What Is The Best Way To Learn Colour Theory?

What Is The Best Way To Learn Colour Theory?

Colour theory may be very complicated, yet for painters, the basic principles of colour theory are all that is required. The easiest method to study colour theory is to buy a colour wheel or, even better, build your own with your own colours.
Another way to study colour theory is to create your own value charts of the twelve hues on the colour wheel (three primaries, three secondary and six tertiary). You will end up with a variety of various colour values. You can learn graphic design online through Blue Sky Graphics online graphic design course.
Start with your base colour for the value chart, then work your way up in value by adding white (tints) and down by adding black (shades).

You should finish up with a variety of charts that you may use as a reference for future works.

You should also learn how to use a restricted palette while painting. The less the paints on your palette, the more you will be compelled to mix your own hues. This will teach your mind to recognise how the colours connect to one another.

The Evolution of Colour Theory

Colour theory principles were apparent in the works of Leone Battista Alberti (c.1435) and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks (c.1490). Sir Isaac Newton created the first colour wheel at the beginning of the 17th century. This colour wheel had a spinning disc with red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet on it.

Since Newton invented the colour wheel, it has become one of the most effective tools for painters to use in describing the connection between colours.

Learn Colour Theory
Learn Colour Theory

Red, blue, and yellow are the three basic hues. Green, orange, and purple are the three secondary hues. These are created by combining two primary colours. There are six more tertiary hues.

You could combine almost any hue in the spectrum with the basic colours. This is why a good understanding of colour theory is essential when painting and combining colours. This is also why you should always keep the basic colours on your palette at all times.

Colour Theory Terminology

There are a number of colour theory concepts in art that are often misinterpreted and misconstrued.


The phrase “hue” is often used as a simile for the word “colour.” Hue is the predominate wavelength of a colour out of the twelve colours on the colour wheel (being the primary, secondary and tertiary colours).

The colour of navy, for example, is blue. Burgundy is a red colour. Green is the colour of sap green.


Saturation is a measure of a colour’s purity. You may decrease a colour’s saturation by adding grey or a colour from the other side of the colour wheel (which essentially kills the colour).


Tone is a frequently misunderstood word, and despite its widespread usage, many artists are unsure of what it implies.

Tone is a wide word for any colour that is not a pure hue and is neither black or white. Tone is often used by artists to indicate a greyed-down hue (de-saturated).


On a scale of black to white, value describes how bright or dark a colour is. Value is generally regarded as one of the most significant factors in determining the success of a painting.

For painting, I have a basic guideline that I prefer to follow:

Add white and/or yellow to enhance (lighten) the value of a colour.

Add blue, black, and/or raw umber to reduce (darken) the value of a colour.

Value should be easy to comprehend; yet, the addition of colour may make it a difficult idea to grasp. You may have several colours with the same value. When colour is removed from the image, you are left with a spectrum of black to white hues, with black having the lowest value and white having the greatest.

This is why sketching is so highly regarded for developing painting skills, since it allows you to understand the idea of value without having to worry about adding colour.

Artists often believe that value is more essential than colour in a painting. This is due to the fact that value determines the structure of your artwork.

A value scale is provided below, with the highest value (white) being the highest and the lowest value being the lowest (black). In between is essentially a grayscale. A coloured value scale may be created by adding white to raise the value and black to lower the value. When the colour is removed (de-saturated), the scale should appear precisely like the value scale below. It is the translation of colour and value that is the most difficult to master in painting.

Low Key vs. High Key

Paintings are often characterised as high key or low key. This relates to the painting’s overall value scale. A high-value scale (light) is used in a high-key painting, while a low-value scale is used in a low-key painting (dark).

Paintings in high or low key typically have a relatively narrow pricing range. Here’s a low-key painting by Vincent van Gogh (done before he discovered colour):

Shades and tints

A tint is just a colour plus white. A shade is a combination of a colour and black. By changing the amounts of white/black, you may create a variety of tints/shades.

Warm Versus Cool Colour Temperature

The colour wheel is split into two sections: warm and cool hues. There is a very significant contrast when a warm hue is put next to a cold one. Alternatively, there is a pleasant harmonising effect when a cool hue is put adjacent to another cool colour (for example, green next to blue). These colour schemes are described in more depth in the section that follows.

Warm hues have historically been associated with movement and brightness. Cool hues, on the other hand, are associated with peaceful, remote, and relaxing settings.

Colours such as white, black, and grey are considered neutral. I get the most out of these neutral hues by changing the value of my colours rather than utilising them for what they are. For example, if you have cadmium red on your palette, you may mix it with different quantities of grey to create a variety of tones.

At the outset of a painting, decide if you want to create a warm, cold, or neutral (balanced) atmosphere. When I say neutral, I do not simply mean white, black, and grey, but an equal mix of warm and cold hues.