COLOUR is one of the most important and appealing picture elements:
it is seen everywhere, and can give pleasure and liveliness, atmosphere
There would be no COLOUR if
we were to live in a world
without LIGHT. Look at what
will happen when pure
white light comes in through a
When (white) light falls through a prism, the light will break up
and ‘fall apart’: we can see every colour of the rainbow.
This process can also be reversed: this is one of the reasons
why we think of WHITE (or BLACK) as being no colour at all!
The colour BLUE has a cool atmosphere: an experiment pointed
this out, using a person entering a blue room first, and then a
room that had been painted red. The temperature in both rooms
was exactly the same. After some time, people got more chilly in
the blue room, but felt a bit hot and sweaty in the room that was
This shows that COLOUR can do something to you
(or to your mind)!
The German painter and artist, Johannes Itten, came up with a
system in which every colour has it’s own place and function:
the COLOUR WHEEL.
In this COLOUR WHEEL there are twelve different (colour)
segments, but they are all made up out of three basic colours:
RED, YELLOW and BLUE. Itten named these colours ‘PRIMARY
(With these three colours, you can make almost any colour you like).
Mixing two PRIMARY COLOURS will give you another colour: a second-
or SECONDARY COLOUR
It is very rare for colours to be ‘on their own’: they usually come in
pairs, and mostly you will see a lot of them together, at the same
time. That is why it is important to know that colours can influence
one another (they react to one another):
In order for you to
experience how a colour
‘works’, you will need to see
it next to another colour!
It is time to talk about:
There are at least 7 different colour contrasts, but for now, we
will only be looking at the three most important ones.
1) HOT and COLD contrast
2) COLOUR –TO- COLOUR contrast
3) COMPLEMENTARY contrast
Each and every one of us experiences COLOUR in a
different way…one of the most famous ‘colour
experiences’ is the colour TURQUOISE:
Some people think of this colour
as being related to BLUE
(whereas others think of it to be
a shade of GREEN)!
…but most of the time we all agree on the atmosphere of very clear
and contrary colours.
In this picture by Dutch artist Piet Mondriaan, you can clearly see him
having made good use of the HOT and COLD CONTRAST
‘The red tree’ -1908 (Piet Mondriaan)
Another contrast is the COLOUR –TO- COLOUR CONTRAST:
this contrast gives a picture a very lively and cheerful
One of the most powerful colour contrasts however, is the
COMPLEMENTARY CONTRAST. This is when we look at two colours on
opposite sides of the colour wheel
‘helping’:.There are three
pairs of complementary
In nature you can very often experience this specific contrast:
This is how the COMPLEMENTARY CONTRAST works: RED
becomes even more RED when placed opposite to GREEN (the
colour becoming ‘less red’ when placed opposite to blue, or any
In shops and supermarkets we can sometimes experience the
same effect. Just look at the meat (left) or look at the way the
photographer uses colour in this citrus fruit advert!
…and why do you think there is a blue fish next to a
Clown fish in ‘Finding Nemo’ ?
COMPLEMENTARY CONTRAST is used to great effect in more
‘serious’ works of art:
Can you name some COLOUR CONTRASTS in this painting?
‘Swimming pool’ – David Hockney
There are only SATURATED COLOURS in the Colour wheel.
SATURATED COLOURS are colours in their most pure and bright
If you were to mix these colours with either WHITE or BLACK,
then their colour-brightness would diminish… the ‘pureness’ of
the colour has gone and the colours are now UNSATURATED.
SATURATED COLOURS UNSATURATED COLOURS
(you could almost say