Art Journalling

Colour Theory

Here is part one of my blog series detailing my observations from the podcast “Learning to paint”. I discussed the reasons for these pages on the blog page Learning to Paint. Part two Composition and part three Practice are available too.

I came to the conclusion I needed to note my observations, especially once I realised they were being consistently mentioned by the artists. Rather than just jot it into a notebook, what better way than to share my observations with you too, also I feel it will help cement the ideas for me too!

Oh and it doesn’t matter what the medium is Oil, Acrylic or Watercolour it applies to all of them and most likely every other one too! However for clarity – this page is NOT going to talk brands. I shall save that for a future page maybe.


  • Primary colours are Red, Yellow & Blue
    • But they can also be Warm or Cool
    • So your base palette could include 6 primaries plus white
  • Secondary Colours are the colours either side of the primaries, 
    • Orange, Green, Purple
  • Tertiary Colours are the colours either side of the Secondaries
    • Red Orange / Yellow Orange, Yellow Green / Blue Green , Blue purple / Red Purple
  • Chromatic colours = Taken straight from the tube.
  • Prismatic colours = Chromatic colours quietened with white or black or complementary
  • Muted / Neutral colours = Prismatic colours muted even further 

Colour Terms 

  • Hue = Colour
  • Warm / Advancing colours
    •  Are warm because we associate warmth with the sun, so Yellow moving towards Red is Warm.  
    • Half the colour wheel is warm.
  • Cool / Receding colours
    • Are cool because we associate coolness with water, Ice, Snow so Yellow moving towards Blue is cool. 
    • Half the colour wheel is cool.
  • Intensity / Saturation = How pure the colour is which determines its relative brightness, or dullness
  • Value = The lightness or darkness of a colour
  • Transparent = you can see through it, use it in layers and see underneath colours
  • Opaque = solid colours, you can not see through it, and blocks underneath colours
  • Granular / Granulation = how the colour settles once dry

Colour Wheel

  • Analogous : Colours adjacent to each other. 2-5 colours are optimum
  • Monochrome : Use any tint, tone or shade of one colour
  • Complementary : Two colours directly opposite each other
  • Split complementary : Three Colours : Complementary, plus its opposite that is moved one space either side of itself.
  • Triad : Three colours equally spaced apart.
  • Tetrad : Four colours that are two sets of complements.
  • Tint : Hue plus white 
  • Tone : Hue plus grey
  • Shade Hue plus black
  • Neutral Grey : a balanced combination of white and black
Paint making

Paint makeup

  • Pigment: The colour (The expensive part!)
  • Binder: The thing that makes the pigment stick to the paper
  • Solvent: The thing that makes it move on the brush
  • Filler: imitation pigment, meant to fill the gap.

Paint Grades

  • Basic – Mostly binder and filler, not much pigment
  • Student – High quota mix of binder, filler and pigment
  • Professional – High concentration pigment, lower quota binder


  • Basic : Very cheap
  • Student: Reasonably priced
  • Professional: Expensive

Some do’s and dont’s

  • You CAN buy all the colours in all the tubes, but learn to mix them first and you will KNOW why you want that colour.
  • Don’t be afraid of Greys. Greys exist in every colour you look at
  • Understanding the Value Scale is vital, a good picture will have at least 3, ideally 5 scales
  • Highlights and Shadows are important. 
  • Value scale your main colour, don’t just use black
  • Give volume to your image by using tone and scale. 
  • Turn the image from 2D to 3D by adding value.
Value Scale

This is definitely not an exhaustive list, if you have something to add please do let me know in the comments.

Ultimately I hope this helps me, and you in our future painting decisions.

Linked posts :

*** Learning to Paint *** Composition *** Practice ***

Disclaimer: All opinions expressed here are my own. I paid for the products discussed, I received no payment and I am not affiliated in any way with any brand mentioned herein.

3 thoughts on “Colour Theory

  1. This is all such good stuff!
    Thank you Donna!! ❤❤❤
    I knew about primary and secondary colors, but all the other stuff
    is new to me. I learned a lot from this post.

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