Color Theory Basics

Understanding how colors work is fundamental to creating eye-catching paintings. In this post, I’d like to give a concise overview on color theory to create a foundation for paintings.

color theory basics

Primary Colors

Primary colors are colors from which all other colors are derived. These colors are red, yellow, and blue.

primary colors


Secondary Colors

Secondary colors are achieved by mixing two of the primary colors.

Red + Yellow = Orange
Blue + Yellow = Green
Red + Blue = Purple

secondary colors

Tertiary Colors

When you mix a primary and a secondary color, you get a tertiary color. These have two-word names to indicate which colors are being mixed such as yellow-orange, blue-green, red-purple.

Color or hue refers to the pigmentation of objects, in this case paint.

Adding white to a color creates a tint.

Adding black to a color creates a shade.

Adding grey to a color creates a tone.

Color Schemes

Analogous Colors are three colors side by side on a 12-part color wheel. Choose one of the colors to be the dominant one to bring out the best contrast.

Complementary Colors are any two colors that are directly opposite on a color wheel such as orange and blue. The opposing colors create maximum contrast and stability.

Triadic Colors are three colors equally spaced around wheel such as the primary colors, blue, yellow, and red.

Try creating your own color wheel! Download the free template (PDF file) or click on the image below to print.

color wheel template

What are some of your favorite color combinations and schemes?

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