Color Theory Basics - The Color Wheel Explained - Art-n-Fly

Color Theory Basics - The Color Wheel Explained


Color theory is a very important part of all visual arts. Everything uses colors to convey emotions or to appeal to visual senses. Kids start off with colors at a young age, a baby who love his green blanket or a child who uses blue to color their skies and seas.

The hardest part as an artist is viewing colors as what they are, instead of actually seeing colors. When you think of a tree, what comes to mind? Green? Maybe red in the fall?

But if you pay attention, trees can be all sorts of colors. Different shades of greens and yellows, sure, but there are also blues and purples. You only need to pay attention, the whole world is covered in different colors overlapping to create something beautiful. So let’s dissect this thought further!


Color wheel warm colors chart


On one side of the color wheel there are warm colors. Warm colors make you feel, lively, energetic and light, just like the sun. What do these colors make you feel? Excitable? Happy? Then we have the other side of the color wheel.


Color wheel cool colors chart


The cool colors. Cool colors make you feel calm and relaxed.  These are the colors of nature and sea, like a green soothing forest. What do these colors make you feel? Does it feel soothing and stress free? The colors white, black and grey are considered neutral in this. They don’t conform to warm or cool colors, although with grey it is possible to add warm or cool hues to them.


Color theory color chart


So next we will look at the colors we are all familiar with. The very top of the color wheel, and the colors that almost all children recognize. Red, yellow, and blue, known as the primary colors. These colors cannot be created by mixing. All the colors of the color wheel start with these.


primary colors and secondary colors Color theory explained color wheel


From the primary colors, the secondary colors can be mixed and created. Yellow and blue make green, blue and red make purple and yellow and red make orange.


Tertiary colors Color theory explained color wheel


Mixing the primary and secondary colors you get the tertiary colors. These are yellow-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green, and yellow-green.


Complementary colors Color theory explained color wheel


Complementary colors are colors right across from one another on the color wheel. This is the best way to make colors stand out in full vibrancy. Yellow is most vibrant next to purple and green is the most vibrant next to red. These color schemes are used a lot in the world of advertisement, sports and holidays. Take a closer look at your favorite sports teams, a lot of them use complementary color schemes. Not to mention Christmas!


Triadic colors Color theory explained color wheel


Next we have triadic colors, these equally spaced around the color wheel. These colors are used more so for balancing. These color schemes also play a hand in advertisement, sports and has grown popular in interior decorating. These split off schemes can become even more complicated.


Analogous colors - Color theory explained color wheel


My favorite part of color theory is analogous colors. These colors are right next to each other in the color wheel and are great in creating a safe harmony. These are considered to be the most pleasing to the eye and are seen commonly in nature. The only issue is to make sure there is contrast between the colors. If they are too similar it tends to fool the eye and make them all blend together.


Color hues chart. Color theory explained color wheel


Hues refer to pure color pigment. These are colors at their most brightest. You add white or black to change this to tints and shades.


Color tints. Color theory explained color wheel


Tints are the colors you get when adding white to the hue. This makes the colors lighter and appear pastel.


Color tones. Color theory explained color wheel


Tones are the colors you get when mixing both white and black (grey) to the hue.


 Color shades. Color theory explained color wheel


Shades are the darker version of hue. These created by adding black.


Monotone color scheme. Color theory explained color wheel


With tints, tones and shades this will create the top color scheme called monotone. With monotone you create an attractive piece that could convey certain emotions. This goes back to the emotions you can get from warm or cool colors.

The second color scheme is called duo-tone. Another attractive way to use complementary colors without making everything look like Christmas or football. The last of this diagram is a tri tone. Simply put using 3 colors with tints, tones and shades to create a harmonious scheme. This also could become complicated.


Color theory explained color wheel


Lastly is when you mix the primary colors. I use this to create shadows with watercolor paintings. Unfortunately this only works with pure pigment paints to create a nice brown. With other paints it can look like a really gross grey vomit color. You can also use this to neutralize colors. When I mix skin tones for portraits I use the primary colors. With those you can pretty much make any skin color ever. I first mix yellow and red together to make a peach then neutralize it with a touch of blue to take out some of the yellow and red.


This is it! The down and dirty basics of color theory! Don’t be afraid to mix and match crazy colors together to create vibrant and wonderful art! Test out some awesome color schemes in your sketchbook and tag art-n-fly with any amazing combinations to your social media!


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4 Responses


November 13, 2023

thank you so helpful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

April 19, 2021

yo momma


December 20, 2020

So nicely and simple explained-thank you!

Nettie Kennedy
Nettie Kennedy

August 21, 2017

Excellent Color Theory Article

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