Colour derives from the spectrum of light (distribution of light energy versus wavelength) interacting in the eye with the spectral sensitivities of the light receptors. Colour categories and physical specifications of colour are also associated with objects, materials, light sources, etc., based on their physical properties such as light absorption, reflection, or emission spectra. In painting we have pigments, which is different from coloured light. Coloured light will be white by mixing, pigments will be brown by mixing.

There are different colour theories, colour wheels.

Aristoteles 330 BCC

Newton 1665

Goethe 1810

Itten 1961

Tree colour groups

  1. The primary colours Red, Yellow and Blue
  2. The secondary colours Green, Orange and Voile which are mixtures of the two primaries they sit between.
  3. The tertiary colours between yellow and orange, for example, is yellow orange, between blue and violet is blue violet and so on.

All these colours around the outside of the colour wheel are called saturated colours. They contain no black, no white and none of their complimentary or opposite colour.

Compound colours are colours containing a mixture of the three primaries. All the browns, khakis and earth colours are compound colours.

Colour features

Hue                             red, yellow, green, blue or purple, colour we see

Lightness                    light vs. dark, or white vs. black

Saturation                   intense vs. dull, white or black or grey in the colour, achromatic

Contrast                      the primary colour gives the most strong colour contrast, very hard and noisy

There are 5 different colour contrast and 4 other contrast

What we can use to change a spacious feel in a painting

1. Colour contrast

Colour to colour, hue to hue, contrast is always in a painting.

2. Complementary contrast

Foot Bone Human Anatomy for Artist

Colours which are opposite in the colour circle are the complementary colour, if you mix them you will get a kind of grey. This kinds of grey’s we will use a lot in painting. Complementary contrast is the strongest contrast and will be used a lot in advertisements (usually by cheap brands) because you see complimentary contrast very clearly.

Complementary pigments and colours

For making grey out of complementary colour I use this wheel because painting pigments are not only pure hue.


In part this is because greys are especially susceptible to show the complementary colours induced by a contrasting surround colour, augmenting a colour effect: next to a bright red couch, a grey wall will appear distinctly greenish.

A blue colour with a small grey colour on it will get a simultaneous-contrast. Your eye will change the grey colour into a complementary colour, so for this blue it will be yellow. If you stand in front of the Boogie- woogie painting from Mondriaan for a long time, the painting will change colours.

3. Tonal contrast

Tonal contrast is simply the difference between the light and dark areas in a painting. The greater the difference the more attention the area attracts.

In the example above the eye goes straight to the area of contrast between the white and black shapes. When the tonal range is reduced, as in the second example, the eye still goes to the area of maximum contrast, but the design looses impact. Tonal contrast is one of the most powerful tools we have to define the centre of interest in a painting.

4. Saturation contrast, achromatic contrast

A colour wheel with achromatic colours.

Colour which have more white or black in it

Any colour that lacks strong chromatic content is said to be unsaturated, achromatic, or near neutral. Pure achromatic colours include black, white and all greys; near neutrals include browns, tans, pastels and dark side. Near neutrals can be either warm or cool.

Neutrals are obtained by mixing pure colours with either white or black, or by mixing two complementary colours. Red against soft old red

Black and white dull the colour down.

5. Warm- cool contrast

Warm colours are hues from red through yellow, browns and tans included; cool colours are the hues from blue green through blue violet, most greys included.

Colour theory has ascribed perceptual and psychotically effects to this contrast. Warm colours are said to advance or appear more active in a painting, while cool colours tend to recede; used in interior design or fashion, warm colours are said to arouse or stimulate the viewer, while cool colours calm and relax.

Red warm comes forward blue cold go’s back wards

Baris by Noella Roos

Most artist start in their life with big contrast’s and when getting older the contrast’s become more gentle, example Rembrandt started way more colourful in his life and ended less so.

Music Allegory 1626 by Rembrandt

Self-portrait 1661 by Rembrandt