black.

The tone of the colour also affects the how the colours react to each other, for more information click the link.

All design and artwork Jacqui Blackman 1999.

Back to Colour Page      Back to Colour Mixing      Tonal Values      About Oil paint

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