Art – Aspects of Colour

Primary colours

Primary colours are basic colours that can be mixed together to produce other colours. They are usually considered to be red, yellow, blue, and sometimes green.

Secondary colours

A secondary colour is a colour made by mixing of two primary colours. For example, red and blue create purple.


Hue is more specifically described by the dominant wavelength and is the first item we refer to (i.e. “yellow”) when adding in the three components of a colour. Hue is also a term which describes a dimension of colour we readily experience when we look at colour, or its purest form; it essentially refers to a colour having full saturation.

Hue is essentially the pure colour without tint or shade.


Brightness is the relative lightness or darkness of a particular colour, from black (no brightness) to white (full brightness). Brightness is also called Lightness in some contexts.

(Georeference, undated)


Low colour temperature is the warmer, more yellow to red light while high colour temperature is the colder, more blue light. Daylight, for example, has a lower colour temperature near dawn and a higher one during the day. Colour Temperature is measured in the unit Kelvin and is the standard method for measuring the colour of light emitted from a lamp.

Colour temperature is another vital consideration in design—by distinguishing between warm, cool, and neutral colours, we apparently have the power to evoke emotional responses in people. Warm colours are those with shades of yellow and red; cool colours have a blue, green, or purple tint; neutral colours include brown, grey, black, and white. (The Interaction Design Foundation, undated).

Expressive qualities

Colour is known as one of the most expressive elements because it immediately affects our emotions. Using a variety of colour allows spectators to gain more of the thoughts and feeling that are happening in a piece of artwork. For example, the use of dark colours or bluey colours highlights more of a sad or scary emotion compared to a piece of artwork using lots of bright colours such as yellow to demonstrate happy emotions. The use of temperature, brightness and saturation of the colour allows us to evoke these emotions in people.

Colour theory

Colour theory is used to describe the collection of rules and guidelines concerning the use of colour. Colour theory informs colour schemes, aiming to aesthetically appeal and effectively communication the message of the art piece on a visual and psychological level.

Modern colour theory is heavily based on Isaac Newton’s colour wheel, which displays three categories of colours: primary colours (red, blue, yellow), secondary colours (created by mixing two primary colours), and intermediate or tertiary ones (created by mixing primary and secondary colours) (The Interaction Design Foundation, undated).

 Scientific properties of colour and light

Isaac Newton, in 1660s, discovered that clear white light was composed of seven visible colours (the colours we see in the rainbow). Newton lead the path for others to experiment with colour in a scientific matter (Smithsonain Libraries, undated).

Within the visible light of the electromagnetic spectrum are still more wavelengths. Each wavelength is perceived by our eyes as a different colour. The shorter wavelengths of visible light are violet — we might call them purple. Then as the wavelengths get longer and longer, the visible light changes in colour to blue, green, yellow, orange, and finally the longest, which is red. Most light that we use — like sunlight or light from a light bulb — is actually a mixture of all of the visible light wavelengths. It is called white light. When it is mixed, it is difficult for us to separate the colours out. We just see it as useful light. But at certain times the light does get separated out.

We are able to see colour because some of the light is being absorbed into the object and some of the light is reflecting off it. For example, a red hat is absorbing all of the colours of the white light except the red. The red colour reflects off of the hat and travels to our eyes therefore, we see the colour red.

Every object that we give a colour name to is really absorbing all of the other colours and reflecting the colour that we see back to our eyes. If an object looks white, all of the colours are reflecting off it. If an object appears black, that means that it is absorbing all of the colours (Idaho Public Television, 2019).



 My favourite colour: Blue 

Blue is a cool colour which is commonly known to represent the sea and sky. Blue is one of the three primary colours which can be mixed with red to produce purple or mixed with yellow to create green. The colour blue can often represent sad and unhappy emotions. In India, the colour is associated with mourning, emphasising the sad emotions.



The Interaction Design Foundation. (n.d.). What is Colour Theory?. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

Georeference. (n.d.). Colours as Hue, Saturation and Brightness. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

Smithsonain Libraries. (undated). The Science of Colour. [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

Idaho Public Television. (2019). Light & Color: Facts (Science Trek: Idaho Public Television). [online] Available at: [Accessed 9 Oct. 2019].

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