The basics of colour theory

Do you know the basics of colour theory? Often when we think about colour theory, we might be reminded of learning it in school and not really using it in our daily lives, that is unless you’re a colouring enthusiast like us!

As colourists, it’s important that we have a basic understanding of colour theory so we can create our best works and experiment with colour palettes and layering techniques.

Colour theory wheel from Colouring Heaven.

The colour wheel

The colour wheel was invented in 1666 by Isaac Newton, and is made up of three primary colours: red, yellow and blue (so it’s always a good idea to have those stocked up before you sit down and start colouring).

You only need to mix two of the primary colours together to create secondary colours. For example, if we mix red and yellow together, we get orange; blue and red together make violet; and when blue and yellow are mixed, they create green.

Moving along the colour wheel from secondary colours to tertiary colours, this is when primary colours are mixed with secondary colours, and sit between the two in the colour wheel. Typically, they tend to be a lighter or darker version of the two colours mixed, the colour will depend on which was the stronger one when mixed together. The naming of tertiary colours is also based on this, such as red-orange, green-blue, red-purple, and so on.

Did you know we have a handy colour wheel in the resources area of our website? Why not bookmark it for when you’re choosing your colour palette, and refer back to it when needed!

Let’s talk about colours combinations

This is probably the most exciting part of colour theory for us colourists! By having some knowledge of what colours go well together, it can save our work from unpleasant colour schemes and create more harmonious colouring sheets. By referring to our handy colour wheel, we’ll be able to make the best decision for the piece at hand.

For this, it’s a good idea to start by choosing two colours, paying particular attention to one main colour, then adding colours that support that main colour. 

What are complementary colours?

These are when two colours sit directly opposite each other on the colour wheel, for example, yellow and violet, or red and green. The combinations of these colours tend to be bold and appealing.

What are analogous colours?

Analogous colours are three colours that sit next to each other on the colour wheel, such as red, red-purple and purple; or orange, orange-yellow and yellow. Knowing your analogous colours can be helpful to create a sense of harmony in your colouring. Did you know interior designers often use analogous colours to decorate a room for this very reason? 

Being careful with triadic colours

For those who don’t know, triadic colours are when three colours are equally spaced within the colour wheel. For example, if you imagine a triangle over the colour wheel, this will help you pick triadic colours. It’s good to be aware of triadic colours when colouring as often they are quite stark in contrast to each other, and can be quite dramatic. However, you can counter this by picking more subdued shades from within the colour wheel, for less dramatic palettes.

Although for scenes like dragons, triadic colours might be perfect!

Splitting complementary colours

This can be done by choosing a colour on the opposite side to it, for example, by choosing the two colours adjacent to the complementary colour you’re wanting to work with, such as blue with yellow and orange.

Splitting complementary colours tends to have a similar visual contrast as the complementary colours, but will give your colouring page less tension. If you’re new to colouring, it might be an idea work using a split-complementary palette to ease yourself into some more dramatic colour combinations.

What are tetradic colours?

Want to work in one main colour? Then working with tetradic colours might be best for you. This is when four colours are made up of two sets of complementary colours, and it can be referred to as being double-complementary. Like the triadic colours, but imagine a rectangle has been placed over the colour wheel rather than a triangle. The tetradic colour scheme works well if you want one colour to be more dominant than the rest of your palette.

Tints, shade and tone

These can be useful for creating additional colours. If a colour is made lighter by adding white, the result is called a tint. If want to make a colour darker, then you can create a shade of it by adding black. Similarly, if you add grey then this will create a varying tone of the original colour.

You can experiment with tints, shades and tones to create more varied colour options.

We hope these tips and tricks will help you master colour theory, and make beautiful combinations for your colouring pages!

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