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Introduction to Colour Theory

One of the reasons why I started this blog is because I have always believed that colours influence us in ways we don’t even realise. Many people don’t realise that colour can wield strong emotional power and can promote feelings of vitality, enthusiasm, wellness, exuberance, etc.

Look at the above bouquet of flowers. What kind of feelings does it evoke in you? Now look at the black wasteland below. I don’t know about you, but that bouquet of flowers gave me life. The below doom-and-gloom wasteland, for a second, made me wish I was never born. Just kidding… Well, sort of…

This blog post will serve as an introduction to colour theory.

People who work in the design industry such as interior designers, florists, painters, etc. understand colour theory and the harmonious interplay between colours quite well. But for us mere mortals who are just starting from scratch, it doesn’t hurt to seek the aid of the colour wheel.

Starting from the very top and working our way down the colour wheel clockwise, we have the following colours:

  • Red (primary colour)
  • Red-orange (intermediate or tertiary colour)
  • Orange (secondary colour)
  • Yellow-orange (intermediate or tertiary colour)
  • Yellow (primary colour)
  • Yellow-green (intermediate or tertiary colour)
  • Green (secondary colour)
  • Blue-green (intermediate or tertiary colour)
  • Blue (primary colour)
  • Blue-violet (intermediate or tertiary colour)
  • Violet (Secondary colour)
  • Red-violet (intermediate or tertiary colour)

The above hues are pretty basic colours that our art teacher went through with us at school. As a refresher, here are the 3 types of basic colours:

Primary Colours

Red, yellow and blue are the only 3 primary colours. These colours cannot be made by mixing other colours. Therefore, they are the base colours.

Secondary Colours

Secondary colours can be created by mixing 2 primary colours together. For example, Red + Yellow = Orange, Blue + Yellow = Green, etc.

Tertiary Colours

Tertiary colours are also known as intermediary colours. They are a combination of primary and secondary colours.
For example, Red (primary colour) + Orange (Secondary colour) = Red-Orange (Tertiary colour).

Quite simple right?

But What About Other Colours Like Black and White?

Did you know that in the world of art, black and white are not even colours? Grey can be created by mixing black and white, so grey is not a colour either… In the world of art and design, these “colours” are considered neutral colours and are mixed with other colours on the colour wheel to create tints, shades and tones.

If you mix a colour from the colour wheel with white, the colour becomes a tint.

If you mix a colour from the colour wheel with black, the colour becomes a shade.

If you mix a colour from the colour wheel with grey, the colour becomes a tone.

Aside from basic colours and neutral colours, there are also some more complex colours.

Contrasting/complementary colours

These colours sit directly opposite each other on the colour wheel. In the above colour wheel, Red and Green are sitting opposite each other. Therefore, they are complementary colours. The harmonious interplay between these 2 colours is clearly evident when one observes a holly plant or Christmas tree.

Yellow and Violet are also complementary colours and look amazing on a dwarf iris or blue-eyed grass flower.

Monochromatic Colours

Monochromatic colours are derived from a single colour, and are modified using tints, shades and tones. Have a look at the very top of the colour wheel. The primary colour red is up the top. Directly underneath the red, we have a pinkish colour. This pink is created by mixing the base red with white. Then underneath the pinkish tint, we have darker variations of red like maroon. Maroon can be created by mixing the base red with black.

Triadic Colours

Triadic colours are colour trios that are spaced evenly on the colour wheel. In the above colour wheel, Yellow is 3 spaces away from Red which is 3 spaces away from Blue. Therefore, Red, Blue and Yellow, the 3 primary colours, are triadic colours.

The secondary colours Orange, Green and Violet are also spaced equally, therefore, these colours are triadic colours.

Analogous Colours

Analogous colours are situated right next to each other on the colour wheel. You can create a natural, flowing interior design or flower arrangement by mixing analogous colours. Red and red-orange will look amazing in your garden or bouquet. Violet and red-violet also scrub together quite well.

Split Complementary Colours

Split complementary colours are created when selecting one complementary colour, with the two colours lying on either side of the opposing complementary colour. For example, Yellow and Violet are complementary, so you might choose Yellow, and then use the two colours which sit on each side of Yellow, these being Yellow-Orange and Yellow-Green.

Split complementary colour combinations work well with all types of artistic projects such as paintings, interior decor and floristry for instance.


We hope that this introduction to colour theory has given you a greater insight on how mixing certain colours and balancing specific hues can create a harmonious atmosphere in your home or work space.

So what’s your favourite colour? What colour combinations do you like the most? Leave your comments in the box below. Can’t wait to see what everyone’s favourite colour is.

Melodia Paris

Writer and entrepreneur. Founder of I Love Colours. I love butterflies, peacocks, rainbows and all things colourful. Connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram.

4 thoughts on “Introduction to Colour Theory

  1. Color My World. A good song, by the way. This is just what I need; I need to color my world. Bring out my born to be artist.

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