Any color alone is a crudity and does not exist in nature. Colors exist only in an apparent rainbow, but how well rich nature took care to show them to you side by side in an established and unalterable order, as if each color was born out of another! (Paul Gauguin)

In other words think of colour in terms of relationships, considering the effect each colour has on the one next to it.

Monet is using the red sun as a contrast to the cold blues (he is also using strong tonal contrasts to create drama)
Monet understood colour relationships
There are a variety of colours but not a variety of tones in this work.
Count the colours in the Sky!
The colours appear more luminous when the tones of the colours are close togethor.
Look at the luminosity of colour!
Monet is using contrasting warm and cool colours but the close tones help to create harmony.
Look at the transparent application of paint against the opaque colours!
Roland Wakelin is using complimentary pinks and greens.
Colours and tones are carefully grouped.
Look at Roland Wakelin and his rich colour palette with the tones and colours grouped.
Look at Roland Wakelin and his rich colour palette.
Grace Cossington Smith - has greyed her colours by mixing opposite colours from the colour wheel.
Grace Cossington Smith has used a muted colour palette.
Van Gogh is predominantly using complimentary colours of reds and greens (complimentary colour palette)
Van Gogh is using a complimentary colour palette.
Van Gogh is using a harmonious cool colour palette of mainly blues and greens
There is a variety of relative warmth and coolness within theses blues and greens
Gauguin groups his colours and tones which creates colour luminosity and richness
Look at the subtle relationships of warm and cool colour groups.

A 2D Element of Art & Design

Colours in nature are rarely straight out of the tube. Your primary and secondary colours are too intense to look natural. When painting, you are constantly modifying your colours and greying their intensity to create paintings that are harmonious and diverse with colour.

Colour is the visible spectrum of light radiation reflected from a surface. Colours are grouped into primary, secondary and tertiary categories. Terms used to talk about colour include chroma, hue, intensity or saturation, value or brightness, tint, shade, tone, temperature (warm, cool, neutral), and various colour schemes such as monochromatic, analogous and complementary colours.

Colour Wheel - Tints and Shades

The primary, secondary and tertiary colours (also called hues) along with their tints and shades make up the colour wheel above.

Primary Colours: These colours cannot be mixed, rather they are used to make other colours. The primary colours are red, yellow and blue. If you mix the three primary colours, it would produce a dark muddy brown.

Secondary Colours: By mixing two primary hues together you create a secondary colour. There are three secondary colours. They are the hues green, purple and orange. Orange from mixing red and yellow, violet from blue and red, and green from yellow and blue.

Tertiary Colours: The third set of hues are known as tertiary or intermediate colours. These hues are often made by mixing adjacent primary and secondary hues. The six tertiary or intermediate colours are yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet, red-orange, and yellow-orange.

However some people include the greyed colours in the tertiary category which means that a tertiary colour can be any colour created from mixing a primary with a secondary (opposite or adjacent on the colour wheel). So according to this definition browns and greyed colours can also be called tertiary colours.

Complimentary Colours – Colours directly opposite one another on the colour wheel. The compliment of red is green. The compliment of blue is orange. Sometimes these are called contrasting colours.

Harmonious Colours – Colours near one another on the colour wheel. Harmonious colours of red are purple and orange. Harmonious colours of green are yellow and blue. Sometimes these are referred to analogous colour.

Tints and Shades – Tints are colours mixed with white while shades are colours mixed with black.

Sometimes artists use colours that evoke certain emotions. Other times they use colours simply because they like the way they look. There is nothing wrong with choosing a colour because you like it because, after all, it is your work. However, when choosing a colour you still want to make sure its use does not conflict with what you are trying to say with your work. Proper use of basic colour theory can help you decide what colours match, as well as what each color makes people feel.

See if you can identify the primary, secondary and tertiary colours on the wheel above!
Colours are everywhere light is, how we interpret colour in art is subjective, it can take time to understand!

Lets look at colour in French Fauvism


In this painting by Matisse colour is used at its maximum intensity.

The window frames, clay flower pots and masts on the yachts have all been painted in a blazing red. These are a bold complement to the range of greens that punctuate the painting.

In order to arrange the various colours of the work into an effective composition he creates a counterchange between the greenish wall on the left and its reflected colour in the right hand window, with the purple wall on the right and its reflected colour in the left hand window.

To unify the interior/exterior relationship of space, the dense range of colours used inside the room is echoed more sparingly in the distant view through the window.


For Matisse the key to his success in using such exaggerated colours was the realisation that he had to simplify his drawing and, by applying the same kind of simplification and spontaneity to his brushwork he amplified the sense of joy that he had achieved through colour.

He said, "We move towards serenity through the simplification of ideas and form.......”

Vlaminck painted with broken, independent colour.


Derain painted bold, bright, non-descriptive colours directly onto the canvas with very little over painting or preparatory drawing.

Derain often used broken contrasting colour and bold outlines

Quick Quiz:

  1. Red, blue and yellow are WHAT colours?
  2. Green, Purple and Orange are WHAT colours?
  3. A mixture of a primary colour and a secondary colour is called a WHAT colour?
  4. Yellow + blue =
  5. Red + Yellow =
  6. Red + Blue =
  7. Blues and Greens are known as WHAT colours?
  8. Red, Yellows and Oranges are known as WHAT colours?
  9. Colours, which are similar and seem to match, are called WHAT colours?
  10. WHAT and green are complementary colours?
  11. Yellow and WHAT are complementary colours?
  12. Blue and WHAT are complementary colours?
  13. When black is added to a colour the result is called a WHAT?
  14. When white is added to a colour the result is called a WHAT?
  15. You need WHAT to see colour?
  16. Without light, all you would see is WHAT?
  17. Warm colours seem to jump WHAT in painting?
  18. Cool colours tend to WHAT in a painting?
  19. Warm colours can communicate feelings of WHAT?
  20. Cool colours can communicate feelings of WHAT?
  21. WHAT is made by mixing green + blue or orange + blue.
  22. Red + white equals WHAT?


Created with images by Pexels - "bloom blossom colorful"

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