Roses are RED, Violets are BLUE… We all know the lines to this famous French poem that became an English nursery rhyme. This first line though is important as it describes the flowers using colours. Colour is all around us and adds a unique quality to the things in this universe. We always know the sky is blue and the grass is green but there many more shades and hues to a colour that describes so many other things on this planet alone. So let’s look at colours more closely.

Colour Wheel

The colour wheel is a circular diagram that represents the relationships between colours. That is the colours that can be mixed together to produce a new colour and so on. Colours that are considered to look good together are called a colour harmony. This is the main purpose of the colour wheel, to find this harmony to use in your artwork for a particular look.

Primary Colours – Red, Blue and Yellow
Secondary Colours – Green, Orange and Purple
Tertiary Colours – The colours found between a primary and secondary colour, such as red-orange
Complementary Colours – These are the colours found opposite to each other on the colour wheel
Analogous Colours – These are the colours adjacent to each other on the colour wheel


There are 3 basic visual characteristics of colour; value, temperature, and chroma. These characteristics aid us to distinguish between colours and more effectively mix them. Each characteristic is independent and can change without affecting another characteristic. Understanding them can assist in colour harmony.

Colour Value

This represents the lightness or darkness of a colour. This is important because without this characteristic colours would appear flat. Some blues are darker than others and you can have brighter yellows. This is achieved by adding white or black to a colour. The more white that is added to a colour, the lighter it becomes and this is known as a tint. The more black added to the colour produces a darker value known as a shade.

Colour Temperature

This is a colour’s physiological association to temperature. Some colours are considered warm colours and the other cool colours based on association. Example, red, yellow and orange are warm because they are associated with things such as fire or sunshine. Blue, green and purple are cool colours since they are associated with water, ice or grass. Colours can also vary in temperature meaning a lighter blue could be cooler than a darker blue.

Colour Chroma

This is the intensity, richness and saturation of a colour. In other words, it is the degree of vividness of a colour, or how pure it is compared to its representative on the colour wheel. So how bright or how dark is this red compared to the original on the colour wheel.

There you have it, the fundamentals in understanding colour. This is the very basics of the Colour Theory and helps in understanding how colours are perceived and how they can be mixed. Apply some of this knowledge to your next art piece.

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