Colour Theory Made Easy

colour theory colour theory video colour theory workbook colour wheel

Learning about Colour Theory is essential for anyone who intends to use colour, whether in sewing, painting, interior or interactive digital design. 

Understanding the key concepts is the place to start: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary, Warm, Cool, Hue, Intensity, Value, Monochromatic, Analogous, Complementary and Split Complementary.  That’s a lot of vocabulary to digest. We are going to go through each term using coloured pencils as examples.

To understand these terms, you need to be aware of The Colour Wheel.

It consists of 12 segments and can be filled using only three colours.  

Note: If you would like to work through this "lesson" with a hands-on approach, subscribe to my newsletter to get your own personal fillable PDF copy.  

At the end of this post, I have included step-by-step instructions for creating and filling The Colour Wheel and a video on how you can do it too.  


The Primaries Colours are Red, Yellow and Blue. They are a situated equally away from each other on the wheel. They are the colours that make all the other colours on the wheel when used in different amounts.



The Secondary Colours are Orange, Green and Purple or Violet (I use the term Purple throughout my instructions). Each Secondary colour is created by mixing two Primary colours equally (most of the time) i.e. Orange is made from Red and Yellow.


Triads are three colours that are equally spaced from each other on the wheel. Both the Primaries and Secondaries on their own create Triad. There are 4 sets when you include the Tertiary Colours. 


The Tertiary Colours (sometimes called Intermediate Colours) are the six colours between the primaries and secondaries. They are created by mixing equal amounts of the adjacent primary and secondary. i.e. Red-Orange is made from Red and Orange 


HINT: Naming a Tertiary Colour follows a basic rule – The Primary Colour name always goes first, followed by the Secondary name. You can use a hyphen or space to label the new colour name.

Colour Temperature

Warm Colours are any that remind us of heat such as red, orange and yellow. They are any of the colours between Red and Yellow. 



Cool Colours are any that remind us of icy coldness and fresh air such as purple, blue and green. They are any colours between Purple and Green.


Sometimes Red-Purple and Yellow-Green which both straddle the dividing line between warm and cool, can belong to either warm or cool colours depending on what colours surround them.


The Three Properties of Colour: Hue, Intensity and Value

Hue refers to the name of a colour, as simple as Green or more complex like Yellow-Green, Lime, Olive or Peacock Green. When using coloured pencils it is helpful to gather colours of one family and test them out to see which ones look good together. Once you have a small selection, you can use them to add highlights and shades or other subtle changes.



Intensity refers to the Brightness or Dullness of a colour. A colour that is bright is often light in tone as well. A colour that is dull is usually muted with brown or with complementary pairs. 



Value refers to the Lightness or Darkness of a colour. This can be altered simply with pressure changes using one coloured pencil. It can be in solids or as a gradual transitions from light to dark.



Colour Schemes: These ones make great colour combinations

Monochromatic refers to colours created with Tints (white) and Shades (black) with one colour. Essentially, it is a more complex value system, it is more robust because of the additional layering and mixing. Some interior designers refer to a collection of one colour as monochromatic. FYI when you mix white and black or grey with a colour it is referred to as a Tone. 


Analogous refers to 3-5 colours beside each other on the colour wheel. These always create a harmonious grouping whether used as solids or gradients.


Complementary refers to colours opposite each other on the colour wheel. They bring out the best of each other when placed beside one another. Each becomes brighter through that contrast. However, if you mix complementary colours they will dull each other out. This is particularly helpful when creating the illusion of depth, since the browns they create are more subtle than shading with black. HINT: Don't use all the sets at once. 



Split Complementary refers to sets of three colours, starting with any colour on the wheel and matching it to the adjacent colours of its opposite or complementary pair.  You will always be creating an isosceles triangle with this set. Here are a few examples: Blue, Yellow-Orange & Red-Orange; Yellow, Blue-Purple & Red-Purple; and Red, Blue-Green & Yellow Green.


There are many more colour combinations to explore. On the next post, I will be sharing my favourite books about Colour so you can continue your quest for Colour knowledge. 


Don't forget your BONUSES:

Step by Step instructions for The Colour Wheel click here.

Video for The Colour Wheel click here.  

PS. Remember you can subscribe to the newsletter to get your own personal fillable PDF copy of the Colour Theory Workbook. When you fill it out, post it on Instagram and be sure to tag me, so I can see your progress! 

PSS. If you are reading this, weeks beyond the release date, and the offer is no longer available, just let me know.  Once you are signed up, I will send you a copy.  


Until next time, 

Jacquie Blondin

(Jacq of all trades, master of some)

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