Colour Theory - The art of choosing & mixing colours

by Art Materials on Sep 08, 2021

Colour Theory - The art of choosing & mixing colours

The first consideration, when faced with a blank canvas, is the colour palette that is required. From abstract and impressionist artworks to portraits and landscapes, shades, tones and hues are the starting point. Colour has its own language and the palette chosen will tell a distinct visual story and evoke specific emotions. This is colour theory and every artist needs a basic understanding of the rules and guidelines used to communicate via the means of a specific colour scheme.

The colour wheel is the quintessential framework and the jumping off point for every artwork. An artist’s palette is not only the vehicle for personal expression, but also needs to resonate with the viewer. This visual interface is the theory of colour’s motivation and inspiration when choosing and mixing colours. 

Selecting a palette means making a commitment. A basic understanding of colour schemes, colour temperature and design harmony are the building blocks for a confident work of art.

Knowledge of the colour theory basics of warm and cool colours as well as monochromatic, complementary, analogous, and triadic combinations is imperative for a harmonious result.

Warm and cool colour schemes

Colour theory involves the distinct and instinctive visual conversation and impact of warm and cool colours. The warm colours are shades of red, orange, and yellow which are bright and pop out in a painting, creating energy and excitement. Blue and green are cool colours that create a sense of calm in an artwork. Violet or purple can be warm or cool depending on how much red or blue there is. 

warm and cool colours

Monochromatic colour schemes

A monochromatic or neutral palette of a brown or black pigment plus white is a great discipline for experimenting with tones or degrees of light and dark as well as focusing on shape. But a monochromatic scheme is also any palette that uses tints, tones and shades in the same colour family. A contemporary approach to a monochromatic scheme will include another colour in addition to shades of black and white. 

Monochromatic colours

Analogous colour schemes

An analogous colour scheme creates unity in a painting by using three or more colours that are next to each other on the colour wheel. Claude Monet often made use of analogous palettes in his paintings and Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ is an obvious example of analogous colours -  the primary colours of blue, yellow and the secondary colour, green. The green is an interim colour that harmoniously transitions from the bright yellows and oranges to the deep blues. This creates a graduation of colour without blending. 

Analogous colour scheme

Complementary colour schemes

A complementary colour scheme uses two colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. In colour theory, a complementary palette creates bold contrast, juxtaposing a warm colour with a cool colour. The basic complementary colour pairings are red and green, purple and yellow, and orange and blue. 

Complementary colours

Triadic colour schemes

A triadic colour scheme is a versatile palette and creates balance by using the three primary colours (for a vibrant result) or three secondary colours (for a more subdued earthy result) that are evenly spaced on the colour wheel.

Colour theory - triadic colours

Square colour schemes

In colour theory, a square colour scheme uses four colours that are evenly spaced around the colour wheel. Begin with a single colour on the wheel and then every third colour is added to the first to create a square palette. Then decide on your dominant colour, the complementary colour with the other two colours becoming your accents. 

Colour theory - square colour themes

Tetradic or rectangular colour schemes

A rectangular colour scheme uses four colours positioned around the colour wheel in the shape of a rectangle. This palette is also known as double complementary because it is the combination of two sets of complementary colours and it is the richest of all the schemes.  

Colour theory at Art Materials Company

As you look at your next blank canvas, your creative vision starts with your colour palette. No colour scheme is better than another, but the scheme you choose will determine the visual message you want to convey. The Art Materials Company is your leading online arts and craft supplies store where you can indulge in colour therapy. 

Choose your next colour palette by browsing and shopping our quality brands of watercolours, oils, acrylics and spray paints.